“Out there where nothing is.”

Frank Perry and Joan Didion’s PLAY IT AS IT LAYS is indeed as terrific as David Ehrenstein says it is.

Starring the Eternal Tuesday.

Strange to find a scene shot in a location familiar from SE7EN, and at dusk, too.

“There’s no there, there.” That line about LA is echoed in Anthony Perkins’ line about where he and Weld have both been — “out there where nothing is.” But that’s a state of mind, not a place. The film is agnostic about whether any of the characters are mentally ill. Whatever malaise is eating at Weld and Perkins, it doesn’t have the outward hallmarks of clinical depression — they’re too warm and smiley. Maybe that’s Californian depression. Everyone lying there, smiling.

Is this so-called Paradise Syndrome? I think to call it that would be overly cynical. But with the need to struggle to survive excised from their lives, Weld and Perkins’ characters are floundering in a world of pointless luxury. I guess that’s better than pointless poverty. But it does kind of spotlight what’s missing.

“Nothing applies.”

This is more spiritual or existential (a word the characters throw around but don’t show much sign of understanding). The down-to-earth motelkeeper urges Weld to keep busy, but as she’s sweeping a porch in the desert, the Sisyphean pointlessness of busy-ness is glaring.

None of these characters have what poor people would call “real problems.” But it doesn’t seem like their suffering is self-indulgent. Although if they felt connected to the world outside Hollywood maybe they’d see it that way. But this is life in a bubble.

“I don’t ever wanna be where you are.”

“You don’t wanna be… … … but… … … you will.”

Perkins has some of the great line readings of all time. Weld’s performance could be called brave. Whatever, it’s incredibly compelling. Adam Roarke, as her film director husband “Carter Lang” is good, if utterly unsympathetic. His glasses call William Friedkin to mind, which adds to the suspicion that he may not be the nicest of guys. I don’t know, maybe Sherry Lansing would disagree with me.

The film really wrestles with the idea of adapting an interior novel without copping out. It takes a while just to get the relationships sorted out in your head, and then issues of motivation can go unresolved for the longest time. Feels like I’ll get more out of this each time I see it, like with PETULIA.

Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.

Funny coincidence department: in PRETTY POISON (also excellent, in a very different lane) Perkins gets out of the psych ward and meets Tuesday Weld. In PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, Weld meets Perkins and then goes into the psych ward.

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37 Responses to ““Out there where nothing is.””

  1. Indeed it would make a great double-feature with Petulia — provided you have an emotional constitution of steel.

    It’s obvious from Pretty Poison that Perkins and Weld really understood each other — and Play It As it Lays makes that understanding even clearer. It’s a love story of sorts –comparable to late period Duras where Yann Andrea, weary of constantly falling in love with the wrong man turns to Marguerite for emotional solace.

    In some ways Tuesday Weld is fairly easy to understand — a great actress simply too damned smart for the industry she was born into. I would imagine she and Natalie Wood had long heart-to-hearts in “The Bu” over the crap they both had to put up with.

    Perkins is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Back in the earliest days of the Gay Activists’ Alliance (before The Firehouse was purchased) we operated out of a church in Chelsea with general meetings on Thursday nights. Perkins used to ride aroung the place on his bike every Thusday. We’d call for him to come in — and he’d speed off as if someone had just given him a hot-foot.

    The Berkowitz’s — a pop psychology team whose book How To Be Your Own Best Friend (we used to call it How To Be Your Own Beast Fiend) convinced him he could go straight. And so he achieved. . .
    bisexuality.

    He was genuinely in love with Berry Berenson (insert the last line of Long Day’s Journey Into Night) but couldn’t keep away from The Haymarket (a Broadway area dive now long gone along with its patrons)
    and thus he contracted AIDS and died.

    She was in one of the planes that hit the twin towers on 9/11.

    The song has ended but the melody lingers on. . .

  2. You’re right, this film plus Petulia would leave the toughest viewers in emotional shreds.

    Though he remained closeted, Perkins seems to blossom in those roles which hint at his secret, even Psycho and The Trial in their odd ways.

  3. Yes, that’s what’s so singular about him. He’s always right on the edge.

    Have you seen Remember My Name ? It’s teriffic, and the only film Perkins made with Berry Berenson. Geraldine Chaplin stars as a mystery woman just released from prison who stslks Perkins who was involved with her in past, evidently criminal, actions that writer-director Alan Rudolph never really spells out. Very Rivette-inspired its musical score consists entirely of songs by aged blues great Alberta Hunter. Like Play It As it Lays it’s not yet available on home video.

