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When the infamous Vincent Canby reviewed Fellini’s Casanova he spent some time praising what he saw. It almost feels as though he wanted to like flawed movie, but as he reached his closing summation he issued a frustrated dismissal:

The production is gigantic, but the ideas and feelings are small. One longs to go home and listen to Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”Vincent Canby, New York Times, 1977

"And Now...after four years of preparation and production..." Fellin's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976

“And Now…after four years of preparation and production…”
Fellin’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976

Mr. Canby was not alone. Even Woody Allen seemed to take a stab at the film. As Alvy and Annie Hall wait in a cinema ticket holders line, they are forced to listen to a pretentious fellow film-goer rant about the Federico Fellini’s latest self-Indulgence. The latest work was Fellini’s Casanova. I suppose one could argue that Mr. Allen disagreed as he magically pulls Marshall McLuhan into frame. Alvy has the enjoyment of seeing the esteemed media philosopher bring the pompous jerk down to size.  Alvy‘s contempt for this cinephile has more to do with forcing his opinions on everyone around him. No defense is made for Fellini’s Casanova. It is doubtful that the narrator and that film’s title character would find much in Fellini’s adaptation of Giacomo Casanova’s Storia della mia vita or The Story of My Life. The doomed movie simply serves as a jumping point for a great comic bit.

"What I wouldn't give for a large sock with horse manure in it!" Annie Hall Woody Allen, 1977 Cinematography | Gordon Willis

“What I wouldn’t give for a large sock with horse manure in it!”
Annie Hall
Woody Allen, 1977
Cinematography | Gordon Willis

Vincent Canby’s review of the then long delayed Italian production was a fair and astute critique. If you are familiar with Canby’s style of criticism — he gives the movie a thumbs down, but also manages to praise more than a little of what he saw unspool on the screen. This is not something he was prone to do.

I’m not an expert on Federico Fellini, but I have had reason to watch this film quite a bit in the last two years. In that time I have also researched a good deal regarding the troubled production of Le Casanova de Fellini. As the genius mind often does, the great filmmaker had become obsessed with translating Casanova’s memoirs. His obsession had nothing to do with Casanova. He was fascinated by a man whom he considered to be an evil character.

As Fellini’s film well charts, Casanova did not love. The existence of his being relied upon sexual encounters with no connection to the objects of his interests. Interests would be the best way to term it. Fellini’s Casanova does not even really lust. It was only after shooting began that Fellini began to feel a level of empathy towards his title character. It would be this change of heart regarding his Casanova that would end up framing the entire film.

 

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

The production began with a fundamental problem. His key financier, Alberto Grimaldi, had some very strong opinions about who would play Casanova. These two iconic figures of European Cinema entered into a battle of the wills. Grimaldi insisted that Fellini cast one of several major movie stars of the era: Brando, Redford, Newman or Pacino. Eventually Grimaldi gave in a bit and suggested Michael Caine. It is interesting that the producer even attempted to reign-in the auteur.

Fellini could never be reigned in. He got his way. He cast Donald Sutherland in the role. It was a bit of an odd choice, but it makes sense. Mr. Sutherland was a solid movie star, but not at the titan level of Grimaldi’s suggestion. He knew that Sutherland was a true actor and he also knew that he would not need to wrestle with the typical American Movie Star Ego. Fellini also saw a sadness in the deeply skilled actor. Sutherland’s casual approach also seemed to offer a sort of open canvas upon which he could paint. Or to be more precise — Sutherland was a tall thin form he intended to sculpt.

Donald Sutherland Re-Imagined... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Donald Sutherland Re-Imagined…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini put his star through the paces, but Sutherland was stellar and did all and more than was needed. Fellini had hired him to play an unlikable and hopelessly alienated man. Before and when the shooting began Federico Fellini held the character in contempt. He had Sutherland’s head half shaven, applied a prosthetic nose, chin and other odd distortions served totally re-shape Sutherland. The actor looks the same from every angle. His face and being have been largely restricted. Often the only English speaker in front of the camera, he was not always able to communicate effectively. His eyes are really all he had to utilize on his own. At times it feels as if Sutherland is little more than a puppet with Fellini orchestrating his every move. Surprisingly this restrictive appearance serves Fellini’s purpose effectively, but not well enough to distinguish Sutherland as an essential player within the film.

The film was shot under extremely tight supervision and behind the closed gates of Rome’s Cinecittà Studios. Nothing about this film looks real. Quite the opposite, the entire movie feels like a gorgeous formation of a nightmare. Cold, barren and yet full of things to look at — Fellini’s Casanova is even more obscure than the far superior Fellini Satyricon. This is Surrealism to the infinite. As one expects, every actor on the screen is interesting to study. As is often the case with later Fellini, the grotesque is magnified. The movie is as much perversely disturbing as it is often stunningly beautiful. Anyone who doubts that Fellini was not calling and insisting on every single choice can be satisfied to discover that he had an articulated explanation for every aspect of the movie.

 

Only the actors are real... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Only the actors are real…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

If one wonders why the production design suddenly replaces actual water with black garbage bags, Fellini had demanded this odd choice to his esteemed Production Designer/Art Director/Costume Designer, Danilo Donati. The director chose to replace water with plastic garbage bags to serve as a metaphor for Casanova’s fraudulent identity and fruitless self-journey. Fellini knew exactly what he wanted and refused any level of compromise. As he was walking his actors through a key scene involving nuns, Fellini discovered a feeling of empathy for Casanova.

He quickly came up with two incredibly complex studio set ideas which changed the point of the film and would serve as cinematic bookends within which to hold the film. And these were not simple last minute decisions. They were complex and expensive. Donate and the artists at Cinecittà Studios had to continually succeed against tight deadlines. It speaks volumes for Federico Fellini that his cast, crew and the studio artisans did next to no complaining. The filmmaker was beloved and respected. Only the best work was put forward for their director. And it shows in the finished film.

