Bare-ass in the Park

vlcsnap-2015-11-10-10h29m09s779

I’m slowly polishing off the Otto Preminger filmography. Chris Fujiwara’s career study names SUCH GOOD FRIENDS, scripted by a pseudonymous Elaine May, as the best of the late-period Premingers, and I have to agree. As he says, following a rocky opening, the film “starts to work,” though its tone is so weird it can be hard to be sure at times. If DAISY KENYON is a miraculous film for its era, avoiding telegraphing its views of its characters to a staggering degree — Preminger is often praised for his impartiality — SUCH GOOD FRIENDS takes things to an extreme only possible in the seventies. Tonal markers are absent, so that vicious humour can alternate with sincere emotion, but you’re not even sure the humour is humour, the emotion emotion.

Things sure do start rocky, though. Glenn Kenny pinpointed the most jarring and repulsive moments, which climax with sixty-four-year-old Burgess Meredith’s nude scene. Unlike Glenn, I won’t reproduce a frame-grab of that moment. But this is Fiona’s reaction  ~

IMG0159A

Fiona points out that Meredith was hanging out with John C. Lilly and was kind of a counter-culture guy, so letting it all hang out, or most of it, was probably a political statement for him. But Nobody Wants To See That, Burgess. Not even if you were TWENTY-four.

More damaging, for me, was a throwaway line by Dyan Cannon’s lead character, dealing with an inefficient (black) maid: “Jesus, why did they abolish slavery?” Making the audience despise your main character in the first five minutes of your movie seems unwise, unless there’s a definite strategy at work. Not all of us are as impartial as you, Otto.

Another uncomfortable moment: Cannon narrowly avoids being slammed by a speeding yellow cab, a fate which actually befell the director a few years later, resulting in brain damage similar in effect to Alzheimers. Eerie.

vlcsnap-2015-11-10-10h31m13s720

As ever with Otto, shooting was NOT FUN. Cannon got a bollocking from Otto for laughing during a sad scene — but with an insensitivity not foreign to his nature, he was missing the fact that the laugh was IN CHARACTER. Cannon does hysterical laughter in THE LAST OF SHEILA after narrowly escaping death. As Fiona says, the quirky and unexpected moment is Cannon’s stock-in-trade. It’s what you hire her for. Maybe it’s Otto’s method at work, but her best moments in this one are portrayals of dazed shock and depression.

Lots of funny lines — a foot specialist at Elizabeth Arden’s (Fiona was thrilled to see the inside of the real place) droning on, “The trouble with most women is they don’t realize the foot is part of the body.” A few funny situations and a lot of impressively ghastly ones. “Please don’t let anything sexual happen with James Coco,” prayed Fiona, and right on cue it does, and Preminger, in prolonged takes, milks agonizing suspense from the humiliated fatty’s desperate attempts to conceal his corset from his surprise paramour as she undresses him.

vlcsnap-2015-11-10-10h28m13s128

Is the movie mean? A lot of people seem to think so. I kind of felt it was compassionate on some deep level. All these people are running around being petty and sharp-witted and jagged and unfaithful. The death arrives and blows a hole in this vanity fair and shows what’s important. And then the film ends, because there isn’t really room in these crowded frames for what’s really important. But we get the point.

Advertisements

8 Responses to “Bare-ass in the Park”

  1. I admire Chris Fujiwara enormously but the best of the late period Preminger’s is quite obviously Skidoo. Burgess Meredith’s nude scene in Such Good Friends is a mere “sitting-up exercise compared to Skidoo which is a non-stop “Nobody Wants To See That” of Saloesque proportions. And I for one can’t get enough of it.

  2. Preminger is a blindspot for me. Thanks to your writing I’ll add some of his stuff to my beefy 2016 queue.

  3. Skidoo is deeply bizarre and a misfire on every level so spectacular it does kind of impress. Carol Channing’s tits are right up there with Burgess Meredith’s saggy old bum.

    Brian, Preminger is certainly worth exploring, but mileages vary. I would recommend Fallen Angel, Daisy Kenyon and Laura before moving on to the later works. Anatomy of a Murder is gripping. The later films are often problematic but often in fascinating ways.

  4. I’m not watching it unless somebody has a version with the Horror Horn and the Fear Flasher whenever Burgess Meredith is going to appear with no pants on.

  5. Burgess keeps his own Horror Horn well covered, a small mercy for which we must be thankful.

    That regrettable business is all over in the first ten minutes. I suggest you watch the screen’s distorted reflection in a shield, like Harry Hamlin in Clash of the Titans.

  6. I don’t consider Skidoo to be a “misfire” at all. Rather it’s the Ne Plus Ultra de Films Maudit

  7. Where the Sidewalk Ends is also great Preminger from 1950.

  8. I like it, and Whirlpool, but not half as much as Laura.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: