Video Event of the Week: Is it Blue Underground's Blu-ray and DVD versions of David Carradine making like Bruce Lee in the low budget 1978 action flick Circle of Iron? Might Red Distribution's swell DVD of the terrific music documentary Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer make the cut? Or against all the odds, could Paramount's box set of restored episodes from The Lucy Show: The Official First Season, possibly be The One?
All worthy, to be sure, but for my money, it's got to be the Criterion Collection's stunning new DVD of Roman Polanski's classic 1965 shocker Repulsion.
To be honest, I hadn't seen this since college (hey -- let's leave the Spanish American War out of this, okay?) and I wasn't sure how it would hold up. But let's talk the tech details first, which means that I'm happy to report that Criterion has done its usual stunning job here. The transfer -- which Polanski approved -- is, frankly, flawless. The gorgeous kitchen sink surrealist look of the thing is even more seductive than I remembered, and the print itself is absolutely glitch free; watching the film on DVD, you could be excused for thinking it just went directly from cinematographer Gilbert Taylor's camera to your monitor. Criterion also includes a fascinating audio commentary by Polanski and star Catherine Deneuve, and there's a terrific 2003 retrospective making-of documentary with interviews with just about everybody behind the scenes, including the now charmingly senior Taylor.
As for the film itself, I'm happy -- if that's the word -- to report that its slow charting of a nice bourgeois girl's descent into homicidal madness has lost none of its power. Polanski (this was his first English language film after two European art house hits) knew that on the most basic level, he was making a B-horror exploitation flick, but he took great pains to invest the script with psychological depth as well as boo! gotcha! moments, and the visuals he achieves are sensational; the London exteriors, the real world if you will, are as gritty and reassuringly "normal" as you could want, but the interiors -- the apartment where Deneuve's character goes (mostly) quietly mad -- get progressively weirder and weirder as the film progresses. When I talked about kitchen sink surrealism, I wasn't kidding: I've long thought that the film's most memorable shock -- the clutching hands that suddenly break through the apartment wall to grab the heroine --
-- is a sly homage to a certain famous scene from Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast.
I should also add that Deneuve, then mostly unknown to English-speaking audiences, is beyond remarkable, both luminously beautiful and (deceptively) impassive. And without giving anything away, it's worth noting that the film's famous still photo ending works a lot differently than I remembered. When I watched it back in the day, I thought Polanski was making the point that Deneuve's character had been a bad seed from the beginning. With the benefit of forty years of hindsight, however, let's just say that there seems to be a whole other family dynamic at work, which is even more chilling.
Here's a slightly blurry version of one of the trailers (a pristine version of which is part of Criterion's package) to give you a taste of how disturbing the whole thing is.
Bottom line: A seminal work of the 60s that still packs a punch; you can -- and definitely should -- pre-order it here.
Okay, that out of the way, and since things are most likely going to be a little quiet around here till Monday, here's another fun and obviously relevant project for us all to contemplate --
Most Memorable Film Featuring A Character Who's Absolutely Bonkers!!!
And my totally top of my head Top Five is:
5. Mad Love (Karl Freund, 1935)
Peter Lorre, perfectly cast, is Dr. Gogol, a nutbar surgeon so obsessed with actress Frances Drake that he swaps her wounded pianist husband's hands with a pair taken off the corpse of a killer knife thrower. Most memorable line (of many): "I have conquered science! Why can't I conquer love?"
4. Star Trek: Whom Gods Destroy (Herb Wallerstein, 1969)
Yvonne (Batgirl) Craig as the psycho Orion slave chick in a much better than average third season Star Trek epsiode. "He's my lover and I have to kill him!" Come to think of it, the late great Steve Ihnat as Lord Garth is pretty nuts too. And yes, I know this isn't from a movie, so sue me.
3. Daffy Duck Hunt (Robert McKimson, 1947)
The duck at his most amuck, and the funniest Warner Bros. cartoon of them all, IMHO. "Don't shush me -- I'll make all the noise I wanna!"
2. The Ruling Class (Peter Medak, 1972)
Peter O'Toole as the 14th Earl of Gurney, a paranoid schizophrenic who believes he's God. How does he know? "When I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself."
And the numero uno tale that witnesses madness, it's so freaking obvious I just want to smack you for having thought of anything else, has got to be --
1. Pink Flamingos (John Waters, 1972)
Divine [as herself], immediately after eating a steaming pile of dog poo (NOT a special effect): "I realize now that I am completely insane."
You go, girl!
Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?