 

Fighting the choppy sea of plastic garbage bags... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fighting the choppy sea of plastic garbage bags…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

The opening scene of Fellini’s Casanova is remarkable. An ornate and rowdy crowd assembles on the city’s banks waiting for something to emerge from the water. Impossibly complex rigs and tethers begin to pull and strain — a huge statue of Venus begins to emerge. The swelling crowed slips into jubilation as the Goddess of Love begins to peer out over the very real water. It is as if she is rising from the water as a blessing of desire, lust and love. Sadly the ropes and levers quickly buckle. The rigs and ropes snap under the strain. The giant statue promising erotic love and happiness slips forever lost to the bottom of the ocean. It is as if all hope for satisfaction and happiness has sunk. Nino Rota’s brilliant musical score adds to the potency of the visual. This is how Fellini’s Casanova begins.

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

It is far more than grim metaphor. The failed attempt to raise Venus out of the water is never corrected. The film ends with a striking return to the film’s early warning sign. As Casanova attempts to find some form of connection and solace, he will realize that he is standing alone on a vast area of frozen water. The peering eyes of Venus are looking up at both him. Venus’ cold eyes are forever frozen beneath the lonely womanizer’s feet. It all sounds amazing, but one needs to be aware that this is a two hour and thirty-five minute epic of calculated iciness.

 

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

A pal recently suggested that Fellini’s Casanova must be a bit like Ken Russell’s Lisztomania. But this is not a good comparison. True, Ken Russell’s highly experimental and comic-book take on everything from Franz Liszt to Richard Wagner to anti-semitism to WWII may be overtly eager, but there is sense to Russell’s unhinged film. If a person knows their history, Lisztomania is filled with an intentional goofy sort of logic that ties to the truth of the people and situations it satirizes.  Ken Russell was also smart enough to keep his film under the two hour mark by twenty minutes. He keeps the pace up with the surreal actions taking place on the screen.

 

It is quite manic and strange, but there is logic to the madness... Roger Daltrey, Rick Wakeman and Paul Nicholas ponder the horror of a Master Race... Lisztomania Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

It is quite manic and strange, but there is logic to the madness…
Roger Daltrey, Rick Wakeman and Paul Nicholas ponder the horror of a Master Race…
Lisztomania
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

Beyond the fact that both films were greeted negatively by critics and audiences, there is really very little that actually connects the two films. Lisztomania is a Surrealist’s absurd study of music composers connected to the rise of Facism presented through a Looney Tunes like lens. This interpretation is really not that far off base.  

Fellini’s Casanova has no interest in history. This epic film is steadfast in its indifference to logic, time or space. The lover, his reality, his Italy and even the horrific Inquisition are not based in any realm of reality. When those support beams and ropes break and Venus sinks to the bottom of the water — so do the film’s strings to logic. Additionally, the movie is not particularly well paced. Fellini’s Casanova takes its time. However the sets, the costumes, the odd assortment of actors, Rotunno’s cinematography and Rota’s haunting score aid in the propelling motion of the gloomy plot.

A huge phallus carefully placed into frame... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

A huge phallus carefully placed into frame…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

As laborious as it sometimes is, Fellini’s Casanova is visually unforgettable. I cringe as I write the following words, but as Woody Allen’s pompous ticket holder annoyingly laments,  Fellini’s Casanova is painfully self-indulgent. This fact does not mean that there isn’t a great deal of value to be found in this excessive film. A couple of DVD and BluRay distributors have managed to secure limited releasing rights to this film. One even claimed to have fully restored the film to its initial flawed beauty. Those claims have yet to demonstrate any truth. However a restoration should be coming in the not too far future. When it does eventually arrive, I do think  this 40+ year old film warrants owning for home viewing.

I know I’ve just criticized it fairly harshly but… Well… Um, yeah. I really do suggest purchasing a copy when it does become available. Fellini’s Casanova is a brilliant mistake!

 

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

This experimental epic failed in the 1970’s and it fails now, but not without a great deal of interest. Fellini’s Casanova is a visually stunning mess. Giuseppe Rotunno’s cinematography is even better than usual. Danilo Donati and the work of Cinecitta Studios is truly other-worldly. Incidentally, Fellini’s film flopped — but Donati won an Academy Award for the innovative costume design. Nino Rota’s score is beautiful, effective and iconic. Chances are you have heard the melody even if you’ve never seen the movie. Odd, grotesque, surreal and lovely —  it is virtually impossible to look away from the screen. Even with a running time over two hours, Fellini’s Casanova is not a dull experience. It just isn’t much fun. This is a true flaw.

Fellini approaches his subject with a strong degree of hubris and judgement. Despite the perversities on display, this film is highly moralistic. The dialogue is often smartly witty, but never comical. This is another critical error. Fellini has checked his sense of humor outside the studio. There is no fun to be found within the gorgeous frames of his Casanova. As if in opposition to the dire tone is the clunky manner in which the film has been dubbed. It’s not that the voices fail to match the mouths as much as it is the intelligence runs against the film’s grain. The actors often appear to be lost within their director’s Mise-en-scène.

 

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

Donald Sutherland lumbers his way through the film. He is essentially nothing more than a sad puppet at the mercy of his filmmaker’s whim. In a strange way, Sutherland’s performance works. Though watching the film now it is hard to wonder if it wasn’t just dumb luck. Vacant, sleepy and possibly bored — his confusion plays directly into the director’s ill-advised endeavor.

It is truly vexing how Fellini has opted out of offering any rays of humor or sexiness in his translation of the infamous Seducer and supposed Lover of women. This film is not the erotic adventure you might anticipate. It is actually un-erotic. Casanova‘s libido and desire have long been lost. Fellini’s film is not just a study of an aging womanizer — it is focused on the tragic existential journey of man who has failed to connect any meaning to sexuality. In fact Fellini’s Casanova does not appear to have ever connected to anyone or anything. This is a lover who’s identity and meaning have gone limp. …both figuratively and literally.

 

Seducing a robotic woman... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Seducing a robotic woman…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Clearly Fellini is pointing a finger at the growing sexual revolution. It is a point not off-mark, but it is consistently made in a haze of staggering showmanship that is often so bad it works its way ’round to being somehow valid.

A man who never speaks ill of women does not love them. For to understand them and to love them one must suffer at their hands. Then and only then can you find happiness at the lips of your beloved.” — Fellini’s Casanova

This character does not dislike women. He is simply indifferent to them. It doesn’t take long to realize his two-way street dilemma. The women do not care about Casanova either. They are only interested in his ability to sex. And sex he can. At least this is true in his youth. But the sex is presented in a dry and often disgusting manner.

