The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
End of the Road
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Terror Train
ASC Close-Up
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

Blu-ray Edition
1.66:1 (High Definition 1080p)
Digital Monaural LPCM 1.0
The Criterion Collection, $39.95

It is late Friday afternoon in chilly, autumnal London. Dapper, middle-aged physician Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch) reluctantly misses a phone call while seeing a patient at his home office. Moments later, Daniel paces quietly through his stately townhouse, calling his answering service as he hopes for the message he has been expecting. No luck. Meanwhile, across town, tense 30-something Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson) combs the amber locks out of her face as she rushes to pack an overnight case in her cluttered flat. She is late after a difficult day at the office, and she frantically calls her answering service to see if a message has been left for her. It has not.  

Daniel hoped to catch his lover before a scheduled weekend getaway. Alex wanted to beg forgiveness from her lover for running so late for their weekend babysitting plans at the home of some friends. When neither Daniel nor Alex manages to get through, it hardly bothers successful, young artist Bob Elkin (Murray Head), who loves both of them equally but cannot understand why each is so possessive of him. Although Daniel and Alex are painfully aware of each other and the role they play in keeping the object of their shared affections at arm's length, they feign tolerance and suffer privately.

Daniel buries his misgivings about Bob in learning to speak Italian so he and Bob can one day take a trip to Italy. Alex hopes this weekend of babysitting and acting as a family might make Bob forget about Daniel. She is crushed when Bob leaves their experimental weekend for Daniel. In turn, Daniel hides his heartache when Bob eventually returns to Alex.  

Later, when Bob needs to travel to New York for a long period, his lovers go into a panic he refuses to acknowledge. Backed into a corner, Daniel sadly ponders whether he should just accept the limited happiness he has with Bob. Alex, on the other hand, bitterly wonders if she should end the relationship. “I've had this business of anything is better than nothing!” she cries. “There are times when nothing has to be better than anything!”

After director John Schlesinger scored an international hit with Midnight Cowboy, he embarked on a more personal project that reflected some of his own conflicts. He asked novelist/film critic Penelope Gilliatt to develop a love triangle idea into a screenplay because she had written a similarly themed novel he found realistic in tone, something he wanted for the film. Schlesinger told cinematographer Billy Williams, BSC, that he wanted a modern visual texture for the picture, one that would look “under photographed, not too flamboyant,” and would have “a certain realism similar to documentary,” Williams notes in an interview on this Blu-ray. Williams goes on to say Schlesinger was one of the most “complete” directors with whom he had ever worked; he says Schlesinger was sensitive, visually savvy and open to suggestions, and “knew exactly what the film should look like.”  

The Criterion Collection recently released Sunday Bloody Sunday on Blu-ray, and, like the laserdisc presentation it released in 1992, this HD transfer, personally supervised by Williams, is outstanding. The image has a dense, satisfying appeal, with a pleasing level of visible grain and even contrast throughout. Blacks are solid, and the frame is incredibly sharp. Williams’ carefully balanced lighting seems perfectly rendered here; its soft, unadorned-yet-rich colors really set a mood and appear truly film-like. The monaural audio track is clean, pleasing and free of distortion.  

The package features newly produced supplements in HD. There are brief interviews with key cast and crewmembers, including Head and Williams; Schlesinger’s biographer, William J. Mann; and Schlesinger’s long-time partner, photographer Michael Childers. Also featured are a theatrical trailer and two excellent printed essays.   

Fans of this thought-provoking and adult meditation on love and companionship will be impressed by Criterion's stellar efforts, and those new to the film’s searing emotional landscape will not soon forget it.

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