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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Shirley: Visions of Reality (2013)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)


Starring: Stephanie Cumming, Christoph Bach and Florentin Groll
Distributor: Montage Pictures
RRP: £TBC (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: TBC
Release Date: 19 March 2018

Regardless of their degree of success, it’s always good to see filmmakers trying new things with the visual narrative. Austrian filmmaker, Gustav Deutsch has taken thirteen paintings by the renowned American artist Edward Hooper and recreated them on film, using them to fashion a fictional narrative about a New York actress.

Shirley: Visions of Reality (2013. 1 hr, 32 min, 48 sec) has a story which stretches from 1931 to 1963. Each painting, and therefore part of the story, is preceded by its date, all the jumps happen in August. Each scene tries to remain true to the original painting, therefore there is very little camera movement with the mise-en-scène tightly contained within the visual boundaries of the painting. There is the occasional mid shot, but for the most part the actors move within the scene and there is one odd instance of breaking the fourth wall.

Much, if not most, of the script is presented as the characters inner dialog. This makes for a film which may be divisive, as this is generally not a popular way of telling a story. Most of the story is told from Shirley’s POV, with the occasional other present and Stephanie Cumming brings a languid sensuality to her character. Shirley’s inner dialog is added to with the inclusion of news feeds and other historical ephemera as the film charts not only Shirley’s journey, but that of America itself.

The film opens with Shirley in the Chair Car Painting in her hands she holds a book, the significance of which becomes clearer later. It is the only scene which is not dated, but from the next scene we can surmise that Shirley is reminiscing and the subsequent vignettes are her ruminations on her life. What we can see is that it’s an Emily Dickenson book, whose cover is another Hooper painting. The book has no title as we as the audience do not yet know the story. The film then moves back to 1931 and the start of the story.

Shot for shot the film does a remarkable job of bringing the paintings to life. The only real change which Deutsch has made is not to reproduce the tactile quality of the oil paintings, rather he presents a scene of hyper reality with each scene full of bright primary colours which creates within each scene a cold, detached and soulless quality which perfectly reflects Shirley’s quest to find something meaningful external to her life.

The Blu-ray is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. There are two audio tracks, DTS-HD master Audio 5.1 and a LPCM 48KHz/16 bits 2 channel tracks. The only extra on the disc is the original theatrical trailer (1 min, 14 sec). The film is presented on a two-disc format, Blu-ray and DVD. I didn’t get a DVD to review, but the Blu-ray is pin sharp with deep blacks. The vibrancy of Jerzy Palacz’s cinematography really stands out in the interplay between colour shade and mood.

It was an odd film in that although it has a structure, Shirley’s movement forward in time as represented by the paintings, it is a more contemplative piece of film making. But, as an unapologetic art film, it may struggle to gain a wide audience.


Charles Packer

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Blu-ray & DVD