Martin Scorsese is one of the more prolific filmmakers in modern cinema. He’s a writer (Goodfellas (1990); The Age of Innocence (1993)), actor (Cannonball (1976); Shark Tale (2004)), producer (Clockers (1995); Uncut Gems (2019)), a supporter of world cinema and its preservation, and, of course, director. Though most immediately go to his crime-centric stories, Scorsese’s range from those to dramas, fantasies, and comedies, with one of his most revered being the 1985 “one crazy night” dramedy After Hours. Joining The Criterion Collection for the very first time, fans of After Hours are treated to a brand-new restoration, approved by Scorsese, in either 4K UHD or Blu-ray editions with a small selection of special features new and old.
Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) is a regular 9-5er, working as a word processor. When closing time hits, he’s out the door, ready to move on to something else. One day, though, his regular post-work time is interrupted when he just so happens to meet the beguiling Marcy (Rosanna Arquette), who leaves as quickly as she enters his life, leaving a contact number before she goes. Taking a chance, he calls her when he gets home near midnight, deciding to accept her invitation to meet at her friend Kiki’s (Linda Fiorentino) place. But what feels like blessed kismet at first quickly devolves into one bad situation after another, leaving Paul with a strong realization that nothing good can come after hours.
There’s a significant history with the “one crazy night” subgenre, my childhood favorites including Midnight Madness (1980), Adventures in Babysitting (1987), and Four Rooms (1995). These certainly fall into the comedy category, but there’s also horror (Night of the Living Dead (1968); Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)), thriller (Collateral (2004)), and sci-fi horror comedy (The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)). In each one, the central character(s) embarks on a quest riddled with obstacles that challenge them ethically, morally, and, sometimes, psychologically. In this regard, After Hours is no different with Paul looking for a way to break out of mundanity, the grind of 9-5 offering very little satisfaction. Amusingly, the friction that Paul faces are all based in fairly reasonable circumstances involving some version of human fragility. By taking out his $20 too soon during the wild cab ride to Marcy’s and having it fly out of the open window, he’s unable to afford a return trip (it being all the cash he has) and, later, that same cabbie refuses to give him a return ride despite having recovered that same $20. Because he held Marcy up on too high a pedestal, a woman he’s just met and hopes to bed, he loses his patience after his long trek, her disappearing repeatedly, and then realizing that, perhaps, the two are not compatible, his leaving her behind abruptly ultimately leads to her demise. It’s not by his hand and he should not be held responsible, but his fragility mixed with her’s led to her choice. Over and over, whether he thinks he’s finally worked out a way to get home or he’s suddenly accused of being a thief (a combination of wrong place/wrong time with angry neighbors *and* a jilted woman), all of Paul’s problems begin and end with human fragility. The movie is comical in its approach, though Scorsese’s direction, Joseph Minion’s (Vampire’s Kiss) script, and Michael Ballhaus’s (Goodfellas) cinematography lace After Hours with disquiet and dread. Unlike Adventures in Babysitting or Date Night (2010) where the audience knows everything will work out ok, the danger comes off as quite threatening in the way it escalates from reasonable into the eccentric, creating a sense of unpredictability in the way any interaction may go. Unlike comedies of late which rely on uncomfortable situations + grossout body humor for comedy, this film is funny for the way in which nothing goes right, everything is connected, and despite all his best efforts to get home, it’s as though the universe has a better idea.
Does Paul learn anything by the time he gets home? Probably that nothing good happens after midnight.
Regarding the restoration itself, according to the liner notes, the 4K UHD master is approved by editor Thelma Schoonmaker. It was created from the 35 mm original camera negative which was then scanned into 4K. The audio track was also remastered, though it remains in its original monaural format. What this translates to at home is a video and auditory experience that plays well on modern home entertainment equipment. The video is clean with little visual noise; the colors appropriately balanced (thanks to the HDR) leading to warmth in skin tone, sharp neons, and great depth of field in the mostly darkly lit nighttime sequences. The audio, while not necessarily immersive due to the lack of 5.1 support, doesn’t require 5.1 in order for the viewer to get swept up in the onscreen chaos as the dialogue and ambient sounds are crisp and clean. The restoration work on both the audio and video did a wonderful job in cleaning any areas in which prior iterations might’ve had visual/auditory noise while maintaining the look and feel of the original release. At first, in the opening, I couldn’t see anything that really justified the HDR, but as the Paul began his descent into hell, facing one figurative road block after another, the inclusion of the increased dynamic range is absolutely justified.
In preparation for this home release review, I tracked down the prior editions and discovered a 2004 DVD edition of After Hours that also includes several special features. That edition includes feature-length commentary, the making-of documentary “Filming for Your Life: Making After Hours,” deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer. All of this is included on this release, as well, in keeping with Criterion’s tradition of gathering as many special features as possible into one release. What’s new, then, for prior owners or Scorsese fans? This edition is a 4K digital video restoration (without Dolby Vision HDR on the Blu-ray and with Dolby Vision HDR on the 4K disc) and includes two brand-new featurettes. The first focuses on the film as a whole via a conversation between Scorsese and writer Fran Lebowitz, and the second centers on the look of the film via a conversation between costume designer Rita Ryack and production designer Jeffrey Townsend. The second one being comprised of an audio interview mixed with stills and clips from the production. These two new featurettes total nearly 38 minutes of new material to deepen the viewer’s appreciation for the film.
As with other Criterion releases, be advised that the home release also includes a fantastic essay, this time from critic Sheila O’Malley, aptly titled “No Exit,” and that the liner notes/reverse of the cover are amusingly decorated in various references from the film itself. The cover of the liner notes has Julie’s (Teri Garr) poster that fanned the flames of the neighborhood’s anger, a reference to the bathroom in the restaurant Paul visits (a shark biting a penis really encapsulates the film perfectly), a variation on the private party at Club Berlin that includes a certain undesired haircut, as well as the usual details on the release and the restoration.
As it stands, cinephiles or Scorsese fans can pick up seven individual directed-by features and a single shorts collection from Criterion, including After Hours. This, of course, doesn’t include the Martin Scorsese’s World Project collection series or any of the projects that Scorsese has either worked on or supported. As with other Criterion restorations, you can rest assured that the quality on disc and off is worth your time. There’s no visual blemishes, the audio is clear, and the bonus features are a lovely composite of legacy and new materials. So this feels like a comfortable recommendation, should snagging this edition be your first watch or one of many.
After Hours Special Features:
- New 4K digital restoration, approved by editor Thelma Schoonmaker, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
- New conversation between director Martin Scorsese and writer Fran Lebowitz (19:47)
- New program on the look of the film featuring costume designer Rita Ryack and production designer Jeffrey Townsend (18:05)
- Audio commentary featuring Scorsese, Schoonmaker, director of photography Michael Ballhaus, actor and producer Griffin Dunne, and producer Amy Robinson
- Filming for Your Life: Making After Hours: documentary about the making of the film featuring Dunne, Robinson, Schoonmaker, and Scorsese
- Deleted scenes
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- PLUS: An essay by critic Sheila O’Malley
- New cover by Drusilla Adeline/Sister Hyde
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo and Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection July 11th, 2023.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.