Archive for Pretty Poison

“Out there where nothing is.”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on May 29, 2010 by dcairns

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.


“I had hoped to be appointed to the first Venus rocket.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2008 by dcairns

“I once foolishly performed an abortion on a peach tree.”

Boy, PRETTY POISON, that’s some film. You should definitely rush out and get ahold of a copy, definitely. If anybody gets in your way, BRUSH THEM ASIDE LIKE INSECTS.

Well, it shouldn’t be necessary to go that far, it’s just my gentle way of suggesting you should bump it to the top of your rental lists, that’s all. Good to see it without knowing TOO much about it, so you’ll just have to trust me. I think I can tell you that –

1) Anthony Perkins is released into the community after a long time in an institution. But this is not Richard Franklin’s PSYCHO II.

2) He begins a relationship with high-school girl Tuesday Weld. But this is certainly not LORD LOVE A DUCK.

3) Said relationship gets… complicated. But this is not ANYTHING ELSE.

Dan Sallitt has more to say HERE. It’s spoilerific but seriously worth reading once you’ve seen the film. Or you can do as I did: read the post, forget most of the plot points over the course of a year, then see the film and have it be a lovely surprise. But that’s kind of time-consuming.

Noel Black, far from prolific but clearly rather interesting, directs. The years after the decline of the studio system and before the “new Hollywood” seem peppered with misshapen gems like this. Lorenzo Semple scripts, and it shows another side to him from the campy Batman show and FLASH GORDON script. I love both those things, but the slide from quirky screwball to noir here prefigures Jonathan Demme’s SOMETHING WILD (my fave Demme?) and is probably more deep, dark and interesting. Anyway, Demme’s is the only other film I can think of that achieves this exact genre-shift (although Nicholas Ray’s IN A LONELY PLACE actually kind of touches on comedy to begin with before heading for the shocking dark) and they’d certainly go great together.

Like Tony Perkins and Tuesday Weld! They have chemistry! Fiona observed this, and I agree: they’re very different players in every respect, but both good and seemingly instinctive and they pay keen attention to each other. Their reactions to each other are so genuine we have to believe they’re into each other.

Fiona rated Tony’s pick-up line as the best ever. Accosting Tues in a phone booth: “Don’t say a word act perfectly natural we’re under surveillance. Rendezvous tonight bring this object. Spring Street movie house eight p.m. seventh row balcony left side aisle got that? Make your phone call don’t look after me.” And with that he is off.

“You WOULD go,” asserted Fiona.

Euphoria #14

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2008 by dcairns

Edinburgh College of Art graduate, my contemporary, Noo Yawk cartoonist and regular reader Simon Fraser nominates this extract of heart-thumping joy from Frank Perry’s unique John Cheever 1968 adaptation, THE SWIMMER.

“I’m not sure, but I think there’s a scene in ‘The Swimmer’ with Burt
Lancaster, when he races a horse on foot. Now that’s a man enjoying
being alive. Burt was good at being alive.”

Is true. And he was a fine figure of a fellow at fifty-five!

Burt always moved well. His experience as an acrobat informs his acting, and he trusted in the physical. I love that story of John Frankenheimer giving him a long, involved psychological piece of direction, and Burt saying “Ah, what the hell, I’ll just give it the grin.”

Apart from his acrobatics, in his early days Burt also worked as a clerk in a department store, selling lingerie. I bet he shifted a lot of pants.


Cinematographer David Quaid doesn’t seem to have shot very much. I have his other main film, made the same year as this: PRETTY POISON. That must have been a good year. I love all the sixties glamour stuff he does in this film, with diffusion, starburst filters, the full panoply of Sunday Supplement gloss, done without a trace of irony. Stunningly beautiful — I sort of feel that the more late 60s US films tried to be modern, the more old-fashioned they appeared — but I don’t necessarily condemn them for it. It’s a lovely effect at times, as in this film, which is very moving and packed with incredible actresses too.

I wonder what the effect would be if somebody put together a Frank Perry retrospective (maybe it’s already happened). He made quite a few distinguished films which, individually, have had plenty written about them, but I don’t get the impression he’s been studied much as an auteur. I have a tape Perry’s last film, ON THE BRIDGE, an autobiographical documentary about his fight against cancer, which I copied from the Lindsay Anderson Collection — one of these days, when I’m feeling sturdy enough, I must watch it.


Oh, apparently Sidney Pollack did some uncredited directing on this, but I don’t know what the story behind that is. However, I’ve been meaning to post some pretty frame grabs from what is actually both Lancaster and Pollack’s next film: CASTLE KEEP. I’m not sure it’s any kind of great movie, but it has some stunning images, decorated with some of the same lovely ‘sixties tics as THE SWIMMER.