Win! He has fucked! Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Win! He has fucked!
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

I think some first time viewers make the mistake of associating this movie with the nunsploitation of the 1970’s. Do not expect that. Sure, the nuns get on the action, but Fellini has no interest in providing even a glimmer of titillation. Yes, it is visually interesting — but there is nothing remotely “naughty” here. It is intended to trouble, worry and depress. Like the bubbling sexual revolution going on just outside the film studio’s gate, Fellini’s Casanova is fucking to prove something.

Sex as sport. Sex as a game. Sex as a dare. Sex as a way to avoid. Sex as a weapon. Sex to hide the pain. Our lover fucks till he can fuck no more. The sexuality expressed in the movie feels like a harbinger of doom. With hindsight this is an interesting perspective. When Casanova finds himself in a sexual tryst with a robotic woman it is visually fascinating, but intellectually heavy-handed.

 

A gift of something to love for the title character... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

A gift of something to love for the title character…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

I find it interesting that the inclusion of this robotic doll of a woman was something Fellini dreamed up just after he began shooting. On the one hand this is a brilliant bit of story telling. Casanova is unable to connect to a living woman. Here Fellini offers him a fuck doll to end all fuck dolls, but there is a major problem. Casanova can pour his sexuality on her without any fear of rejection, failure or need to care. It is a poor choice that Fellini refuses to let up on the dreary tone. Casanova‘s tragic plight with the robotic woman could have been more clever if we were allowed to chuckle. But we are offered no relief from the gloom. Casanova‘s ice cold fuck doll feels like it might be the one thing that Casanova can love. The problem is obvious — a robotic fuck doll is unable to reciprocate love.

Doomed and slipping into the shadows... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Doomed and slipping into the shadows…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

And here we see the simultaneously effective but disappointing cinematic bookend ending. Casanova is left spinning with his love object atop a frozen bay. Peering up at him is the drowned concrete Venus. She is simultaneously a representative for his empty life as well as a goddess who judges him.

It is impossible to deny the artistry. And while the film is too long, it really is not boring. Fellini supplies plenty of eye and ear candy. The movie also has more than its share of WTF Moments. These moments are as not off-putting as they are simply interesting. A film like this could never be made today.

And while I really do disagree with the comparison to Ken Russell’s Lisztomania, it is easy to make the connection. Each film allowed both master filmmakers to pursue their respective visions without interference or restraint. But it must be noted that Russell’s vision and purpose is never placed above the viewers watching out there in the dark cinema. Fellini opted to simply dive into his obsession. A more fitting comparison might be to Francis Ford Coppola’s ill-fated and self-financed indulgence into the movie musical, One From the Heart.

Another director's obsession resulting in a cinematic error. One From the Heart Francis Ford Coppola, 1981 Cinematography | Storer / Garcia

Another director’s obsession resulting in a cinematic error.
One From the Heart
Francis Ford Coppola, 1981
Cinematography | Storer / Garcia

But this is not really fair. One From the Heart is neon beautiful and features some amazing musical work from Tom Waits, but it requires true grit to sit through it. In the case of this 1981 Epic Flop, the director’s passion is dull. There is something maddeningly fascinating about Fellini’s Casanova. If you see it once, you will want to see it again. If you make it through One From the Heart you will want to demand a cookie for your effort.

It should be noted that Fellini’s infamous cinematic misstep continued to be challenged with production woes. This was in part due to Fellini’s last minute major changes of fancy but other issues came up. Much of the film was stolen and subsequently lost forever. The notorious theft was actually aimed for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom. A great deal of shot footage was forever lost. This included an entire sequence involving actress Barbara Steele. She was unable to return to Italy for reshoots. Sutherland and the other actors made themselves available. Fellini’s Casanova was delayed almost two years.

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

When it became clear that the film was a fail Federico Fellini was crushed. It is important to note that he had considered this his finest work up to that point in his career. It is not difficult to understand how soul-draining a film’s flop can be for its maker, but there is an added measure when it happens to someone of Fellini’s abilities and stature. Fellini’s Casanova was an epic fail. But an epic fail from a cinematic master like Federico Fellini is still a masterful design. Being dull or uninteresting was simply not possible for this cinematic genius. This is a film that merits watching. And if you happen to love experimental film — you will most likely love this oddly flawed cinematic gem.

 

La Casanova de Fellini Federico Fellini, 1976

La Casanova de Fellini
Federico Fellini, 1976

Fingers crossed that we see it arrive to DVD/BluRay in a truly restored/remastered version soon!

Matty Stanfield, 6.16.2016

 

 

 

 

 

“I was wondering if you could do me a favor and write a think piece on Polanski’s Repulsion? Perhaps you could post it on your blog. I’d really appreciate it.”

"The nightmare world of a virgin's dreams becomes the screen's shocking reality!" REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965

“The nightmare world of a virgin’s dreams becomes the screen’s shocking reality!”
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965

This request brought me back to my college daze. An English Major, during my sophomore year a professor challenged me to form my semester thesis on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. The challenge was not the thesis, but the actual assignment:

Create a thesis “with something new” to offer about the Scarlet Letter.

An odd and somewhat cruel way to make or break my grade. I wanted to bang my then-stoner-head into a wall. I took a real leap into my deconstruction of Hawthorne’s novel. And, I pulled out all the stops.

On her way up to the flat she shares with her sister, Carol bites her nails. I was doing something similar as I tried to find something "new" in "The Scarlet Letter" Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

On her way up to the flat she shares with her sister, Carol bites her nails. I was doing something similar as I tried to find something “new” in “The Scarlet Letter”
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

My thesis argued that the book was an account of actual demonic possession. As I made my presentation to a class full of actual adults, I was met with snickering and eye-rolling. However, I had strange supporting information for every question designed to make me look the idiot. In the end, the professor gave me a “B.”

Not a horrible grade, but this was an advanced course in which I was the only student not yet working on their Masters. It was the lowest grade I ever received in a literature course. A year later I asked this professor why he gave me such a task. His answer? The conversation went something like this:

I wanted to take you down a peg or two. I didn’t feel a Sophomore should have been in that class.

So you wanted to humiliate me by having me read a book normally studied in Freshman year?

