John Schlesinger’s most personal film, Sunday Bloody Sunday, makes its debut on Blu-ray through Criterion, presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The new high-definition transfer is delivered in 1080p/24hz.
Having only seen the film previously on sub-par home video presentations (VHS and MGM’s own lackluster non-anamorphic DVD) I had managed to get used to the fluctuating, rather dull look of the film, associating it simply with the film’s age. Because I had pretty much accepted how it has looked in the past this new transfer, supervised by director Billy Williams, is not at all what I was expecting. The film has had a healthy dose of life injected into it. The fluctuations in colour are gone and are now presented with better saturation and come off far more stable The colour scheme is drab but colours manage to pop off screen, especially some of the sculptures created by the film’s one character. Black levels no longer crush with them now looking deep and inky, with no loss of detail in the darker sequences. The image is stunningly sharp as well, with a high level of detail in every scene. Film grain remains intact and I don’t recall a moment where it ever looks unnatural.
The print is also in far better shape with only a few minor specs remaining and all of the large scratches and marks that were present in the DVD edition are otherwise gone. In all this film looks as though it could have been filmed yesterday. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
I was expecting more scholarly material for a release of this caliber: though it wasn’t a big financial success or is well-known as Schlesinger’s previous film, Midnight Cowboy, it’s still one of the director’s most critically acclaimed films. Though this lack of critical depth is disappointing Criterion still throws some great material about the director and the making of the film.
The supplements are primarily interviews, starting with “illustrated audio excerpts” from an April 1975 Q&A session at the AFI with director John Schlesinger. Running around 13-minutes the excerpts feature the filmmaker talking about his process in making films, working with writers—who he says have to let go of the fact their story will become the director’s—how he observes people, particularly in hotel lobbies, and talks extensively about working with actors. Criterion has picked out many portions of him talking about Sunday Bloody Sunday in particular, and how he handled the actors in that film, including issues he had with Murray Head. From here he then talks about music and his paranoia in previewing his films. Though audio only Criterion does display photos and clips from the main feature, usually highlighting what the director is talking about. I’m disappointed we don’t get more, as Criterion has included more content from similar sessions with other directors found on their other releases (Criterion included more than an hours’ worth of a session with Michael Ritchie for their release of Downhill Racer) so I’m hoping they’re saving some of the other material for another Schlesinger release.
Moving on we get a rather short 7-and-a-half minute interview with Murray Head, who played young Bob Elkin in the film. The interview feels fragmented as though a lot was cut but it features Head talking about being cast, how Schlesinger really didn’t want his character to feature any homosexual stereotypes, and mentions how he felt lost on the production. This probably led to conflicts with the director, who he feels had a cynical view on youth. He also talks briefly about the kissing scene between him and Finch. I was expecting it to be longer with maybe more depth but it at least presents a perspective from the cast.
Director of Photography Billy Williams next talks about the look of the film for 13-minutes, mentioning he did have concerns about the subject matter but Schlesinger convinced him to do it. Schlesinger wanted him to “under photograph” the film, which to Williams meant the director didn’t want it to look flamboyant and look far more natural. He covers lighting and the tricks they used to soften the light at times, how he composed shots as if he was composing for a black and white film, and how he created the look of certain scenes, like the one at the pharmacy. He also talks about how they filmed the final shot, which could be done very easily today but was an incredibly complicated task at the time. Of course it’s very technical but Williams offers a fascinating look at how complicated it can be to get what appears to be a rather simple look for a film.
Rounding up the technical aspects of this edition production designer Lucian Arrighi talks for 9-minutes about her role in creating the sets. She had the advantage of being able to sit in on script meetings and pick up on character personalities. From here she was able to design apartments, households, individual rooms, and so on to better reflect the characters. She also took input from the actors, who of course had their own ideas for their characters. She talks about the sculptures in the film, created by Richard Loncraine, who appears in the film (and would go on to be a director himself,) and then the use of colour in helping to express the characters. She also points out a young Daniel Day Lewis in the film for those that hadn’t noticed him yet.
Criterion follows these interviews with On Sunday Bloody Sunday, which is a 23-minute interview with author William J. Mann. Mann talks a bit about Schlesinger’s early career and then moves onto the development of Sunday Bloody Sunday, concentrating a lot on the issues that developed between the director and critic/screenwriter Penelope Gilliatt while working on the story. He then covers the casting and the difficult time the production had in finding an actor for the role that eventually went to Finch. To some extent he also gets into the problems Schlesinger had with Head and of course he also goes over the film’s look while finishing off with the film’s reception. Throughout he also talks about how the film’s subject matter was treated in comparison to other films of the time, specifically how it portrayed its gay character played by Finch as a happy, well-adjusted man instead of a self-loathing, confused man that was far more common, even in “gay” films. Overall the feature offers a decent look into the production but is nothing out of the ordinary for what it is.
Criterion next includes one final interview, this time with Schlesinger’s longtime partner, photographer Michael Childers. It runs over 7-minutes and is short, but Childers manages to pack in a lot. He talks about how he first met the director, just before he started shooting Midnight Cowboy and covers his own career over the years. He then talks about his involvement in Sunday Bloody Sunday in that he was somewhat an influence of Bob Elkin and was also involved a bit in the poster design, which Schlesinger wanted to have a “Saul Bass” feel. He then also talks about the shooting of the Finch/Head kiss scene. Not as personal as I was expecting, though he speaks fondly of Schlesinger, but it’s a nice interview and one I’m glad Criterion managed to get.
The disc closes off with the film’s theatrical trailer, which plays up the critical reception with plenty of blurbs. The release then comes with a booklet featuring an essay on the film by Schlesinger’s nephew, writer Ian Buruma, and then a reprint of an article written by Penelope Gilliatt on the making of the film. It confirms some things from the features (that she didn’t bother to fly over to London for the shoot) but since it’s said by many throughout the features that she gave herself more credit for the script than was probably accurate it’s hard to say how much of the piece is true. Still, it’s an interesting read, especially when we get to the title.
All of the material is worth going through but it felt a little rushed: it took just an over an hour to get through it all. Considering the film’s stature I was a little surprised but in the end it’s still a sharp improvement over MGM’s afterthought of a release. 7/10