The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents October 2010 Return to Table of Contents
The Social Network
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
Ghost Writer
Red Riding
Secret in Their
Post Focus
ASC Close-Up
Red Riding (2009)
Blu-ray Edition
1080p High-Definition
Dolby Digital 5.1
IFC Films/MPI Media Group, $34.98

When the Red Riding trilogy was introduced to American audiences at the 2009 Telluride Film Festival, it was the kind of moviegoing discovery that elicited superlatives from nearly everyone who saw it. Critic David Thomson declared it better than The Godfather in the festival’s program notes, and those who braved the film’s five-hour running time were treated to an epic portrait of corruption that not only invited comparisons to The Godfather and Chinatown but earned them. The trilogy, originally shown on British television, was released theatrically in American art houses earlier this year, and now it’s available on a gorgeous Blu-ray release that allows the close study and repeat viewings that this masterpiece of modern cinema demands.

Adapted from novelist David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet by screenwriter Tony Grisoni, Red Riding is divided into three interrelated but independent feature films: 1974, 1980, and 1983 (Grisoni adapted 1977 as well, but it wasn’t filmed). All three stories take place in the desolate landscapes (both rural and urban) of the West Riding region of Yorkshire, England, and incorporate real-life tragedies (such as that of the “Yorkshire Ripper” serial killer) into a fictional tapestry of lost souls and broken bodies. Two possibly related sets of serial killings are at the center of the trilogy: that of the Ripper, who preys on sex workers; and a case involving abducted little girls. As the three films progress, complex connections between these crimes and West Riding’s population – from the most poverty-stricken to the most powerful of its citizens – slowly become apparent.

Each of the three films focuses on a protagonist who fights unfathomable evil and corruption in search of the truth. In 1974, newspaper reporter Eddie Dunford clashes with his editors, the police, and a local construction magnate in his quest to find the killer of the kidnapped girls. 1980 follows Peter Hunter, a detective assigned to find the Yorkshire Ripper and to investigate the corrupt cops on that case as well as the previous one involving the little girls. 1984 wraps things up with two protagonists: lawyer John Piggott, whose father is culpable in the crimes of the earlier films; and Maurice Jobson, a cop who is finally crushed by the weight of his own role in covering up the truth behind the killings. Through the eyes of these characters, Grisoni creates a sort of Grimm’s Fairy Tale for adults – an unblinking stare into the heart of darkness that nevertheless has moments of great compassion and tenderness.

Although Grisoni’s script and the continuity of actors give the three Red Riding films a certain unity, the movies also have very different styles, thanks to a different cinematographer, editor, and director on each feature. 1974 was photographed by Rob Hardy, who employs Super-16 and a 1.85:1 aspect ratio to create a grainy, immediate look for Dunford’s journalistic quest. The series moves into widescreen 2.35:1 for 1980, which Igor Martinovic shot in Super-35. Martinovic uses the ’scope frame to create an oppressive sense of entrapment for Hunter, who is constantly viewed through glass, pillars, doorways, and gates; his impotence is further emphasized by widescreen compositions that trap him between more powerful characters. For the finale, 1983, cinematographer David Higgs, BSC shot in Hi-Def (2.35:1)with a Red One, and the digital look gives a harsh, blown-out quality to the light, as though the characters can barely stand the blinding clarity of the horrible truth with which they are faced.

The Blu-ray transfer of Red Riding is nothing short of superb, capturing the diverse range of styles and formats that characterize the trilogy. The grain structure of Hardy’s 1974 segment is well replicated, as are the deep blacks and shadows of Martinovic’s work and the unforgiving digital details of Higgs’s finale, and the rich 5.1 surround mix will have most viewers looking uncomfortably over their shoulders during the film’s creepier set pieces. A second Blu-ray contains several supplementary features, starting with a terrific 11-minute interview with 1974 director Julian Jarrold in which he discusses casting, location, and camera issues as well as the influence of American conspiracy thrillers like Klute and The Parallax View. There are short making-of featurettes for both the 1980 and 1983 episodes (running 18 and seven minutes, respectively) in which cast and crew provide additional insights; 23 minutes of deleted scenes and an assortment of trailers and TV spots round out the package.

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