Synapse // 1975 // 91 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 6th, 2011
Radley Metzger's Uncensored Sensual Masterpiece
Naughty movies have been around almost as long as the movie camera, but Deep Throat really opened the floodgates. Suddenly, in the 1970s, there was a dual motion as pornography became more mainstream: art films were looking to be more pornographic, while pornography was looking to be more arty. This left a strange no man's land of films that weren't quite typical arthouse fare, but didn't provide as much action as one might find in a pornographic theater. In these films, full-frontal nudity and non-simulated sex acts were put hand-in-hand with sumptuous cinematography and beautiful locations. It is precisely this no man's land that The Image occupies, offering a beautiful look at French locations along with female nudity and unsimulated oral sex. Fans of that strange time in "dirty pictures" will surely rejoice over this excellent hi-def release from Synapse.
The Image is the story of Jean (Carl Parker), a young man who meets a gorgeous young woman named Anne (Rebecca Brooke, Misty). The only problem is that Anne is a sexual slave to Claire (Marilyn Roberts, Looking for Mr. Goodbar). Luckily for Jean, Claire is open to sharing her pet with him, and the trio embark on a journey of sexual debauchery that will end in a dungeon of horrors.
The interesting thing about the period that The Image comes from is the fact that it was such a strange time, with the highbrow and lowbrow rubbing shoulders to a degree that was unprecedented (at least in mainstream culture; serious artists have been making porn on the sly for a long while). The Image is a perfect example of exactly this kind of mashup.
On the high-minded side, The Image is based on a book written by Catherine Robbe-Grillet (wife to novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, co-scribe of the famous Last Year in Marienbad). The film itself is structured into ten "chapters" in what seems to be an attempt to maintain the flavor of its literary source. In addition to its legitimate literary pedigree, The Image uses its French locations for all they're worth. There is some gorgeous outdoor photography here, and the interiors look location-based rather than like cheap sets.
On the lowbrow side, The Image delivers the goods as well. This film is also known as The Punishment of Anne, and The Mistress and the Slave, so sadomasochism is a theme throughout. The film follows the typical formula (used at least since De Sade) of watching a young woman slowly acclimate to the degradation of a sadomasochistic relationship. Moving beyond the plot and themes, the film doesn't shy away from sexuality in the image either. There's plenty of full frontal male and female nudity. We also get to see the numerous ways that Anne is punished, including whipping, forced urination, and copious amounts of unsimulated oral sex (at least once in a public place). There are a few other surprises here and there, but that's about the flavor of this piece. Anne allows herself to be degraded until she can't take it anymore, and the climax of the film (ha!) includes her final act of humiliation.
This mix of the high and low is a blessing and a curse for The Image. It certainly makes the film a fascinating look at a strange time in movie history, where high production values were put on par with sexuality in the cinema. It's also, if you're into the kinks on display, a well-done example of how to mix sexuality and cinema. However, it's very mixed nature might leave some viewers in a bind. Those looking for a soft-core romp in France will likely be turned off by the unsimulated sex and urination, while those with a taste for the hard stuff might get frustrated at the lull between sexual scenes. Ultimately, the film comes up against the fact that it's neither fish nor fowl: not quite drama and not quite porn.
Whether the film is a success or not, this Blu-ray from Synapse can't be faulted. The film is presented in an AVC-encoded transfer, and it looks amazing. Detail is strong (despite an apparent intentional softness), and colors really pop, especially in outdoor scenes. Black levels are kept consistent and appropriate in the many darker interior scenes, and grain is very natural. There is a bit of ghosting in one scene, but the box says this is a problem with the negative that Synapse left in rather than cutting around. The audio options include the original mono track (in DTS-HD), a remastered 5.1 track (with the surround used mostly for atmospherics), and an isolated music/effects track. All three sound excellent, with dialogue clearly audible and no serious problems with noise or distortion. Much of the film sounds like it was dubbed, so in some ways the extra clarity of these tracks drive that home. However, that's not much of a criticism. Extras include a nice booklet with a short essay, a pop-up filmography for director Radley Metzger, and the film's theatrical trailer.
The Image is a difficult film to evaluate. By typical dramatic standards it has cookie-cutter characters and enough plot for a half-hour comedy episode. Still, it does have attractive women and men engaged in sex, which is the point. So, viewers should know what they're getting into, with a full-on lesbian sadomasochistic relationship and lots of nudity. Those looking for an empowering story of a woman's sexuality should probably look elsewhere.
The Image is a gorgeous looking film about a side of sex that some people consider ugly. Because of that it probably has only niche appeal to the S&M crowd. However, those with an interest in Seventies erotica should at least give this film a rental for an interesting example of the era, while casual softcore fans should probably steer clear.
Despite the debauchery, The Image is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Isolated Score
* Liner Notes