Color, 1975, 91 mins.
Directed by Radley Metzger
Starring Mary Mendum, Carl Parker, Marilyn Roberts
Synapse (Blu-Ray/DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

Against the posh backdrop of Paris, well-dressed lothario Jean (Carl Parker, a.k.a. Mike the coffee-scalded handyman in Score) becomes entangled with two women at a party: young and beautiful submissive Anne (Mary Mendum, aka Rebecca Brooke from a slew of Joe Sarno films like Abigail Leslie Is Back in Town) and her austere, sadistic mistress, Claire (Marilyn Roberts). An afternoon trip to the rose-filled Bagatelle Gardens results in some petty enforced larceny, perverse water sports, and punishment by thorns, much to Jean's delight. After more flirtation, they finally become a threesome engaging in debauched sexual behavior around the city: in restaurants, in retail dressing rooms, in bathtubs, and so on. Claire's increasingly sadistic treatment continues to escalate, hiding a far more complex reservoir of emotions than Jean realized, and the level of Anne's willingness to go along with the brutal treatment becomes too blurry for comfort.

After directing Score, which incorporated elements of non-simulated sex into his successful template of intelligent, upscale erotica, director Radley Metzger pushed the genre even further with the next in his line of literary adaptations, The Image. Faithfully translating the novel L'Image by Jean de Berg (actually Catherine Robbe-Grillet, with a bit of assistance and a prologue from her famous husband, Alain), this film expands on the bondage flourishes of Camille 2000 and, along with Just Jaeckin's Story of O and some of Alain Robbe-Grillet's films, remains the most potent, artistic treatment of S&M on film to date.

This was also the last film to bear Metzger's real name before he embarked on his five Henry Paris hardcore classics, and The Image is as visually luscious as its predecessors. Apart from the peculiar post-synch dubbing for the American actors, the aesthetic value of the film is impeccable and gives it a polish that makes the subject matter even more jarring. A far cry from the rough and gritty nature of the Olga films, for example, this is a class act even when it treads into explicit imagery (manual and oral only) for a small portion of the running time. The last act of the film may be too much for many viewers as it brutally bangs the viewer's head against preconceived notions of pleasure and pain on film, and even the most jaded exploitation vets should prepare to be shaken up even though the darkest, most gothic imagery is still rendered with an artistic flair. The actors are amazingly brave and convincing under the circumstances; all of them had done some commercial work beforehand and put themselves on the line with this unusual gambit, and the end result is definitely nothing that should cause shame. In the '70s this was extremely strong stuff, but now The Image is perhaps even more shocking as its sensibilites are so far removed from anything seen on movie screens in the U.S. On the other hand, its unique combination of full-strength kink and gorgeous aesthetics have made it a surprising perennial video favorite in the DVD era and beyond, taking it from one of Metzger's least-seen titles to one of his most popular in just a couple of decades. Even now, The Image is simply unlike any other film ever made.

Various video editions have circulated under the original title, as well as the more infamous reissue name (The Punishment of Anne) and a briefly available edited cut as The Mistress and the Slave. None of them could hold a candle, or even a moldy chunk of wax, compared to the first version Synapse released on DVD in 2002. Taken from the original negative, this was a quantum leap forward for the presentation of erotic cinema, and especially a Metzger title, on home video. This transfer is still strong by today's standards; the colors are beautifully rich and film-like, while detail is sharp and realistic enough to clearly expose the actors' dental fillings when they're screaming or, in Parker's case, laughing diabolically. Audio comes in either the original mono mix, a tastefully remixed stereo track with some nice ambient music separation, and an isolated mono music track highlighting the catchy, funky score, a savvy compilation of library tracks like Brian Bennet's "Image" (hmm, wonder how they chose that one) and David Gold's "Forbidden Fruit" (heard during the final scene). Artist and writer Stephen R. Bissette, a familiar name to many a horror fan, contributed some nicely appreciative liner notes, while the disc (featuring some wonderfully atmospheric menus) also houses a Metzger filmography complete with trailers for many of his earlier soft titles.

However, Synapse's 2011 HD upgrade is an even more impressive accomplishment as the original negative was once again sourced for a Blu-Ray as well as a DVD reissue (with much more striking cover art). The image quality is noticeably richer and boasts even more detail, with a slightly darker and more powdery appearance that also gives the film a more delciate, cinematic texture. The filmography is carried over here along with the same audio options, except this time the stereo track is replaced with a new, more spacious 5.1 mix (uncompressed on the Blu-Ray) which sounds a bit more natural and powerful than the 2.0 version. Optional English subtitles are also included this time around. It's still an essential classic of cinematic sex and definitely recommended for anyone feeling up to the challenge.