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Mark - eventually nicknamed Chopper - Read (Eric Bana) dreams of making a name for himself as a legendary crime figure. His journey is brutal and bizarre, as he tries in vain to capture that elusive Al Capone quality, having to settle, instead, for a Fawlty Towers version of a standover man. This does not preclude him being violent and sadistic, but it does prevent him reaching the dark heights he seeks to attain. In and out of jail, Chopper is always on edge, and sometimes he can even see the joke himself. But the fact that he is a better selling autobiographical author than crim (and proud of it) is testament to his absurdity. (The film carries a disclaimer: it is a narrative dramatisation – not a biography.)

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 psychological power.

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 explosions.

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 along."

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

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You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia



CAST: Eric Bana, Simon Lyndon, David Field, Dan Wyllie, Bill Young, Vince Colosimo

DIRECTOR: Andrew Dominik

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: October 4, 2001

To own – see rental only VERSION

Audio commentary by Andrew Dominik; audio commentary by Mark Chopper Read; Weekend with Mark Chopper Read; deleted scenes; scene selection; trailer;

Language: English; 5.1 or 2 Channel Stereo

Buy it HERE Next day delivery within Australia.

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