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... until now.
REPULSION'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 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, more homicidal version of Blanche Dubois, Deneuve's heroine suffers at the hands of her sister's arrogant, cheeky lover, a balding bullethead (you can practically smell his stifling aftershave from down the lift) 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 crime 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 twisting into a million almost-things. In this, REPULSION is 'true'. Now on Blu it makes sense that Deneuve's so hypnotized by cracks in the film; now we can see deep inside them ourselves... like the barrier between the viewer and the image has been removed, and any minute we might reach in there and pull Deneuve's hair 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.