- Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 108op/24
- Audio Codec: English PCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit)
- Subtitles: English
- Region: A
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1
- Studio: Criterion
- Blu-ray Release Date: June 22, 2010
- List Price: $39.95
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
Avant-garde Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni stepped into color in 1964 with his first color film, Red Desert. He would take 1964’s Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival with the melancholic, post-modernist drama. An austere, almost impossible to accurately define story of alienation in the new industrial world, Antonioni’s muse was let loose in this new modern landscape of color and industrialism.
Playing in a world he was so familiar with, Italy’s booming petroleum industry, Antonioni created a protagonist, Giuliana (Monica Vitti) at odds in her surroundings and seemingly on the brink of madness in a brave new world of industrial progress. With an industrialist husband (Carlo Chionetti) and her husband’s business partner (Richard Harris) showing an oddly detached sexual curiosity toward her, Giuliana suffers an inner madness that brings into question the philosophical questions of the links between humans and our environment.
Using all the skills at his disposal, Antonioni played with colors and geometry in an almost cold and scholarly way in Red Desert, as if he were resigned to the juggernaut that was modernism; people were there merely to dot the landscape like sculptures. Primary colors splash against somber, grey backdrops smoky from factory chimneys; workers strike against their employers in an almost hopelessly barren dearth of vegetation.
The complex nature of Red Desert leaves one wondering what Antonini’s true meaning of putting the film together really may have been. An environmentalist he was not nor was he an extreme leftist. Perhaps he, like many of his contemporaries, was simply inspired by the moment. Like Tati’s Playtime, Red Desert is an intriguing look at how we cope with the immovable tide of progress, ever drifting forward at a quickening pace.
The new high definition transfer of Red Desert was created on a Spirit HD 2K Datacine from the original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
The film appears on Blu-ray in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in an absolutely stunning AVC/MPEG-4 encoding from Criterion. Antonioni’s melancholy and gloomy landscape dotted with primary colors that leap from the palette are presented in an almost 3-dimensional way in this detailed and vivid transfer. Minor wear and damage to the source is hardly an issue when the film-like presentation, even grain and strong color reproduction are so nearly flawless. Red Desert’s transfer perfectly succeeds in looking its age without looking awful and looking great without looking like it has been scrubbed clean to be made shiny and new.
The Italian PCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack is also exceptionally done and perfectly complements the brilliant video transfer. The grinding industrial noises and dialogue are all presented with fullness and clarity. Crackle and hiss are not problems and everything has natural warmth to it.
The supplements provided alongside Red Desert cannot be argued against as Criterion continues to please cineastes with their complete package offerings. These are not mere throwaways to fill up space and make one feel there is value where there is none, but, rather, high quality, and thoughtful companion pieces that belong in any film lover’s library.
The supplements provided with this release are:
- Audio commentary by Italian film scholar David Forgacs.
- Michelangelo Antonioni (1.33:1; 1080i/60) — This twelve-minute interview with director Michelangelo Antonioni about Red Desert was conducted as part of the French television series Les écrans de la ville. It was first broadcast on November 12, 1964.
- Monica Vitti (1.33:1; 1080i/60) — In this nine-minute interview from the French television series Cinéma cinemas, actress Monica Vitti discusses her relationship with Michelangelo Antonioni and her approach to acting. The interview was first broadcast on March 10. 1990.
- Dailies (1.78:1; 1080i/60) — These uncut and unfinished dailies from Red Desert show the precision of Antonioni’s framing and direction of actors. Recent acquisitions of the Cineteca di Bologna, they are presented here as discovered — in both black and white and color, and without audio.
- Gente Del Po (1.33:1; 1080p/24; 0:10.59) — This twelve-minute film of a barge trip down the Po River is, along with N.U., one of several early nonfiction shorts by Antonioni to look at the relationship between individuals and their environment, a theme the director would fully explore in films such as Red Desert. Made between 1943 and 1947, Gente del Po was a seemingly cursed project: part of the negative was lost during processing and another part was destroyed by humidity during the war.
- N.U. (1.33:1; 1080i/60; 0:11.39) — This twelve-minute 1948 film by Antonioni documents the lives of street cleaners in Rome. N.U. is short for Nettezza urbana, the Italian municipal cleaning service.
- Trailer (1.78:1; 1080p/24)
- Booklet: Featuring an essay by film writer Mark La Fanu, a reprinted interview with Antonioni conducted by Jean-Luc Godard, and writings by Antonioni on Gente del Po and N.U.
The Definitive Word
Red Desert is complex and difficult stuff, but it is well worth the effort. Getting to the end is a fulfilling experience and uplifting. Its ideas on isolation, environment and madness are so pertinent to many lives today that it feels as if it could have been created only yesterday. Of course, Criterion delivers the goods with an excellent reference quality release on Blu-ray as well.
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