The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents September 2009 Return to Table of Contents
The Baader Meinhof Complex
Presidents Desk
Production Slate
CAS Part 2
ASC Close-Up
DVD Playback
Dark Blue
Mad Men
Repulsion (1965)
Blu-ray Edition
1.66:1 (High Definition 1080p)
Digital Monaural, LPCM 1.0
The Criterion Collection, $39.95

“Are you asleep?” squawks the irritated matron when she notices her young manicurist, Carol (Catherine Deneuve), seems lost in a daze. Indeed, the beautiful 19-year-old, who has an unfortunate penchant for biting her own nails, is in an increasingly precarious emotional state most people, including Helene (Yvonne Furneaux), her older sister, do not notice. Carol seems particularly distressed because Helene’s married boyfriend, Michael (Ian Hendry), has been spending the night lately, and the sounds of their lovemaking are waking Carol and making her uncomfortable, exacerbating her nervous tension. She is also upset because Helene and Michael are going on a weeklong holiday in Italy, leaving her alone in the flat.

After Helene and Michael leave, Carol stumbles to work along the streets of London, nervously aware of the men who stare at her and are transfixed by her beauty but put off by her awkward demeanor, all except persistent Colin (John Fraser) who repeatedly asks the strange beauty out and eventually succeeds in giving her a ride home, leading to a kiss. Carol’s response to his advance leads her to flee from his car to the dark safety of her apartment, where she can scrub her teeth and wash off the revulsion she feels. Her generally sleepless night is marked by the faint sounds of her neighbors in other apartments and the endless ticking of her bedside clock.

Later Carol is so lost in her own fog at work, she accidentally cuts the finger of a client, leading her supervisor to send her home. Eventually, Carol finds herself succumbing to her own paranoia as the walls of the flat seem to be cracking open in a strange life of their own. As she falls deeper into a psychotic state, Carol finds hands reaching out of the cracks in the apartment walls, and she is awakened by the specter of a man in her bed whose violent embrace she cannot escape. Finally, confused and terrified, she pulls the shades closed to keep the light from getting in. She is certainly not ready to deal with company when lovesick, guilt-ridden Colin comes to call or when, hours later, the landlord stops by for the rent and her irrational state drives her to homicidal violence.

In director Roman Polanski’s celebrated second feature, Repulsion, he created the first of his three sensational tales of suspense that befall urban apartment dwellers, the others being Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976). So impressed with the warm, monochromatic tones in Dr. Strangelove (1964), Polanski enlisted cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, BSC (Frenzy, The Omen), to bring his first foray into paranoid horror to life. Taylor and Polanski worked out a visual schematic for the film that included sharp contrasts and an increasing use of wide-angle lenses to bring Carol’s distorted views to life. Taylor kept photographic details as realistic as possible and then slowly added elements of the surreal to the lighting and point of view to slide everything frighteningly askew. Taylor and Polanski would work together again on Cul-de-sac (1966) and Macbeth (1971). Taylor’s body of work would eventually win the BSC’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001 and the ASC’s International Award in 2006.

The Criterion Collection has recently released an excellent high-definition, Blu-ray version of this landmark thriller. Making the most of the 1080p visual capabilities, the image is crisp and vivid throughout, with just enough visible film grain to show some of the budgetary constrictions of the production. Taylor’s elaborate gray scale and excellent contrasts are always presented accurately, breathing appropriately demented life to the images. With solid black levels and remarkable sharpness throughout, Repulsion has never looked better on home screens. The film’s intensely creative, dense soundtrack has been carefully restored, cleaned of any age-related defects, and is excellent, if just a tad low, requiring minor volume adjustments.

Criterion offers impressive supplements, including an excellent, feature-length commentary shared by Polanski and Deneuve from their excellent 1994 laser-disc presentation. Other than the original theatrical trailer, all new supplements include a 25-minute, 2003 documentary, A British Horror Film, featuring interviews with Polanski and Taylor, among others, and a 22-minute, on-set documentary, made for French television in 1964. Finally, an interesting historical essay is provided by scholar Bill Horrigan.

This macabre and disturbing modern classic helped solidify Polanski as one of the world’s most important directors as well as giving a jump start to the career of its young star, Deneuve. Carol’s unusual paranoia has been expertly mounted here in this flawless new presentation that will bring a new generation of fans to the brink of madness with her. These lingering images of isolation and emotional breakdown remain some of cinema’s most powerful and often imitated.

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