Having never seen or heard of 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' until reviewing the Criterion Blu-ray, I'm shocked that I was never taught about it while studying film. An entire section of my studies was dedicated to the influence and depiction of race, class, and gender in film, so how is it that the first drama featuring a kiss between two men didn't make its way onto the syllabus? Whether you know about it or not, 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' was a huge move forward for industry.
This 1971 film follows a trio of characters through their unique relationships. Dr. Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch) and Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson) are both "past their prime." Please note that Daniel is male and Alex is female. Each has been wounded from past personal experiences. These two could potentially make a perfect couple – only they don't know one another. They know of each other, but haven't met. You see, both are locked in part-time relationships with the same person – young, spontaneous, uncommitted and selfish Bob Elkin (Murray Head). Daniel and Alex both deeply love and care for Bob, which is why they remain in their incomplete, unfulfilling and unsatisfied relationships with him despite knowing that his mild affections are being shared with another.
Bob goes wherever the wind takes him. We first see Bob when he and Alex housesit and babysit for friends who leave for a short holiday. They seem to be having a blast together. They get glimpses at parenthood and marriage. We see their sexual intimacy. They appear to be the perfect couple – but it isn't long before we see what lies beneath the surface. When everything seems calm in their temporary household, Bob up and leaves to spend a romantic night with Daniel. Alex knows exactly where he is off to. Apparently, this is part of the agreed terms of their relationship – but she has had enough. Alex can no longer share her lover with another and she isn't afraid to voice her honest feelings. She wants all or nothing.
When Bob arrives at Daniel's home, we get an identical sense from their relationship. Their intimacy doesn't feature the same detailed sexuality of Alex and Bob's relationship, but through their initial kiss, we see that a deep love exists between these two. Having seen the mixed feelings that Alex experienced, it's obvious that there must be a similar undermining taking place in Daniel's heart. Of course, this shines through in no time and we see that Daniel is also in an "all or none" state of mind.
While Bob is definitely the catalyst of the film, I believe that his character plays third fiddle to Alex and Daniel. We understand what makes them tick and why they long for more. We learn about Daniel's religion-inflicted guilt about his gay relationship and the prejudice held against Alex for being a divorced middle-age female. But nothing is explained about where Bob's flighty behavior comes from. 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' explores the gap between these two different generations – the parents of the "baby boomers" and the baby boomers themselves. The film is an interesting social analysis of that period. The content of the narrative isn't the only worthwhile aspect thought. 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' is exceptionally well made.
Director John Schlesinger and Director of Photography Billy Williams found a stunningly beautiful way to shoot 'Sunday Bloody Sunday.' The picturesque imagery of the film is gorgeous. My favorite of these instances is when we first see Daniel roaming his lonely home. Bob is off with Alex, so Daniel fills his time thinking about Bob. Being a unique artist, Bob is trying to launch his business of kinetic sculptures. One of his unique creations lies in Daniel's backyard – an organized and structured set of hundreds of glass tubes filled with colored water that's lit from below. When power is supplied, drops of water slightly creep up the tubes. Schlesinger and Williams use this bizarre creation for amazing shooting techniques during the scenes that it's visible. The visuals of color, light and reflection is mesmerizing. Combine it with the way that Daniel's mood is conveyed on-screen and you have very strong filmmaking. Not to mention, I want an identical set of kinetic sculptures in my own garden.
I enjoyed 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' for its achievements and for the ground that it broke. I recommend checking it out at least once. It's worthwhile, but not the type of film that you're going to revisit time and time again.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Criterion has placed 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' on a Region A BD-50 in a typical-to-Criterion clear keepcase. The spine of the case lists this as #629 of the collection. Included is a booklet with production notes and two essays – one by Ian Buruma titled "Something Better" and another by screenwriter Penelope Gilliatt titled "Making 'Sunday Bloody Sunday.'" Not a thing plays before the static main menu.
'Sunday Bloody Sunday' has been given a great 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that presents it in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is quite impressive, lacking the flaws that you might expect from a 40-year-old film.
A slight amount of grain be seen throughout nearly the entire picture, but there are no instances of grime or debris. The image has been very well scrubbed. According to the transfer notes, "this new … transfer was created on a Spirit 2K Datacine from a 35mm interpositive struck from the original camera negative." Most scenes allow for fine details to shine – facial imperfections, pores and follicles – and only a few shots come across as noticeable soft.
As mentioned in the review, I found the shooting style of the film quite remarkable. It's no wonder why the scene that I described was so impressive; according to the transfer notes, Billy Williams supervised the color correction process of this transfer. Fleshtones are warm and inviting, colorful scenes are very pleasing to the eyes. Black levels feel slightly heavy, but aren't distracting.
'Sunday Bloody Sunday' has been given an uncompressed LPCM track that preserves the film's original monaural audio.
When it comes to audible flaws – clicks, thumps or hissing – there isn't a single one to be found. The transfer notes explain that "the original monaural audio track was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm magnetic soundtrack." It's explained that many flaws were cleaned up and removed, but you would never know if from hearing the track now.
The only complaints that I have with the audio come from the vocals. The flat nature of a mono track is always disappointing at first, but I tend to get used to it before long. Such was the case here, but the vocals in a handful of scenes carry a slightly muffled sound. Had there been more layers to the audio, this very minor nuisance may have gone unnoticed, but when all your sound is coming from one underwhelming source, it stands out.
My second complaint comes from the volume of the dialog occasionally dropping to low levels. This doesn't happen often, but it's still a problem – especially because the final monologue of the film is much too low. You never want a transfer to leave you with a negative.
'Sunday Bloody Sunday' isn't a masterpiece with rewatchability, but that hardly means that it's not worth watching. Au contraire, it is a strong character-driven drama that explores generation gaps, uneven relationships, promiscuity and the challenge of being wgay / bisexual in the early '70s. The actors perfectly bring their characters to life, making it easy to connect with them – even if their lives couldn't be farther from those watching the film. The direction, design and cinematography only add another level upon which the audience can connect with. Being a 40-year-old film given the Criterion treatment, the audio and video qualities contain very few flaws and the special features are solid reflection pieces that highlight what makes 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' stand out in film history. If you're interested in ground-breaking films that shatter standards and create forward momentum, 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' shouldn't be missed.