Friday, January 08, 2010

le rayon bleu de Deneuve


Xmas is over and I'm now in the blu-ray group. It's cool and all but man, all that detail and clarity scares me motionless. Two minutes into it and I'm really missing the blur that used to cover all the tiny beads of sweat under actors' stage makeup. Well luckily there's Criterion, who manage to make blu-ray look just better enough to be worthwhile, but not so sharp as to cut the nose of a snoopy detective, or possible peeping tom? Shall we all not be punished for seeing too much? Well, not all the time, and REPULSION looks heavenlier than ever, not that I've seen it in any form but streaky pan-and-scan VHS hell, my natural habitat. 

The film's eerie but glacial frisson makes it actually ideal for being the first film to watch on blu-ray: we see just enough ugliness outside the flat to make us cling to Deneuve's soothingly blank visage all the more. The "too much detail" problem is sidestepped via her stunning countenance. The way blu-ray sharpens her features into a realm of "too much sight" is usually reserved only for the insane -- the sight of particles and energy actually changing in the face second by second. She oscillates into Cybil Shepherd and Gwyneth Paltrow at times, and it seems sometimes she's trying not to laugh as she walks down the street, hiding how amused she is by Polanski's camera, and we realize that for some of us, beautiful girls in particular, the camera never shuts off. 24/7 they're watched by a million slavering, arrogant males all longing to be toasted in a flaming wicker head... or singed on the edge of a straight razor. As Saul put it in THE OLD DARK HOUSE, "Flames... are really knives... and it's cold, flame is!"



Such madness is, I'm afraid, generally the result of too much clarity rather than too little. As REPULSION's side cast makes clear, the ones who get along in this crazy social order are half-asleep, half-deaf barbarians, the Stanley Kowalskis.  A younger, quieter version of Blanche Dubois, Deneuve's heroine suffers at the hands of her sister's arrogant, cheeky lover, a balding bullethead who can't imagine why sis wouldn't find him adorable and presumes she must be dumb and daft just because she's sensitive, vacant and almost Zen-like in her stillness. She should be in a nunnery, only she'd have to cover up that dynamite hair... and that none could abide.

Sometimes I wonder if all this clarity is revealing stuff even Polanski didn't see when picking out shots. He sure doesn't seem to miss much, though, and this is the kind of film that craftsmanship was made for since it's the accumulation of small details -- the gradual shading of light and darkness and the way the world keeps turning outside your door even as you are locked up in your house afraid to go out because of the weird breathing you hear several floors down, coming from your drain -- that makes the film work. If it's too pronounced and over-produced you sense the trickery and think someone's working a gaslight. On the other hand, if it's totally unnoticeable you think maybe they really are out to get her. One tentacle of Polanski's genius is that even when his story decides which is which, he doesn't.

Take it from anyone whose ever been confined to their flat in the middle of a sprawling, car alarm and siren-ridden city while recovering from drug binges or emotional trauma for days on end without human contact, not even daring to move from a sitting or lying position, watching the sun come and go, the hustle and bustle of commuters like a syrup-paced Koyaanisqatsi, the slowly cohering spiderweb in the corner your only friend, every little shadow counting for something, REPULSION is 'true'. Now it makes sense that Deneuve's so hypnotized by cracks in the film; now we can see deep inside them ourselves on blu-ray... like the barrier between the viewer and the image itself has been removed, and any minute we might reach in there and pull Deneuve's hair (or worse), like the arms from the walls, or be pulled in ourselves... no wonder she's so crazy. Just be glad her razor's not in 3-D... not yet.

It's an alarming trend that imagination has grown so undernourished while being paid so much lip service by Hollywood. I'm happy that geeks are gettin' rich and powerful, but every new format and digital breakthrough leads us further from the power of our own personal imaginations to fill in blind spots, to see stuff where nothing actually is. After all, even looking into a campfire and imagining a hook on a car door is a hundred times more intimate and personally relevant (scary) than the inhuman precision of CGI. The more we see, the less scared we are, as Val Lewton knew. Like so much corporate red tape, digital image "clarity" results less in capturing the transformative beauty and power of our dreams than the reverse, reducing even the wildest alien vistas to ones and zeros, ever-so-slightly pixelated and airless, "more human than human." It'll keep getting worse until one day we'll look in the mirror and have one of those meta-mecha Cyberdine/Rydell Corporation moments, and when that happens we can only hope Polanski will still be there, slicing our noses and rubbing his lens in our lifeless doll eyes until we're blocked, shocked and pleasantly clockworked, like Deneuve in the arms of her painted-white rapist walls.

3 comments:

  1. Weirdly, I've been getting nostalgic for video lately. I saw What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? on DVD for the first time and missed the murky quality of the video. I think it's because my video store has all these out of print movies on VHS for a dollar rental fee. I guess I wouldn't mind seeing Senso on blu-ray but for now I'm enjoying the nostalgia trip...

    ReplyDelete
  2. The clarity on HDTV really scares me. Beyond theatrical movies on Blu-ray. The digital stuff shot for TV. Actresses who used to look so magazine centerfold hot now appear close to human and a little funky. I was scoping out one actress and started to see the sag lines jiggling beneath her upper arms. You don't see that shit on a regular TV set.

    You don't even see that shit in real life unless you're right on top of them.

    On my cable's HD on demand they have a promo with scenes of Amy Adams, who's this young woman, but in HD you see all the make-up that's been pasted onto her face. She looks like Bette Davis in BABY JANE.

    Like someone once said, I don't want my movies to look like reality, I want them to look like movies.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ricky, you took the words right out of my mouth regarding Bette Davis. She'd probably be the first to admit blu ray would have killed her career if it was out in the 1940s - 1970s. Imagine the pain of that great scene in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane when Davis is prancing around and forgets she's not a kid, then sees her reflection in the mirror morph like Dr. Hyde into her real old self.... they should crank the blue ray high def right there and you'd have a swell meta momen... or at least I would, damn how did I get all old?

    And Anonymous, you bring up Baby Jane as well? We're all on the same page!

    "All I know is, I watch Bette in some of these DVDs, like Now Voyager, and I long for the blurriness of VHS. As our world moves more and more to high definition and blu-ray, that eye of the beholder is going to see some things better left obscured by Blanche's paper lantern, that's all I'm saying, with all the format changes. Even the most airbrushed and metallic of goddesses won't catch any fanboys if they can see "that" much. You know what I mean, bro? Do I got to underline it in highlighter marker? Darkness makes everyone equally attractive. It's key! The high-def future will mean the end of sex for all but the supermodels. The rest of us will punch our way through days so gray and isolated they make Gilliam's Brazil look like Christmas with Bing Crosby. No matter how lovely you think you are, we'll be able to see into your pores from the back row." (BLFJ 5/09)

    ReplyDelete