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Image, The

Synapse Films // Unrated // June 14, 2011 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 25, 2011 | E-mail the Author
At one point in The Image, a middle-aged woman, wealthy and bored, is in a room in her palatial home that she's nicknamed "The Gothic Chamber". As she
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pokes at a platter of exotic cheeses and sloshes around a glass of wine, her male companion asks "supposing we made her play with herself?", referring to the pretty blonde girl grasping some chains dangling from the ceiling. "First get the whip and the blindfold," she replies, sending her submissive plaything scurrying obediently to a backroom. "That whip isn't the same one we used the other day." "It's a new one. She went and bought it herself this morning."

We're clearly not talking about some softly-lit slice of erotica about a repressed woman embracing her sexuality. No, The Image is about domination...about power...about control. The film should in no way be mistaken for mindless pornography, but Radley Metzger isn't the type to flinch either. The sadomasochism explored here is explicit and graphic. There's a fair amount of oral sex throughout The Image, and it's real, not simulated in some coy, Cinemax-After-Dark kind of way. Metzger's intelligence and artful cinematic eye are unmistakeable, but the point is still to focus on the extreme. Jean (Carl Parker) had never seen anything quite like this before, but from the moment he first witnesses the domination by his old friend Claire (Marilyn Roberts) over young Anne (Mary Mendum), he can't turn away. It starts during a stroll through a Parisian botanical garden. Punished for stealing a rose -- having done so at her mistress' command, of course -- Anne is ordered by Claire to hike up her skirt and is pricked with one of the rose's thorns scarcely an inch from her crotch. When Anne complains about needing to go to the bathroom, Claire orders her to squat and urinate in front of both of them. Fascinated by the power Claire wields over this young girl, Jean
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stops being an observer when Anne begins fellating him on the grounds of the garden. As degraded as Anne seems to be, she periodically flashes a perverse smirk throughout it all. She craves this abuse. As Jean is seduced deeper and deeper into their sadomasochistic games, he becomes obsessed with Anne. She's ordered to give him a blowjob in a public phone booth. Claire jabs her fingers into Anne's vagina and demands that she lick the juices. There's one scene in a ritzy restaurant where Claire and Jean order their lunches seemingly without a care in the world, while Anne stares at the waiter with a borderline-psychotic expression on her face, trying not to break as her dominators covertly finger-fuck her.

The Image is artful, erotic, and extreme. Whereas pornography in the traditional sense would focus purely on the acts of sex, Metzger prefers to emphasize the faces of his characters, with particular attention paid to where their eyes are looking. This is sadomasochism, after all; the point is as much, if not more, about the other person's reaction as it is the physical act itself. Metzger also has a smirking sense of humor, taking care to photograph so many of the phallic landmarks and fountains (!) that Paris has to offer. Befitting its name, The Image is a beautifully shot film, and the collision of striking cinematography with such graphic S&M is certainly intriguing. It's not empty titillation, and there's very much a point to it all. Really, I could write a fairly scholarly essay on the last fifteen minutes of the film and what it all represents, but that'd probably be as torturous as Anne being half-drowned in a bathtub or being poked just beneath the breast by a cheese skewer. Metzger strikes a balance between the underlying intelligence, artfulness, eroticism, and explicit imagery that remains shocking even all these decades later.

I take no pleasure in sadism, and just as I found the carnal lust and the compulsion to own...throughout In the Realm of the Senses extremely difficult to watch, I can't honestly say that I enjoyed The Image. I understand and appreciate what Radley Metzger set out to accomplish, but I personally don't have the stomach for it. Many others do, of course. The Image proved to be quite a success for Synapse Films on DVD, and this marks the first time we've seen a film that Synapse had previously released now find its way onto Blu-ray. Rather than warm over whatever masters Synapse had laying around from the DVD days, the time was taken to newly retransfer the film and remix its soundtrack. This is an endeavour that's been long in the making, and I'm sure longtime admirers of The Image will be thrilled with the results.

Synapse Films has struck a brand-new transfer of The Image for this Blu-ray disc, and by and large, it looks terrific. The cinematography does have that slightly soft haze I see in a lot of films from the 1970s, but it looks completely natural, and detail and clarity are both still consistently strong throughout. Its colors also shine whenever they have the chance, particularly in some of the clothing as well as the entire sequence set in the botanical garden. The filmic texture of its grain hasn't been digitally smeared away, and the bitrate for this AVC encode is given enough headroom that it never buckles under the weight of that grit. There really isn't any speckling or wear of note either. Some heavy ghosting is briefly visible in one shot as Anne tries to buy a banned book under-the-counter, but it's explained in the liner notes that this is an issue that dates back to the original photography and shouldn't be considered a flaw with this transfer. Anyone familiar with Synapse's consistently spectacular track record on DVD and now Blu-ray really shouldn't be the least bit surprised that The Image looks as fantastic in high definition as it does.

The Image takes advantage of almost every spare byte on this single-layer Blu-ray disc, and the video has been very lightly letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

The Image belts out a slew of different soundtracks, all in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. Since Synapse caters to enthusiasts and purists, it's no surprise that the original monaural audio is offered up here. There's
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also an alternate soundtrack without any of the dialogue or narration -- just the score and sound effects. I sampled both of those but primarily listened to the 24-bit, 5.1 remix that's exclusive to this Blu-ray disc. Yet again, I'm really not left with any complaints at all. This remix is very respectful of The Image's original monaural audio, reserving the surrounds largely for atmosphere and ambiance. It's very effective, though, taking care to place discrete effects in the rears and even a few smooth pans, such as cars driving by in the background. Touches like the reverb in the Gothic Chamber also further flesh out of a sense of place. Dialogue is remarkably clean and clear, especially for a film of its age. There are a couple of spots where the quality of the narration varies from sentence-to-sentence, but I'm guessing that's just because it was pieced together from different recording sessions. There really isn't much of a low-end to speak of, only starting to make its presence known with some synth bass late in the film, but there's not much need for any kind of low-frequency growl either. This is another expectedly terrific effort from Synapse.

Along with the three DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, The Image also optionally offers English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Aside from the isolated score/effects soundtrack, the only other extra is a Radley Metzger filmography. Synapse's DVD from 2002 also featured trailers for a few of Metzger's other films, but they didn't make their way onto this disc. This Blu-ray release also features a brief set of liner notes by Mondo Digital's Nathaniel Thompson.

The Final Word
The Image is an unflinchingly explicit exploration of sadomasochism...of the seductive thrall of power as well as the compulsion to be wholly and completely dominated. As artful and stylish as The Image is, this by design isn't a pleasant movie to watch. Be prepared for an extremely visceral experience. Though I'll admit that The Image doesn't appeal to me, there's no denying that this is an intelligent and well-crafted film, and I'm impressed by just how far it's willing to go. I respect what Radley Metzger has accomplished here even though I don't particularly enjoy it. As ever, it's also appreciated that Synapse Films is seeking out such a wide variety of films to issue on Blu-ray and isn't timid about releasing challenging material. Recommended as long as you're prepared for what you're in for.

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