It’s hard to think of a DVD more remarkable than Chopper. It is exceptional for
the substance of the additional material that it contains in the audio commentary by
writer/director Andrew Dominik, the commentary by Mark Chopper Read himself, and the home
video (shot on Video 8) of conversations with Read over a single weekend during research.
For the latter, Andrew Dominik took actor Eric Bana, so Bana could observe first hand
the subject of his character.
As a package, these three features offer an unparalleled insight into a still-living
violent criminal and put the film itself in full context. The end result is a DVD that
takes the finished film as its starting point, and builds a complex and often confronting
portrait of the life and times of Mark Read, as well as several filmic revelations. Never
mind its entertainment value – in the broadest sense of entertainment – this
disc has enormous social importance.
Read speaks freely and openly about himself as a person as well as a criminal,
revealing much more than what is actually said. And more than he probably realises. No
prison psychiatrist could have ever got as much out of him as Dominik does here. I like
his revelation that "until the film, I didn’t realise that I had this resentful
attitude." He also quotes Harvey Keitel, and praises Eric Bana for being a great
character actor and terrfiic mimic. Read is raw and real and riveting.
For example, Read says his only complaint about the film is that it shows his dad
without hair. "My dad isn’t bald!" he squeals. And that’s not all: his
dad never sat anywhere without a shotgun or rifle within reach.
Read also reveals in his audio commentary that when Andrew Dominik was eight or so,
they lived in the same street. Sadly, Dominik doesn’t share the commentary track so
he never gets a chance to say what, if anything, that had to do with his interest in Read.
In his weekend conversations, Read talks about being the most feared thug in prison
because "the most feared thug in prison is a psycho…" In one part of his
audio commentary, he looks back on parts of his life with detached simplicity.
"Trouble was, back then I was insane. Trouble is when you’re nutty you
don’t think you’re nutty."
Then comes the famous stabbing scene, in which Read is knifed a dozen times. He calmly
explains the scene is very accurate. Getting stabbed, he says, is like getting a big punch
with a cold needle in the middle. Whereas getting shot is like a big punch with a hot
needle in the middle.
But these are surface novelties, compared to the layers of character that Andrew
Dominik manages to peel off in his commentary, which considerably boosts the film’s
The deleted scenes package, too, offers much more than usual. It’s a complex
passage starting with the story of Hooky, the 16th century Italian cripple who
was always getting beaten up by Manuelo the butcher. As Dominik remarks here, it’s
one time that Read shows a huge outpouring of emotion - we see Read telling the story of
Hookey in his backyard. It made Dominik think that perhaps this was a disguised retelling
of his childhood. It’s quite exceptional stuff.
Dominik goes on to explain – as we now cut to the first deleted scene – how
he felt a lot of pressure to explain how Chopper became the way he was, he didn’t
want to show young Mark Read being beaten up; it would have been too glib. He thought one
way might be to show Chopper retelling this story, which was very meaningful to him. The
scene was to have begun the film, Chopper alone in his cell, playing out the Hookey story.
It’s a great piece of performance. "But when we showed it to people at test
screenings, it was extraordinarily unpopular. Every single card that came back said,
‘what’s he crapping on about this cripple for in his cell…’"
Dominik’s summation is this: "At some point in his life, Chopper had been
consistently abused by someone, and his mother was unable to protect him." And when
his anger finally came out – in his adult life – it came out in big, ugly
One of the other deleted scenes reveals that Dan Wyllie, who plays Bluey, one of the H
Division inmates, managed to puke on cue every time, during the stabbing scene. Dominik
was so taken by Wylllie’s performance, he let the entire stabbing sequence play in
one long take on Wyllie’s face.
These scenes are virtually worthless without the commentary, which you can switch on
and off at will.
The audio visual packaging of the DVD is just as punchy as its contents. A graphic
using a large Pietro Beretta pistol is used for the Audio menu, over a funky I Don’t
Need Your Lovin’ Baby. The main menu has Chopper leaning out of a tv set, with a grab
of dialogue, but the first thing you hear is his admonishment to hurry up, in his
trademark humorous fashion: "Hey, I haven’t got all day, continue…roll
And all day is what it will take you to pick the fruits of this very well laden DVD;
but it won’t take you long to get into the spirit of things, and you will want to
return to some elements several times to squeeze every ounce of juice out of them, whether
they be anecdotes or confessional revelations. Or just to watch the film itself again,
with all of this information behind it.
Andrew L. Urban
Published: September 27, 2001