Time Out says
Long before New Queer Cinema altered film’s pink-triangle playing field, Gus Van Sant made a name for himself with this moody, lo-fi look at a liquor-store clerk (Tim Streeter) smitten with a Mexican youth (Doug Cooeyate). Despite being weighed down with the kind of amateurish performances characteristic of a first feature made on a shoestring budget, time has been extraordinarily kind to the indie legend’s debut.
Based upon Walt Curtis’s autobiographical novel, this regional tale of unrequited lust doesn’t play down the auteur’s own identification with the hero’s penchant for jailbait; the loving shots of Cooeyate posing shirtless are merely the first of many such portraits in Van Sant’s gallery of veal-cake erotica. But what’s most impressive about Mala Noche today aren’t the glimpses of future motifs, but that so much of the filmmaker’s wondrous visual poetry is already present. His ability to capture the addictive pull of desire remains compelling even in its crudest state.
Criterion’s extras are a little on the scarce side—sorry, completists, Van Sant’s first featurette, Alice in Hollywood (1981), regrettably didn’t make the cut—and it’s surprising that none of the critics who’ve since canonized the film contributed commentary tracks. But the director offers plentiful insight into the film’s genesis in a candid interview conducted for the disc last January. Bill Plympton’s hour-long documentary on the source material’s author, titled Walt Curtis, the Peckerneck Poet, also sheds light on the man Van Sant affectionately calls “Portland’s one and only Beat writer.”