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A Woman Under the Influence [UK] Blu-ray Review

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Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(The below TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

[Rating:5/5]

Johan Cassavetes (Faces) infused his riveting style of cinema verité into every minute of 1974’s powerful and difficult A Woman Under the Influence. Powered by a magnetic performance from Gena Rowlands, the film goes inside the inner turmoil of a working class family, the Longhettis, Nick (Peter Falk) and Mabel (Rowlands), slowly being torn apart by Mabel’s psychiatric instability. Nick, a construction worker for the city, knows of his wife’s issues and loves her anyway, trying to work her madness into the everyday life of the family regardless of its ill effects, but Mabel’s condition worsens to the point where a stint in an institution is eventually in order. The film is frenzied and verging on violent in Cassavetes’ innovative use of handheld cameras and tight, claustrophobic spaces. The screenplay and editing combine to create pure genius. Though, as actors often reported when working with Cassavetes, the dialogue is straight from the script, the resulting performances are so free from constriction as to feel totally freeform and improvised. This could be the dawn of mumblecore and “reality,” only with a more layered vision. Peter Falk and John Cassavetes financed the film on their own with distribution handled by Cassavetes so as to avoid the studios altogether. In the end A Woman Under the Influence garnered two Oscar nominations for Best Actress (Rowlands) and Best Director (Casavetes).

Video Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

The film was transferred in high-definition on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm colour reversal internegative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System.’

A Woman Under the Influence won’t exactly set the world afire when it comes to picture quality given its grainy and soft texture, but this transfer from BFI looks clean and film-like nonetheless. Colors are less stylistic than they are in the true-to-life vein of the 70s vernacular, but the reproduction is solid, especially in the primaries.

Audio Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

The soundtracks were mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic audio track and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss, and crackle.’

The monaural soundtrack is offered up in LPCM 2.0 (48khz/24-bit) and while it provides clean, intelligible dialogue, it does sound rather boxy. Louder passages are also on the harsh side, but this has more to do with the recording technology of the time than this particular mastering.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:2.5/5]


The supplements are a bit lighter than usual for BFI in this release.

The supplements:

  • Original Trailer
  • Alternative 16mm Trailer
  • Falk on Cassavetes: Husbands and Wives (DVD only)
  • Elaine Kagan interviewed by Tom Charity (DVD only)
  • DVD – This dual format edition includes a standard DVD issue of the film as well.
  • Booklet: Illustrated booklet contains a thoughtful essay on the film by Tom Charity, who explains how the film inspired him when he first saw it on television at the ripe young age of 15, and Al Ruban. There’s also an interview with Cassavetes from the Vol. 8 No. 3 January 1975 issue of Filmmakers’ Newsletter.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:3.5/5]

A Woman Under the Influence is not an easily forgettable film, nor is it easy to watch. It’s nearly 2 ½ hour run time is one of the most uncomfortable and uneasy in cinema, but it is worth the journey once you get to the other side. Highly recommended.

Additional Screen Captures

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Your ratings make little sense. While you award the film itself 5 stars (and rightly so) you knock both picture and audio ratings down to 3.5 each simply for (as you admit) being true to their source. So what properties would they have to possess in order to rate 5 stars?!? The extras score also seems quite stingy, especially considering the broad scope of the booklet. So in the end your overall rating gives WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE a miserly 3.5 score. I think you need to reconsider your ratings system to say the least.

    • Actually never said anywhere in the review that the picture looks “true to the source,” as you claim. Reviewing a title is always an assessment and balance of how an encodement affects the image AND the overall quality of the original image in the first place. For instance, Inland Empire, which is also reviewed here,was originally captured on handycam; it looks like crap, always has, always will. the transfer is “true the source,” but does that mean I should award it a 5/5 rating? In my opinion, no, because that would be misleading at best. As for the supplements, this title is slight in comparison to other efforts from BFI — no featurettes on the BD, no HD short films, no related content from other filmmakers, etc. I could go on.

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