Archive for June 23, 2017

Forbidden Divas: It’s a Magic Number

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2017 by dcairns

Just as I jet off to Bologna, David Melville Wingrove slides into my place to offer up another Forbidden Diva close to his heart ~FORBIDDEN DIVAS

IT’S A MAGIC NUMBER

“My mother always said I’d marry two men.”

“Only two?”

“Yes, but at the same time.” ~ Charlotte Rampling, Three

The only film by the novelist and occasional screen-writer James Salter, Three (1969) is a queer triangular love story involving two boys and one car. One morning in the wilds of France, a door of corrugated grey metal grinds slowly and laboriously open. Two young Americans – Taylor (Sam Waterston) and Burt (Robie Porter) – wheel out an old and battered Peugeot, caked with dust. The car at first looks as every bit as grey and dreary as the garage door. Once they wipe away the dust, it turns out to be sombre hearse black. Its wheels and interior are an intense, almost iridescent blood red. The boys drive off on that weird and quintessentially 60s quest for something called freedom. But what exactly is freedom? How will they find it? Will they recognise it when they see it? And what might they do with it when they do?Lying side by side in a sun-baked field of dry grass, they converse in the weird non sequiturs that long-term travelling companions tend to fall into. “Did you ever grow a beard?” “No, but I fell out of a tree once.” They are, of course, looking for girls. But they seem a lot more comfortable with one another. One consciously poetic shot shows Burt – a corn-fed blonde Adonis – naked in bed in some Italian hotel. His creamy torso emerges from beneath the blanket. His arm, wrapped about his head, reveals a delicately sculpted armpit, dusted with light gold hair. Taylor, dark and soulful and sad-eyed, is the one observer there to see. Once in Rome, they pick up two girls (Gillian Hills and Edina Ronay) but that encounter predictably goes nowhere. That is precisely where most things in Three seem to go. On one scorching afternoon, an Italian waiter offers the boys a spremuta di limone. He then remembers, at the last moment, that they are out of lemons.It all changes once the boys get to Florence. They wander through the Uffizi Gallery, as the camera glides lovingly over Verrocchio’s painting of the martyred Saint Sebastian, his body naked and pierced by arrows. Suddenly and barely for a second, Taylor catches sight of Charlotte Rampling – who was, in 1969, the sexy Swinging London chick du jour. She too is a tourist at the Uffizi and it is hard to think of a more dazzlingly appropriate setting for her. She looks, in equal parts, like a perverse Botticelli Venus and an androgynous, pouting youth by Leonardo da Vinci. It turns out she has a boy’s name (Marty) and slouches about, for most of the film, in a wardrobe of jeans and boy’s shirts. She is, beyond a doubt, an object of heterosexual desire. Yet she also seems to embody the covert homoerotic tensions between the two men. If Three were a film from the 30s, she could only be Marlene Dietrich.In fact, the film is based on a short story by Irwin Shaw. Its central trio have remarkably little in common with the Flower Power folk. Their behaviour and attitudes seem more redolent of the gilded Lost Generation of the 20s, familiar from the novels or Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald – and, invariably, bungled very badly by Hollywood. This means that Three was not a massive counter-cultural hit like other road movies of that time, such as Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969) or Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970). James Salter’s film sank very quickly into obscurity and has been notoriously difficult to see ever since. Rampling herself has said in interviews how she had a hankering to see it years later. She rang up Salter and asked him – but even he was unable to locate a copy. Yet the film’s very lack of modishness means that it has dated barely at all; Easy Rider, in context, looks embarrassingly like a time capsule. It is in the nature of a road movie to transcend the limits of place, but very rare for one to transcend the confines of time the way Three does. Three evokes a world where – as Taylor remarks wryly – “Everyone lives somewhere else.”

Rampling agrees, all too readily, to travel with the two boys. It is obvious, from the outset, that she is attracted to Taylor and subtly dislikes Burt. Yet the three make a pact that she will never “choose between” them. In other words, should she engage in sex with either one, the deal is off. She takes them to villa in the hills above Florence, where the aristocrats are so world-weary and soigné that they seem barely alive. She leads them, on a beach, in a three-sided game of tag. Her bikini is a hideous shade of near-fluorescent orange; she manages to look coolly glamorous even in that. Driving with them back into France, she dons a clinging silver lamé mini-dress and entices them to a casino. Here she effortlessly wins a fortune at roulette and showers her two escorts deliriously with money. Her role seems to be morphing from Jeanne Moreau as a ménage a trois temptress in Jules and Jim (François Truffaut, 1961) into Jeanne Moreau as a compulsive gambler in La Baie des Anges (Jacques Demy, 1962).Elsewhere, the film is a litany of events that do not happen, of climaxes that do not take place. The three drive to the Southern French town of Dax for a bullfight – but they find the bullring deserted. They have misread the poster and come on the wrong day. By the sea, they see a sailboat capsized and a man in the water calling for help. Taylor strips naked and swims out to save him. Yet his attempt to be a hero is pointless. Before he can get to the drowning man, a rescue boat comes along and saves him first. His relationship with Marty seems to be similarly inconclusive. One night when Burt is out wooing an available French woman (Pascale Roberts), Marty turns the full force of her lynx-eyed, silver-ice gaze onto Taylor. It is one of the earliest and most dazzling examples of that unique Rampling phenomenon known as The Look. “I’ve forgotten what American kisses taste like,” she purrs. But can he ever reconcile his attraction to her with his attachment to Burt?Three is a film about sexuality rather than sex (another reason, perhaps, for its box-office failure) so answers to this and other questions will not be easy to find. The triangle of tension between Marty, Taylor and Burt is fluid and enigmatic, amorphous and ever-shifting. There are long stretches in which nothing whatsoever seems to happen. Rightly, because people are seldom at their most active when all their energies are focused on finding what direction – if any – their lives will take. The absurdly scenic French and Italian roads down which they travel may seem to wind on forever, but their erotic and emotional cul-de-sac offers little if any hope of an escape. Yet we know, by the same token, that it cannot possibly last. This trio is doomed to break up and one vital question is bound to emerge. Who gets to keep the car?

David Melville

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