Yes and I wanted to give you an impossible assignment. I had no intention of failing you. My plan was to give you a “C” no matter what you presented.”

You gave me a ‘B.‘”

Yes. Your thesis was absurd, but you supported it well. I almost gave you an ‘A-‘ but your ridiculous rebellion against grammar would not allow me that opportunity.”

The following semester I discussed this with another professor who would become my university mentor and friend until her death in the mid-1990’s. She indicated that my experience was actually a surprising compliment from that professor.

So when an individual of some note asked me to write a piece about Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, I had to laugh. What can one possibly write about that infamous film that hasn’t been written about six million times before? I thought about it and politely declined. But as it turns out there is a strangely valid reason for this person’s request.

And so I now ask for your indulgence as I attempt to take another exploration into Repulsion.

Catching her reflection in a vase, Carol seems transfixed by the contour's warped perspective. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Catching her reflection in a vase, Carol seems transfixed by the contour’s warped perspective.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

It speaks volumes that 50 years after it first screened, Repulsion continues to not only entertain, but unnerve audiences. Roman Polanski’s first English-speaking film is at simultaneously experimental and resoundingly accessible. It also happens to be one of the most intimately disturbing films ever made. The intimacy of this film emanates not only from the style in which it is crafted but also from a universally shared fear of losing grasp with our own perception of reality. The film gradually pulls us into the protagonist’s hysteria leaving the viewer disoriented and distressed. I do not care for the term “hysteria” but I think it is perfectly suited here. By the time Polanski’s grim little movie comes to its ambiguous ending and circular cinematic “logic,” it is impossible to not relate to Catherine Deneuve’s character.

This resonation is the film’s most horrific element: deep down we all worry that sanity is just a few pegs away from leaving us alone, isolated and afraid beyond recognition.

Roman Polanski has always refused to answer direct questions about what we are seeing or how we are to interpret what is shown. While this is a smart move for any filmmaker, I suspect Polanski’s refusal is actually deeply valid. Certainly the movie is about a young woman going insane, but questions about “reality” vs. “hallucination” or simply “Surrealism” continue to form Repulsion‘s Film Theory discussion. However, the idea that Polanski himself was not entirely sure of what he was striving to present fails to hold water. Roman Polanski is far too intelligent a filmmaker and Repulsion is far too acutely acted, set-up and edited to have come from an unsure footing.

Moving closer is the vase's distortion somehow more aligned with Carol's perceptions? Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Moving closer is the vase’s distortion somehow more aligned with Carol’s perceptions?
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

I’ve read so many essays on this film. I would not know how to reference all of the different theories. These range from “Feminist Statement” to “It all really happens!” to “Childhood Rape Survivor / PTSD” all the way down to Cinematic Metaphor on a wide range of topics. One of the many metaphors tied to the film is the Counter-Cultural Impact of the 1960’s. Another ties the film to Sexual Revolutionary Reaction. Going even further beneath the surface of the film’s simple complexity have been theories about the actual meaning of the protagonist’s name. I must admit that even the most far-out theories interest me. The way we deconstruct artwork is always interesting and revealing.

Perhaps the most valid of the many theories is grounded in three Polanski films that are often referred to as The Apartment Horror Trilogy. One would have a hard time arguing against the connections between Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. All three of these films play with senses of perception, claustrophobic induced fears, paranoia and insanity. Then of course there is the knee-jerk tendency to connect Polanski’s profoundly horrific childhood, the devastating tragedy he endured in the late 1960’s and his personal sexual transgressions of the 1970’s which led him into exile. Certainly an artist’s life experience will color his/her work, but unless the artist is willing to discuss the connection — it really feels inappropriate to read the personal into the work. And yet can we just dismiss the facts that two of the characters are immigrants, deal with sexual confusion, are put in the position of outsiders and all fall prey to paranoia.

But my personal concept of this strangely timeless film is tied to perception. A deeply warped and disassociated perception that has been manifesting within the mind that when faced dead-on with confrontation, loneliness and isolation triggers a spasm into the darkest corners of insanity. The most telling signals Polanski delivers, with a great deal of assistance from Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography, are the ways in which he starts and ends the film. The first thing we see on the screen is Carol’s eye in extreme close-up. As the camera pulls back we realize that we are seeing Deneuve’s “Carol” staring out into space. She is clearly not looking at anything, yet there is something “off” about her expression. It hints that she might be looking at something which is not visible to us. In reality, she has sort of spaced-out during application of a manicure in the beauty salon that employees her.

The opening shot... REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

The opening shot…
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Her client, her co-worker and her boss all seem to think she is caught in the dewy haze of love. The pretty manicurist is daydreaming of her Prince Charming. If only they knew. Carol is an immigrant and she lives with her sister, Helene, in a fairly spacious and charming apartment. It is important to note that Carol’s apartment is simple and it appears spacious. However, after we enter the apartment with Carol it is clear that it is not all that large. Upon entering this home which will soon morph into a sort of self-imposed prison of horrors, we note that the entry way is short. The living room is off to the immediate left, the kitchen off to the immediate right. The hallway leads to the modern bathroom. The bedrooms appear at first to be opposite each other at the end of the hall.

Carol's "safe place" quickly transforms into a living, breathing, shape-shifting space of horrors. REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Carol’s “safe place” quickly transforms into a living, breathing, shape-shifting space of horrors.
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

It is also interesting to note that the apartment is appointed with furniture that would have most likely been accumulated from various sources. Only Carol’s elder sister seems to have taken the time to actually fashion a look for her bedroom. Both young women still have remnants of childhood in their respective rooms. However, there is an important difference between Carol and Helenes’ rooms: Helen has a couple of stuffed animals, but a sexy feminine atmosphere. Carol’s room is oddly void of personality. Yet there a few things of note: a child’s night lamp and a sense of untidiness. The living room has a cluttered collection of items which we can safely assume have all been placed by Helene. LifeMarie-Claire and gossip magazines lay near a simple turntable/radio with some 45’s and a couple of record albums. Judging by the way we will later see Carol rummage through the items in the living room — none of these things are hers and none seem to interest her. Except for one item.

It is Polanski’s repeated return to this item that it is clear that is great meaning here. An old childhood family photograph which we will later learn was taken in Brussels. This photograph seems draw Carol’s attention. She clearly wants to look it, but it seems to hold a threat within the borders of the frame.