  4. “This place serves a poor zombie.” Perkins always displays a really nice sense of humour when he gets material that amuses him. I’m a big fan of Rudolph, it’s kind of terrible I haven’t written about him yet.

  5. Christopher Says:

    I’ll have to check this one out..I love Pretty Poison!

  6. Christopher Says:

    as for Perkins..still waiting on The Fool Killer to get a dvd

  7. John Seal Says:

    The ‘there is no there there’ quote is actually about my adopted hometown of Oakland, California. I can assure you there’s plenty of there here, and that Gertrude Stein was talking out of her ass.

  8. As she often did.

    Right, have just made arrangements to get a copy of The Fool Killer — sounds like my kinda show!

    Just taking a breather from the impressively grimy Doc, Perry’s revisionist western with Stacy Keach as Holliday, Harris Yulin as Earp and Faye Dunaway as Katie Elder. Am starting to think we should’ve been celebrating Perry the way we raved about Coppola. He’s made more good films!

  9. > quote is actually about my adopted
    > hometown of Oakland

    I was going to add that, speaking as someone born in Los Angeles.

    > Everyone lying there, smiling

    When this picture was made, one could attribute it to denial. Nowadays, Botox.

    > existential (a word the characters throw around

    Isn’t there a line where, mocking her husband, Weld says “Existentially speaking … I’ll have a hamburger”?

    > “Carter Lang”

    Perhaps a version of Jennings Lang? (Cue for David E to insert Joan Bennet’s response re: Lang to Walter Wanger).

  10. Maybe, since Roarke looks a bit like Friedkin, they were thinking of Friedkin’s admiration for Fritz?

    I think you’re right about the existential jibe. Lang is inconsistent about whether Weld’s performance is “existentially not a performance.”

  11. I chanced upon the correct phrasing of the line. According to a site called Being Boring, where the author speaks of seeing LAYS on a double-bill with DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE, Weld’s response is ” … existentially, I’m getting a hamburger.”

    As long as we’re talking about The Great Los Angeles Emptiness, let me quote my favorite observation on the subject (from Carey McWilliams’ SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: AN ISLAND ON THE LAND): “Los Angeles is the kind of place where perversion is perverted and prostitution prostituted.”

    One of the many reasons I have for being fond of PLAY IT AS IT LAYS is that, in my Encino youth, Husband#1 and I used to meet at the same corner, the Thriftimart at Balboa and Ventura, where Didion’s heroine Mar-EYE-a met her abortionist. Ah, the vicissitudes of Los Angeles romance!

  12. When Walter Wnager discovered Jennings Lang in bed with his wife Jona Bennett he took out a gun and shot him, prompting Bennett to remark

    “Oh for heaven’s sake, Walter — he’s only an agent!”

    Lang survived and Wanger went to the slammer, turning his experiences there into Riot in Cellblock 11, directed by the great Don Siegel.

  13. Tuesday Weld’s genius is that she never seems to be acting. She always looks like she simply is that way, whether the film be Lord Love a Duck, Sex Kittens Go to College or Once Upon a Time in America

  14. Tuesday was great in Once Upon A time, if I remember her in anything it’ll be that, a bad girl, a deliciously bad girl.

  15. I dunno — as another Oaklander, I’ve seen plenty of here here, but there’s a real paucity of there, unless San Leandro counts.

    (Stein was actually talking about being unable to find her childhood home when she returned to Oakland.)

  16. here’s a recent recroding of that same Sondheim song featuring the Utterly Uncloseted Neil Patrick Harris and a lovely soparano named Theresa McCarthey.

  17. Jennings Lang lost a testicle in the shooting, and puckish friends took to calling him “Jenning.” Did Joan have a weakness for men named Lang? She seems also to have been close to Fritz.

  18. That Stein-line has sure mutated through the years! Stephen King used it to describe the dumb-ass who hit him with a truck.

    That line about “on the side of the angels” has also morphed — Disraeli invented the expression as an attack on evolution. “Is man an ape or an angel? I, my lord, am on the side of the angels.”

    (Politicians never tire of sounding off on subjects they don’t understand, it seems.)

