An Unmarried Woman
One woman’s journey of self-discovery brings about a warmly human cultural conversation about female liberation, in this wonderfully frank, funny chronicle of changing 1970s sexual politics by Paul Mazursky. When her husband of sixteen years abruptly leaves her for a younger woman, Manhattan gallery worker Erica (a fantastic, Oscar-nominated Jill Clayburgh in her defining role) finds herself alone and adrift—but also newly empowered to explore her needs and desires as she tests the waters of a new relationship with a charismatic artist (Alan Bates). Candidly addressing issues of sex, intimacy, loneliness, and divorce from an unabashedly feminist perspective, An Unmarried Woman makes the simple but radical assertion that a woman’s most important relationship is the one she has with herself.
The Criterion Collection presents Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The presentation is sourced from a new 4K restoration, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative, and encoded here at 1080p/24hz.
It's a nice looking presentation but ultimately has what I guess I would call a simple 70s-American-drama look. Colours lean warmer, but it never comes off oppressive like other recent restorations that are caked in yellow, green, or teal. Granted, the film's colour scheme is basically beige, but whites still look white and there are blues. Other, brighter colours pop up here and there, mostly during sequences in art galleries or studios, but they manage to be fairly vibrant with excellent saturation. Film grain is rendered well (the film is quite grainy, I must say) and tthis aids in keep the image sharp and crisp. Damage also isn’t an issue, other than a few small marks. Black levels may be the presentation’s weaker aspect at times; though generally inky, a number of low-lit shots, like those found in bar sequences, can be a little muddy.
Though I can't say anything really stuck out as special about it, it still manages to provide a very clean and sharp image.
The 1-channel monaural PCM presentation isn’t anything special either, but it is surprisingly dynamic, music reaching some decent highs and lows, and the same goes for spoken dialogue. The track is clean, free of distortion, and shows no signs of severe damage.
Criterion pulls together a decent little special edition for the film, first carrying over the 2005 audio commentary that appears on the original Fox DVD, and features director Paul Mazursky and actor Jill Clayburgh, both of whom have been recorded separately. Clayburgh (who sounds to be in an interview and not actually watching the film) recalls her experiences on making the film, recalling what it was like to work with Mazursky and the other actors—Michael Murphy in particular—and shares her thoughts on how the film holds up today. Mazursky gets more into the development, even explaining how the idea first hit him upon seeing the deed for a house (in another feature on the disc he says it was a mortgage application) of a friend of his, the document stating she was “an unmarried woman,” which he found to be a peculiar thing to note. He shares a few interesting casting stories (F. Murray Abraham was first considered for the role of Cliff!) and talks about how he likes to work with his actors. Like another track of his I listened to recently, the on for Moscow on the Hudson, he falls into the trap of complaining about making films in the modern studio system, suggesting how this film would have been impossible to make now (and I have no doubt that’s true), which is all well and good, but this takes the track off of covering the film and Mazursky can sound a bit bitter, even if he’s trying put a humourous spin on it.
Criterion then gets a couple of new interviews with actors Michael Murphy and Lisa Lucas, running 9-minutes and 11-minutes respectively. Both recall the process of being cast (Lucas was horrified to see Jodie Foster show up for casting, Foster having just beat her out for Taxi Driver) and talk about Mazursky’s concern being more focused on the characters. To expand on this latter topic Criterion employs Sam Wasson for a new interview, the author explaining what makes a Mazursky film a Mazursky film, from warm, playful sex scenes to full compassion for his characters, even Murphy’s cheating husband. His contribution runs 16-minutes.
Criterion also includes the entire 1980, 104-minute recording of Mazursky at the AFI, talking about his work and career up to that point. I admit to finding this a little monotonous, though it’s probably because I also listened to a similar feature on Indicator’s release for Moscow on the Hudson, which featured a recording of Mazursky with The Guardian. It also doesn’t help that Criterion presents this plainly over a single background (I ended up just playing it in the background while I worked on other things). At any rate he talks about some of his acting work, how that has played into how he works with actors as a director, talks about his writing process and developing character, and then talks about a number of his directorial efforts, with a bigger focus on his then-recent An Unmarried Woman. He also likes to get into the problems of working in a studio system (which he also talks about in that Guardian interview and the commentaries of his that I have listened to, so maybe things have always been the same). It’s fine, but I wish Criterion would zest these things up a bit.
The disc closes with a theatrical trailer and the included insert features an essay by Angelica Jade Bastien, who looks at the film from a number of angles, including its representation of feminism in the 70s.
Ultimately, not a bad upgrade for supplements. The AFI interview is presented in a stale manner but the rest of the material proves to be far more engaging.
A really solid presentation and a nice batch of extras make this worth picking up.