A childhood family portrait taken in Brussels... REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

A childhood family portrait taken in Brussels…
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Early in the film Helene points out that Carol needs to be more social. She needs to get out more and meet people. As Helene begins to prepare a meal with a freshly skinned rabbit as the core component, Carol seems to only be interested in two things: Helene’s boyfriend who has begun to leave his personal items in Carol’s bathroom glass and a crack springing out from what appears to be some sort of kitchen ventilation screen. Helene has little patience for Carol’s dislike of her boyfriend. An impatience which we later will understand comes from the fact that Helene is dating a married man.

When Carol studies the crack in the kitchen wall she mutters, “I must get this crack mended.” Helene only briefly appears to be concerned by the comment. It is only with hindsight that the viewer wonders if that initial crack was ever there in the first place.  Helene’s boyfriend is loud, jovial and more than a bit of a flirt. He clearly disgusts Carol. When he dismisses the idea of eating a rabbit dinner, he promises to take Helene out on the town for a grand meal. Helene quickly places the skinned and seasoned rabbit in the tiny kitchen refrigerator. Carol is clearly upset that Helene is leaving her alone in the apartment but refuses to admit it. As Helene and her man step into the elevator to leave for some fun he points out that “something” is wrong with Carol and she should see someone. It is the first time we see Helene become upset. Perhaps a little too upset. She seems furious that he would insinuate that anything is wrong with her little sister.

Auto-pilot at the salon... Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Auto-pilot at the salon…
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

We have already witnessed Carol’s strange manner of falling into her thoughts. She has drifted away while applying nail polish causing the client to ask if she is asleep. Despite this sort of behavior she is able to communicate well with her boss explaining that the salon is out of a particular shade of polish, she is polite and she never appears hostile. If anything, she appears shy but friendly. When we follow her on her lunch break it is clear she is on a sort of auto-pilot as she walks. The only things that cause her to snap out of her “daydreaming” are the sexual catcalls that greet her as she passes a street construction crew.

A quiet walk seems to be an open invitation to sexual advances... Catherine Deneuve faces the catcalls. REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

A quiet walk seems to be an open invitation to sexual advances…
Catherine Deneuve faces the catcalls.
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

The initial shot shows Carol’s back and working class construction men. But after the catcalling begins, Carol can’t help but glance. Suddenly the camera perspective on the loudest of the crew presents a somewhat distorted shot of the man. The camera’s perspective makes him appear slightly distorted and evil. Of course, anyone would feel uncomfortable in this situation. This male public assertion of sexuality and sexual intent displaces the identity of women. They become nothing more than an object for sex. It is threatening. However, there is something about that camera angle and the way in which Carol reacts that seems to be not quite right.

Cracks in the walls and the pavement. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Cracks in the walls and the pavement.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

The other thing that snaps Carol out of “daydreaming” or zombie-like walking are a couple of cracks in the pavement. These cracks upon the cement ground which Carol treads cause her to halt and study them. It is as if the cracks in the pavement have pulled Carol into another type of “daydream.” So intense is her interest in these cracks, she calmly takes a seat on a public bench and stares at them. This is far more than “daydreaming.” This is at the very least OCD behavior only without any level of energy. Once again with hindsight, one can’t help but wonder what Carol is actually seeing as she stares at the cracks.

What does Carol see in the cracks? Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

What does Carol see in the cracks?
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Perception and Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography is key to understanding Repulsion. Returning to the film’s opening shot, if one thinks about the way in which Polanski chose to displays the film’s credits — it is clear that was far more than a “creepy” method to indicate a genre. Initially the title and words appear to be coming out from behind the iris of the eyeball, but very quickly any logic to the way the words appear on the screen are not limited to the eye itself. The letters and names float about without any level of logical editing. The credits present themselves in a visually discordant manner. And as the words scroll about the screen, the eyeball and eye socket seem to be twitching, blinking and gaze out and around but not at all in coordination with the words. Actually, if a person only sees this film once there is a feeling that Polanski’s budget has caused the credits to be done in a ramshackle messy manner that might have been intended to be a harmoniously clever horror-genre opener that has failed and simply looks like a poor but ambitious choice. After viewing the film even only once, it clear that these credits and the way in which Deneuve’s eye is reacting is all intentional. There is no connection between the eye and the credits that roll about it.

Throughout the film’s first act, we see Carol’s limited interactions in only a few spaces. Actually, the spaces in which we see Carol interact are essentially limited to three places: The beauty salon, the streets on which she walks and her shared apartment. Polanski and Taylor are careful to pace the presentation of Carol’s perceptions of these spaces and interactions slow enough so that our awareness is initially limited. We visit the salon and the streets about three times. Each time a bit more is revealed. The reveals are not so much about the spaces or interactions as they are about the way in which Carol is perceiving them.

"Are you alright?" Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

“Are you alright?”
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

The busy beauty salon appears small and a bit cramped. The client, the beautician and Carol barely seem to fit into the room where facials, massages and manicures are performed. But when Carol loses her focus, drifts off and cuts the finger of her client — her tray falls to the ground. Suddenly it appears there is far more space in the room than we initially thought. As Carol stares at a spinning nail polish bottle we become disoriented by Gilbert Taylor’s camera. There is an odd expansion of space and shadow. Carol seems almost animalistic as she watches the spinning bottle. A tiny bottle which due to the placement of camera and use of lens looks bigger than it is.

When her boss inquires about what is wrong, we realize that she has missed three full days of work without having ever called the salon. When pushed for an explanation, Carol clumsily mutters that an “Aunt arrived for a visit unexpectedly.” The salon boss automatically assumes that Carol is telling her that she was ill due to menstruation, it is apparent that this was not the meaning Carol was attempting to imply. As a co-worker helps her into her street clothes she encages Carol in a conversation. She suggests that Carol take in a movie. She manages to bring Carol out of her “shell” and gets her to giggle as the girl describes a scene from a Charlie Chaplin movie she has just seen. Carol seems connected, but her laughter becomes to feel like a nervous reaction. As the girl goes to hand Carol her purse, she notices it is open. She looks inside and discovers the head of the rabbit waiting amongst a compact and lipstick.

