Prior to that, he’d championed and imported European sex films, as well as produced and directed his own celebrated softcore entries such as 1968’s “Therese and Isabelle” and 1970’s “The Lickerish Quartet.”
With hardcore an accepted norm, Metzger didn’t exactly dive into that naughty pool as eagerly as many did around that time. Instead, he applied explicit elements to deepen his own explorations into the sexual topics that intrigued him most. In the case of “The Image” (aka “The Punishment of Anne”), those topics, outwardly at least, are dominance and submission. More intriguingly, however, is the point he seems to be making about unrequited lust in the face of what, on the surface, appears to be completely unbridled sexual freedom.
Set in Paris, Jean (Carl Parker, a charismatic Metzger veteran) meets up with an old friend, Claire (the sinister Marilyn Roberts), at a ritzy party. He discovers that she has powerful mental and physical control over another party guest, the hot, young Anne (Joe Sarno regular Mary Mendum aka Rebecca Brooke). Anne is basically Claire’s sex slave, and Jean has been blessed with the opportunity to witness and take part in Claire’s dominance over Anne. During this time, he observes with stunned excitement a wide variety of kinky humiliations and finds that his every sexual whim can be sated via this most bizarre relationship. Or can it?
At one point, Claire shares with Jean her collection of photographs depicting Anne in a variety of bondage scenarios. Mixed within these photos is a mysterious “image” of a female body with no visible face. Jean eventually deduces that this is actually a photo of Claire, not Anne. Suddenly, his growing obsession with Claire, and not the readily available Anne, becomes the film’s ever-so-subtle central conflict.
“The Image” is a beautiful example of adult cinema, a snapshot from an era long before the genre devolved into what we associate it with today. The lovingly constructed Blu-ray from Synapse Films highlights the work’s breathtaking cinematography with an immaculate HD transfer, a major upgrade from their 9-year-old DVD. It also boasts an incredibly cool musical score, a well-chosen assemblage of library selections, which earns a well-deserved isolated track of its own.
“The Image,” in its full, uncut state on this release, is “unrated.” An XXX rating would be an overstatement, while a simple X would sell its content short. This is pretty strong stuff, explicit in a lot of ways, but these moments feel more like story-enhancing elements rather than market requirements. Once upon a time, adult films aimed for, and sometimes hit upon, high art. And thanks to Synapse’s excellent presentation, “The Image” has been validated as one of the greatest examples. —Richard York