The ’68 Comeback Special: Trilogy

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Cannes in ’68 had, or would have had, only two American films (as opposed to three Hungarian). And one of those, PETULIA, was the work of mainly British filmmakers. The other was, essentially, a TV movie…

However, if PETULIA is partly a British picture in a way, Frank Perry’s TRILOGY is a TV movie by a cinema practitioner. At times it looks and sounds very much like small screen stuff, and then it’s in thrall to a literary source, three short stories by Truman Capote. It’s arguable that mainly what we get is short stories + acting. But it’s very good acting.

Episode one, MIRIAM, is possibly my favourite, because unexpectedly it’s a kind of horror movie. The great Mildred Natwick plays a retired nanny, living alone with a canary and her memories, avoided by her former charges whom she fondly imagines still somehow need her. Then she meets Miriam (the uncanny Susan Dunfee in her only film role), who shares a first name with her and insinuates herself into nanny’s life for some inexplicable but surely malign reason. Very early on we suspect that something is very wrong about Miriam, and we’re right, but we can’t figure quite what it is — rather like Anthony Harvey and Amiri Baraka’s DUTCHMAN, the terror comes from the not knowing. Meyer Kupferman’s insistent and unsettling story prods the unease into every corner.

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Part two, AMONG THE PATHS OF EDEN, is the least of the three, a two-hander with Maureen Stapleton and Martin Balsam meeting in a graveyard, but the two leads are so good they elevate it. Stapleton is looking to meet an eligible man and is targeting widowers by frequenting the cemetery. Balsam is laying flowers on his wife’s grave but politely and gently adamant that he isn’t looking for any more attachments in his life.

In the movie, Balsam’s wife died from a heart condition. I was reminded of Balsam’s own death, decades later: he checked into a hotel in Rome, remarked to the clerk how happy he was to be in his favourite place in the world, went up to his room, lay down and died. Heart attack.

“I’d like to die alone in a hotel room, the way people used to,” said Orson Welles to Henry Jaglom.

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Episode three, A CHRISTMAS MEMORY, is the longest and I guess most substantial. It has a wonderful performance from Geraldine Page and a story which is largely autobiographical — Capote narrates it in his distinctive manner. It’s extremely moving — the relationship between a boy and his older female cousin encapsulated by the baking of cakes and the preparations for Christmas. A weakness is perhaps that the strongest scenes are delivered largely by the voice-over — again, we wouldn’t miss much just by reading the original story. But when something is good, it’s good, and maybe worrying about whether it’s “cinematic” is a waste. It’s certainly ungrateful.

Perry made other, better films, with more cinematic life in them — PLAY IT AS IT LAYS and MAN ON THE SWING and THE SWIMMING POOL (can we have an Eclipse box set of these neglected works?), and Capote had a hand in some genuinely electrifying movies, from IN COLD BLOOD to THE INNOCENTS to BEAT THE DEVIL. Their collaboration here is perhaps hampered by Perry being too respectful of his source, but on its own terms it’s beautiful.

***

In other news ~

DALLAS VIDEOFEST 26 Juried Award Winning Films:

Documentary Feature Winners

Winner: NATAN by Paul Duane and David Cairn

Special Jury Prize: THIS AIN’T NO MOUSE MUSIC

“NATAN breaks new cinematic ground on many levels and is innovative both in subject matter and its eclectic stylistic approach. The film twists and turns its way through a complex story filled with powerful revelations.”  – Jurist, Ben Levin, professor of radio, television and film, UNT.

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7 Responses to “The ’68 Comeback Special: Trilogy”

  1. jiminholland Says:

    The mascot for the University of North Texas is this dude:

    Woe to anyone attempting to take that prize away!

    Or maybe not:

    http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRlKAmXPgSjJx_HRkIaoITLrrIaTX1RO3zYMteeTYVHq2GfHvjEkw

    In any case, heartiest congrats!

  2. Frank Perry is quite interesting. Not just for Play It As It Lays (whose auteur is its star, Tuesday Weld), but also Last Summer and Rancho Deluxe

    Like Jerry Salinger, Truman Persons was a good “New Yorker” short story writer. “Miriam” is one of his best. Anything longer than a novella, however was beyond his grasp. In Cold Blood is a perfectly respectable piece of “True Crime” reportage, but in o way shape or form does it challenge Dostoyevsky, as he imagined.

    Beat the Devil is superb and indicates that he might have had a solid career as a screenwriter–provided he was working with a solid craftsman like Huston. (“Gay Jeopardy “Bonus Points: Stephen Sondheim worked for a few days as an a.d. on the film when he was sent to the set at Portofino by the agent he was working for as a gofer.)

    Meyer Kupferman’s score for Adolfas Mekas’ Hallelujah the Hills is one of my very favorite movie scores.

  3. David Boxwell Says:

    Corrections:

    NATAN by David Cairns and Paul Duane.

    Many congratulations!

  4. jiminholland Says:

    For some reason a comment I posted earlier has been ‘awaiting moderation’ for nearly seven hours.

    That’s a first for me on this blog — have I been placed on a list?

    Certainly hope not and that what’s happened is just a glitch.

    In any case the point of the comment, which followed a couple of University of North Texas jokes, was identical to the last line in the comment by David Boxwell.

  5. jiminholland Says:

    Not that the UNT jokes were especially good — but here’s another try:

    The mascot for the University of North Texas is this dude:

    Woe to anyone attempting to take that prize away!

    Or maybe not:

    http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRlKAmXPgSjJx_HRkIaoITLrrIaTX1RO3zYMteeTYVHq2GfHvjEkw

    In any case, heartiest congrats!

  6. Jim, I’m at Pordenone Silent Film Festival and so have been checking the blog a lot less. But your comments are always appreciated.

    My first Perry was Compromising Positions, which I liked. Doc and Man on a Swing and The Swimmer are impressive too. Still to see Diary of a Mad Housewife. Play it As it Lays is truly terrific. I think Perry would make a great subject for an Eclipse box set.

    Capote did some good work on The Innocents too, though I don’t think he could finish the job.

  7. […] Festival. I realize I’ve lately made a bit of a blunder. When David posted his latest, on Frank Perry’s Trilogy, I was so wrapped up in his description and so caught up in remembering its haunting details that I […]

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