Walking without focus and ever-increasing ticks. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Walking without focus and ever-increasing ticks.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

In the beginning of the film we meet a potential suitor for Carol. Played by John Fraser, this would-be suitor seems harmless enough. This is not to say that he isn’t persistent. He follows Carol on her lunch break. Sits himself down at her table and pushes to get a date. Carol is polite, but clearly not interested. Or is she? She never clearly brushes Colin off. As he follows her back to the salon he presses for a date. She seems shy, but not entirely dismissive. She smiles. The second time she encounters the ever-pushy Colin, she is clearly forcing a smile. Despite his humor and flirtation, she never gives a clear signal. However, most men would let it go. She clearly is not going to fully agree to a date, but Colin presses on.

The viewer’s first time in the sisters’ apartment, we discover that Carol can hear her sister having sex. As Helene reaches orgasm, Carol looks forward toward her sister’s room and covers her ears with her pillow. We know she dislikes Helene’s married boyfriend, but it is never clear why. However, she does not hesitate to toss out his things. When Helene asks Carol why she has thrown out his things, Carol gives a strong declaration that she simply does not like him. However she states this in a passive tone. We have already noticed that his straight razor has caught her eye and thoughts. The second time she notices it she picks it up and studies it. Her face and eyes dulled, she is physically mute of thought.

Studying a straight razor. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Studying a straight razor.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

When Helene and her boyfriend leave for a trip to Italy, Carol seems more than a little panicked. How long will they be gone? 10 or 15 days. Maybe. Carol’s need for more rigidly defined dates is not just for reassurance, it is as if despair and fear demand it. Helene refuses to cater to the silly insecurities of her grown sister. But as the two leave, Carol is clearly concerned. As much as she despises Helene’s boyfriend, she’d rather put up with him than be without her sister.

She is physically repulsed by Helene’s boyfriend. Even the scent of an undershirt makes her vomit. Yet when she pulls out the plate of uncooked rabbit, she stares at it in the same way she has stared at the cracks and the straight razor. There is no clear indication of what she might be thinking, but she is not repulsed. The scent of an undershirt makes her ill, but as the rabbit begins to rot in the living room it causes her no concern. The phone rings and we discover she has the straight razor which she sits on the rabbit’s plate. As we will soon learn, she uses that razor to cut off the rabbits head. A head which she stores in her purse.

Sister's uncooked rabbit does not seem to bother Carol, but something about the bunny's head is of particular interest. The first use of the straight razor. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Sister’s uncooked rabbit does not seem to bother Carol, but something about the bunny’s head is of particular interest. The first use of the straight razor.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Looking back earlier in the film after her sister leaves for Italy, Carol walks about the apartment. She looks at the family photograph. She glances through her sister’s record collection. She walks into her sister’s bedroom. She looks around. She approaches her sister’s wardrobe. She opens the door and examines one of Helene’s sexy dresses. Carol seems to study the dress. As she moves the wardrobe’s mirrored door, we catch a quick glimpse of a man’s reflection behind her. It is a jarring moment. Without any sort of musical cue, it is a scene that never fails to make me jump.

It is shortly after this that the audience is put in the position of not knowing if the steps Carol seems to hear in her apartment are actually in her apartment or in one above or below. No, they must be in her apartment. We notice that her wardrobe is blocking a thus far unknown door. A light goes on behind that door. It may not always become obvious to the viewer upon the first viewing of the film, but this door is suspect. Where does it lead? Carol’s bedroom is opposite from Helene’s. Isn’t it? Wait, are the two bedroom now next to each other? Later those steps behind that door will force the door open — pushing Carol’s wardrobe out of the way. The man who emerges rapes Carol.

Sometimes the hall's walls turn into a flesh-like surface. Other times aggressive male arms emerge to ravage and rape Carol. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Sometimes the hall’s walls turn into a flesh-like surface. Other times aggressive male arms emerge to ravage and rape Carol.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

There is no question that these are rapes. But there no confusing the fact that Carol has imagined them. There is a bit of confusion regarding her reactions to these sexual violations. She seems at once horrified and aroused. We know these rapes are rape fantasies. We know this because we have seen Carol rush from her sister’s bedroom into the hall. She touches the hall wall and it appears to be a soft porous surface in which her hands leave an impression. Wait. Is the hall suddenly a wall of flesh? Soon arms will emerge from the wall body and seemingly sexual violate Carol. Once again, her reaction is a mix of shock, horror and possibly sexual pleasure. Later she will walk down the hallway which fills with outreaching, grabbing male arms.

A walk down the hall becomes a sexual threat that offers no escape. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

A walk down the hall becomes a sexual threat that offers no escape.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

During one particularly brutal rape, the screen fades to black. When we return we find Carol laying nude on the floor of the hall. She does not look traumatized. It is actually the only time in the film that Carol looks relaxed. A jarring phone ring will snap her back into a state of frenzied paranoia and fear. The cracks are getting worse. They are no longer limited to just the two in the kitchen. At one point Carol cautiously approaches the childhood family photograph. As we see discomfort and fear grip her eyes and body, the wall behind the photograph cracks apart threatening to crumble to pieces. Carol flips on a light only to see the entire wall crack apart.

She had planned on getting the crack in the kitchen mended, but new cracks are emerging everywhere. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

She had planned on getting the crack in the kitchen mended, but new cracks are emerging everywhere.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

As Carol descends into insanity her perspective has taken over every aspect of the apartment’s space. After her desperate suitor has attempted to call her over and over again, he has a few drinks and works up the nerve to show up at her front door. The once pushy, but somehow nice guy suddenly takes on a threatening aspect. Carol looks through her front door peep hole and so does Gilbert Taylor’s camera. Distorted and furious, Colin demands that Carol open the door or he will bust it down.

Turns out this is not an idle threat. He lunges at the door. Carol backs away from the door. She reaches for a heavy metal candle stick. Her once kindly suitor breaks through the front door’s lock and busts into Carol’s warped space. Even though he tries to apologize for his behavior and expresses his love and desire for Carol, it is too late. He is a threat. He is danger. The small entry way no longer appears small. It seems very dark and long. The camera’s perspective reveals a nosy elderly neighbor looking in as Colin tries to defend his actions.

