Monday, June 6, 2016

WHAT? (1972)

WHAT? (1972) 
Label: Severin Films 
Region Code Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 110 Minutes
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 
Video: 1080P HD Widscreen (2.35:1)
Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Hugh Griffith, Romolo Valli, Sydne Rome, Roman Polanski

Synopsis: The director described it as “the ribald adventures of an innocent girl.” Critics called it “an amoral, depraved disaster.” More than three decades after its controversial release, it remains the most butchered, debated and least-seen film of the Oscar-winning director’s entire career. The succulent Sydne Rome stars as an oft-naked American girl lost inside a Mediterranean villa inhabited by priests, pianists, perverts and a syphilitic pimp (a deliciously bizarre performance by Marcello Mastroianni) while indulging in madcap acts of gang rape, sodomy and ping-pong. Hugh Griffith (Tom Jones), Romolo Valli (Boccaccio ’70) and Polanski himself co-star in this surreal and sexy comedy, now finally restored to its original running time from a vault print reportedly stolen from the wine cellar of producer Carlo Ponti!

What? Exactly. 

I do love me some Roman Polanski movies, I have not seen even half of his filmography but Chinatown is on a short list of my all time favorite movies. I am most familiar with is work from Repulsion (1965) on through to The Tenant (1972), there's some great stuff buried away in his early filmography worth seeking out for genre fans, from the Hammer Films vampire send-up The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) and the surreal Cul De Sac (1966) starring Donald Pleasance of Halloween there's some truly wonderful movies to be explored within his body of work, not to mention Rosemary's Baby (1968). So I have an appreciation for his early work and some knowledge of  other films, but What? was a pretty obscure slice of cinema, it wasn't until Severin the Blu-ray that I'd even heard of it, which is always an exciting prospect, to watch a movie from a director you are a fan of for the first time, but this is a challenging movie to a degree. 

This is a surreal sex comedy of sorts that begins with young American tourist Nancy (Sydney Rome) who is abroad in Italy who one night finds herself in the company of a trio of Italian men who attempt to gang rape her on the side of the road, which sounds awful but the execution is pure comedy, when an errant erection causes some confusion among the men Nancy is able to escape via a nearby sky tram that brings her to a strange villa inhabited by a weird variety of weird folk. 

The movie lacks much of any story or plot, we basically have the gorgeous Synde Rome wandering from one strange and surreal sex-comedy scenario to he next, contending with a wild array of characters which include a former pimp named Alex (Marcello Mastroianni) who enjoys a good slap now and again, and the harpoon-wielding Mosquito played by director Roman Polanski, who likes to sting with his big stinger. Meanwhile Nancy is largely nude topless or streaked with paint for large swaths of the movie, and she is certainly easy on the eyes/ Actress Rome might bean American but she has the curves and charm of a 70's European woman, her tight blond curls and expressive eyes with long lashes makes for easy viewing, even if the story such as it is seems to be a series of disconnected vignettes that borders on both the surreal cinema and a playful sex comedy, though with no actual onscreen sex or much raunchiness. 

Audio/Video: What? arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Films uncut and in the proper widescreen scope aspect ratio (2.35:1). Colors are vibrant and the Mediterranean villa and views look wonderful, as does star Sydne Rome, who the camera loves. There's some good depth and clarity to the image, though some scenes seem a bit too smooth and the image is marred by some sort of digital noise or compression artifact that looks like anomalous digital grain which hangs over scenes like sheet of transparent cheese cloth, not sure what this is but I have noticed it on a few of my Blue Underground HD releases as well, once I noticed it I found it a bit hard to ignore. 

The English PCM 2.0 audio sounds good, not razor sharp but perfectly clear, the classically inspired score Claudio Gizzi comes through with some nice clarity and depth. There is also an option to watch the movie with the Italian dubbed score, without benefit of any subtitle options, unfortunately. . 

The extras from the previous Severin DVD only release are carried over, we have about an hours worth of interviews with  Star Sydne Rome, Composer Claudio Gizzi and Cinematographer Marcello Gatti. Rome speaks about pursuing the role and her feelings on appearing nude in movies, and her experiences working with Polanski 
Special Features: 
- Sydne In Wonderland – Interview With Star Sydne Rome (17 Mins) 
- Memories Of A Young Pianist: Interview With Composer Claudio Gizzi (22 Mins) 
- A Surreal Pop Movie – Interview With Cinematographer Marcello Gatti (16 Mins) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins)
- What Feature?: Italian Soundtrack 

Kudos to Severin for bringing one of Roman Polanski's more obscure tiles to Blu-ray with some cool extras, the new HD transfer is not perfection but overall this is a solid presentation. The surreal Alice in Wonderland movie is carried along by the naive and often nude charisma of star Sydney Rome who is very easy on the eyes, the movie lacks traditional narrative structure but as a surreal sex comedy from the '70s I found it a fun watch. I can see the less adventuress types scratching their head trying to make sense of this one... What? Exactly.