The ’68 Comeback Special: Petulia
Richard Lester withdrew his film PETULIA from the 1968 Cannes Film Festival as the protests reached a level that made any discussion of film impossible. “The cynicism that was being displayed was monstrous,” he told Andrew Yule. “There was a well-known French film director setting fire to the curtains during the day, but by the evening he was at a party with United Artists saying ‘This won’t affect my three-picture deal, will it?'”
“We’re talking about solidarity with students and workers, and you’re talking about dolly shots and close-ups,” yelled Godard at a meeting (a man who had once said “a tracking shot is a moral question.”)
Lester found himself witnessing the police baton charge on protesters from Conrad Rooks’ luxury yacht, while guests ate, drank champagne, and listened to the live piano accompaniment. Lester suggested that his host might request the pianist to play a few revolutionary songs to get more in the spirit.
PETULIA’s whole release was geared to Cannes, which meant it never recovered and was little seen at the time, a tragedy for a film with such a sharp focus on its own historical moment. But it’s cheering to see it coming to greater prominence as time passes — Lester’s sixties work has all passed through a phase of seeming dated (judging by the opinions of others — I never felt any embarrassment in admiring it), and come out the other end in sync with the present, somehow,
Here’s a video essay I’ve made with the brilliant Timo Langer, who cuts Mark Cousins’ films. We recently made a DVD extra for Arrow DVD’s THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER Blu-ray, and I hope we’ll be working together lots.
This inaugurates a collaboration with Dave “Scout” Tafoya which will see us writing about each of the 1968 competition entries. Every Thursday, here on Shadowplay and at Apocalypse Now.
A final enigma: is Julie Christie and Richard Chamberlain’s pad, which we seem to glimpse twice, all black or all white?
Buy Petulia from Amazon.com.
Special thanks to the Scottish Documentary Institute for the loan of the sound kit!