Does this potential suitor really have good intentions? If so, why did he break the door's lock to secure access to Carol's apartment? A nosy neighbor watches from the hall. John Fraser & Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Does this potential suitor really have good intentions? If so, why did he break the door’s lock to secure access to Carol’s apartment? A nosy neighbor watches from the hall.
John Fraser & Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Carol refuses to make eye contact. When Colin notices the old neighbor spying on them, he walks down the once short entry way, the elderly woman rushes into her apartment. As he attempts to close the door, Carol’s fear turns to rage.

He just wants to be "with her." Metal candlestick at the ready... John Fraser & Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

He just wants to be “with her.” Metal candlestick at the ready…
John Fraser & Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Carol is no longer passive. She brutally attacks her suitor. Putting all her force into it, Carol bludgeons Colin to death. Blood splatters all over the door. Carol does not seem to be concerned that she has just murdered someone, but she is very upset by the sight of blood coming out of his ear and staining the door. She drags Colin down the ever-expanding hallway and manages to get his body into the tub of water that she had drawn earlier and had allowed to overflow. Suddenly full of manic energy, Carol uses the candlestick to hammer a shelf she pulls from the kitchen to act as a barricade for the apartment entryway.

It isn’t long before the landlord shows up. Carol gives us a peep hole view of Patrick Wymark. Like Colin, the landlord must bust his way into the apartment. At first angry at the state of the apartment, he quickly changes his tune as he looks at Carol in her almost sheer night gown. Soon rage gives way to lechery.

Peephole perspective: the unwanted visit from the landlord. Patrick Wymark REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Peephole perspective: the unwanted visit from the landlord.
Patrick Wymark
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

As he brutishly attempts to mount Carol, she pulls out the straight razor and viciously begins slashing him. Filmed in black and white with Catherine Deneuve’s maniacal slashing, blood spurts everywhere. It only takes a few minutes before it is clear that Carol has hit some vital veins.

"You would not even have to worry about the rent..." Patrick Wymark propositions Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

“You would not even have to worry about the rent…”
Patrick Wymark propositions Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

She has committed her second murder. Once again, she seems more concerned with the mess than the murder. She pushes the sofa over on top of the dead landlord to hid him and his mess from her view.

Insanity has almost completely taken over. As we see Carol sitting in the once small and modern bathroom, we notice that the tub is no longer directly next to the bathroom door. The tiled walls are gone. The bathroom looks old, wet and moldy. It also appears to go deeper than possible. This is not the bathroom we have seen before. Welcome to Carol’s perspective.

Over the course of the film nearly every aspect of Carol’s apartment has been shifted, re-shaped, extended, shortened, architecturally re-arranged and bent to fit within Carol’s skewed perception. It isn’t until Helene and her boyfriend return from their holiday that the apartment’s spacial and visual aspects are fully formed back into the spaces to which we were first introduced. In other words, as Helen enters the wrecked blood stained apartment that “reality” returns to our perspective.

As our realistic perspective returns we discover that Carol has slipped far beneath insanity. Her eyes appear to be frozen open. She almost appears to be dead. But in the most horrifying way, our protagonist has slipped into something far worse than death. She is found under her bed in a catatonic state. While we are given no clear indicators, it feels as if this will be the state she will remain. Can there be anything more terrifying than be shut off from reality and stuck in the darkest and murky waters of a ill mind.

There are more than a few things wrong with this "picture." Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

There are more than a few things wrong with this “picture.”
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

As brilliant as Roman Polanski’s film and his use of Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography and Seamus Flannery’s art direction, there is another essential element to Repulsion that often is dismissed as “accidental” or “luck.” Catherine Deneuve gives a superb performance as Carol. At the time she was cast in Polanski’s film she was thought to be incredibly beautiful and might possibly have a strong career ahead of her in fashion modeling or light entertainment. Her appearance in the sensational French musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The film and she had garnished a great deal of well deserved attention, but once again — she was hardly more than a beautiful face. Jacques Demy had not required a great deal from her in the female leading role. Her own singing voice was not used. Essentially all she needed to do was look happy, mad and sad while lip synching to another’s voice. (Actually, she and all the actors were dubbed and they were required to sing along with the recordings.)

But her work in Repulsion is not just happy accident. Her presence and being fill the screen and linger in the mind. Her mannerisms, twitches, horror and cautious use of words is never doubted. It should be noted that Polanski and the two others who assisted him in adapting the screenplay knew very little about mental illness.

Catherine Deneuve proves her on-screen value as Carol REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Catherine Deneuve proves her on-screen value as Carol
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Deneuve’s stares and facial expressions are never over or under done. Somehow she captured the presence of a fractured mind. And she did so brilliantly. Barely a year would pass before Luis Buñuel pursued her to play the lead in the still controversial and highly regarded experimentation into the Surreal, Bell de jour. His decision to cast her laid not just in her angelic beauty, but in what he saw in Polanski’s film. This might be the other overly examined film from the 1960’s.

I cringe when I hear film scholars or critics dismiss her 1965 portrayal as a lucky use of “icy beauty.” …This is a memorable and valid on-screen performance. In fact there is very little of the “real” Catherine Deneuve present. If one is to fault any aspect of her performance it lies in the hands of the film’s stylist. The only thing about Repulsion that fails is Deneuve’s always flawless hair. Her face covered in sweat and smeared-on lipstick with eyes reflecting sheer terror, her hair is still brilliantly coiffed. Hair aside, I find it hard to believe that any other could have played this role better. And, of course, Deneuve has gone on to build one of the most enduring and important film careers in cinematic history. A year ago Pierre Salvadori managed to convince her to take the female lead in his little seen cinematic gem, In the Courtyard.

Oh no. Not another crack!?!? Catherine Deneuve at 72 plays Mathilde In the Courtyard Pierre Salvadori, 2014 Cinematography | Gilles Henry

Oh no. Not another crack!?!?
Catherine Deneuve at 72 plays Mathilde
In the Courtyard
Pierre Salvadori, 2014
Cinematography | Gilles Henry

This was the first time I’ve ever seen a filmmaker sneak in a nod to her Repulsion performance. In the 2014 French independent film she plays a retired elderly woman who is slipping into a state of depression. Her character becomes obsessed with a crack in her living room.