  19. Howard Curtis Says:

    Another great Tuesday Weld performance, if memory serves me well, is in Karel Reisz’ Who’ll Stop the Rain, opposite Nick Nolte. And yes, she’s terrific in Once Upon a Time in America, despite the blatantly sexist conception of the character.

  20. You’re quite right about Who’ll Stop the Rain — a very fine Karel Reiz film with Tuesday and Nolte at his best. And leave us not forget Frankenheimer’s I Walk the Line with Tuesday and Gregory Peck.

  21. Ah, I’m quite interested in catching the Frankenheimer. I haven’t seen much of his 70s work at all. Big fan of Seconds, Manchurian Candidate, The Train. Later he seems to flounder pretty badly under the strain of alcoholism. But his Dr Moreau is an astonishing mess, well worth seeing — one would never know he was on the wagon from looking at it.

  22. His Ronin is a very well-made action thriller.

  23. Sam Shepard, memorably, described Weld as “the Marlon Brando of women.”

    She’s fine in “Soldier in the Rain,” a film which Blake Edwards co-wrote and which begs to’ve been directed by Edwards himself rather than Ralph Nelson. I’d also love to see Weld in the title role of the original TV version of “Legend of Lylah Clare” — directed by today’s birthday celebrant, Franklin J. Schaffner — where she played the Novak role opposite Alfred Drake in the Finch role.

  24. I saw that. It was written by the great and bizarre Robert Thom.

    Soldier in the Rain is indeed wonderful. McQueen and Gleason give exceptionally sensitive performances — likely as not responding to Tuesday’s incandescence.

    Tony Bill is also good in it.

  25. Recently saw Thom’a Angel Angel Down We Go. I spent most of it screaming through my hands. One can certainly guess he must be bizarre by looking at it.

    Some of Schaffner’s TV work has surfaced in bargain bin noir collections, one can only hope Lylah Clare will follow.

    Ronin was great up until the tacked on finale. At the climax, Frankenheimer did a series of angles on dead bodies and the suitcase they’ve been fighting over which exactly recreates the end of The Train. I enjoyed that.

  26. Thom was Millie Perkins’ second husband (Dean Stockwell was her first)
    He was Really Something. She still refers to him as “Thom.”

  27. His script for Wild in the Streets does have a pretty good Anne Frank joke, enacted by Shelley Winters for added authenticity.

    Still to see The Witch Who Came from the Sea…

  28. Jordan Christopher — who Sybill Burton scooped up on the rebound when Richard dumped her for Liz — is of course playing Jim Morrison. Though he sounds like Terry Melcher.

    Holly Near, as Jennifer Jones’ fat, pastry-devouring daughter, shortly afterward became a lesbian folk singer of great reknown in sapphic circles.

    Jennifer Jones is of course playing herself.

  29. JJ also seems to be standing in for Thom’s mom, and Near is the author in disguise… I get that it’s an exploitation film, but did AIP even know what it was they were exploiting?

  30. ANGEL ANGEL DOWN WE GO is one of the all-time Great Trash Epics – worthy of a full-scale cult revival.

    Robert Thom also wrote scripts for Paul Bartel, notably DEATH RACE 2000. I’m astonished to hear that he was married, as I got the distinct impression (from literally all his movies) that Thom was not ‘the marrying kind.’

    Of course, that means nothing…especially in showbiz. If Tony Perkins could get married and feign heterosexuality, anybody can. The question is why he would want to or who he thought would be fooled.

    BTW…the description of Hollywood “There is no there, there” is not original to the film or the novel by Joan Didion. It comes from Dorothy Parker. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best!

  31. Uh, er, actually: The quote comes from Gertrude Stein, referring to Oakland, CA.

  32. I didn’t mean to imply that the line is actually in the film or Didion book, either. My fault for not making it clear I was throwing it in there (and for thinking it was about LA — I’ll blame Stephen King for that, although I’m not sure it was his fault!)

  33. The quote actually sounds a lot more like Gertrude Stein…so thanks a lot, I stand corrected.

    However, Dorothy Parker definitely did say – “If all the girls in Hollywood were laid end to end…I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.”

  34. And I thought that was Kate Hepburn!

  35. Both ladies were East Coast sophisticates who went to Hollywood for the money and resented having to breathe the same air as a bunch of semi-literate vulgarians…so they may well have said it (or at least thought it) simultaneously.

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