Returning back to the theory of Repulsion being an examination of insanity’s perspective, as Helene stands back in shock and her boyfriend lifts the now catatonic and mentally absent sister to carry her toward the ambulance and police who are on their way — Polanski has Gilbert Taylor expertly flow through and over the apartment’s wrecked state. As always, Taylor’s camera work is steady and intently focused to slowly capture the film’s closing image. As we move closer to Carol’s childhood picture, Polanski finally allows us to actually see Carol as a child. The whole family is encaged and posing happily. Save Carol. The little girl stands rigid and staring off at something. Many cinephiles like to say that we are meant to think that she is staring at the man (father? uncle?) to her left. The idea being that the child is looking at her victimizer.

This does not hold up. As the camera moves in it is clear that she is not looking at anyone in this photograph. And based on the film’s shared perspective, her gaze has never been focused on anything within the realm of perceived reality. Polanski drives this point even more precisely as the image has been edited slowly to black out the rest of the photo. We can only see a little girl with a disturbing look on her face. The camera never stops it’s slow zoom. Taylor’s camera is aiming directly into young Carol’s right eye. The same eye from which the film’s title slipped out at the beginning of the film. The zoom continues until little Carol’s eye becomes nothing but speaks blurred into darkness.

Repulsion attempts to pull us to a restricted place that has been growing since childhood: the warped psyche of insanity.

And we come back to the childhood photograph of Carol. Polanski chooses to slowly zoom into Carol's eye until it becomes a blur of particles. An isolated stare into horror. REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

And we come back to the childhood photograph of Carol. Polanski chooses to slowly zoom into Carol’s eye until it becomes a blur of particles. An isolated stare into horror.
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Matty Stanfield, 10.22.2015

As Dennis Hopper’s gritty and nihilistic film, Out of the Blue, we see and hear two things:

Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980

Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980

the first is an 18-wheeler speeding along a stretch of road. In it sit a Halloween-costumed little girl and her beer-drinking dad. The drunk father teases his eleven year old clown of a daughter. She gleefully revels in his attention. Not too far ahead is a school bus full of elementary school age children. These are the trucker’s classmates. Their bus has stalled in the middle of an intersection.

A child and her addicted father on a Halloween joy ride to school quickly switches to a tragic crash into a school bus... Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980 Cinematography | Marc Champion

A child and her addicted father on a Halloween joy ride to school quickly switches to a tragic crash into a school bus…
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980
Cinematography | Marc Champion

The little clown too lost in the bliss of her father’s attention and her father too drunk to allow for appropriate reflexes, the 18 wheeler crashes directly into the school bus. Suddenly this shocking action is ended as that same little girl some four years later bolts up in her bed. She has been dreaming. Linda Manz plays “Cebe” and we at once see the magic that this young actor was able to bring to the screen. She has no dialogue. She doesn’t need any. Her face shows it all. Confused, frightened and bemused. Cebe (clearly named after the Trucker mode of communication, the CB radio) appears to be uncertain if she has fully woken from the nightmare. But it only takes a few seconds for the audience to notice two visible scars on her face. This scene and whatever hope that what we have just witnessed by simply be a nightmare is killed with an instant cut to the cab of that 18 wheeler. Sitting in a ramble overgrowth of weeds, the cab is basically demolished. It is the dead of night, Cebe sits in the driver seat wearing her father’s Post-Hippie leather cap. She is talking into the CB radio transmitting a rant that we soon will realize fuels her ability to analyze and move forward in her life:

“Subvert normality. Punk is not sexual, it’s just aggression. Destroy. Kill All Hippies. I’m not talking at you, I’m talking to you. Anarchy. Disco sucks. I don’t wanna hear about you, I wanna hear from you. This is Gorgeous. Does anybody outthere read me? Disco sucks, kill all hippies. Pretty vacant, eh? Subvert normality. Signing off. This is Gorgeous. Signing off.” 

The listening truck drivers do not understand. Cebe doesn’t care. She simply needs to be heard.

Linda Manz as Cebe Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980 Cinematography | Marc Champion

Linda Manz as Cebe
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980
Cinematography | Marc Champion

Originally intended to be a Canadian film about a child psychologist who saves and offers redemption for a fifteen year old girl who has murdered her own father. If what one is to believe what has been reported, stated and written, this entire film was intended to be a star vehicle for Raymond Burr. The producers had been lucky to cast American actor, Linda Manz, as the teenager in trouble. The film’s original director was in over his head and working with a script that seemed more aimed at some sort of “white-wash” of cultural tragedy more appropriate for ABC’s After School Special than cinemas. Dennis Hopper had taken the job to play the murdered father. After the original director walked-off, the iconic actor was asked to make his first directorial turn since his infamous The Last Movie failure.

Dennis Hopper immediately set out to re-write the perversely tidy teenage murderer saved script into something attached to humanity and reality. Raymond Burr was a tax credit for the film’s producers. Hopper manipulated Burr into thinking that he was still the lead actor. He apparently filmed a great deal more than the two brief scenes in which we see him in Hopper’s film. The Child Psychologist is reduced to a half-heartedly sincere bureaucrat. Hopper switched the perspective from a Canadian Social Worker to that of the tormented teenage girl. He also rejected the general premise of “Cebe.” She was no longer just a one-dimensional child victim turned murderer. Hopper’s Cebe was a damaged teenage girl trying to make sense out of her situation, her life and her own identity. Hopper, a former Hippie and addict, quickly decided to have Cebe obsessed with two cultural touchstones: Elvis and the PUNK Movement.

Only her father's old leather cap and a safety pin for her check remains to complete her warrior armor... Linda Manz Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980 Cinematography | Marc Champion

Only her father’s old leather cap and a safety pin for her check remains to complete her warrior armor…
Linda Manz
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980
Cinematography | Marc Champion

Suddenly, Linda Manz was given more to do than simply supply screen presence and predictable emotions cued by violins. She was given the lead role of an abused child hellbent on rebellion and pushed to the emotional edge of sanity.

Cebe seeks more than to subvert normalcy, she seeks to subvert life itself because it is the only way she can figure a way to motivate through the pain, grief, humiliation and confusion of her life. Born to two rebels, Linda Manz’s Cebe is essentially the manifestation of free love, hippie ideology, mind-expanding drug use and confusion. Her mother appears to be a kind, but painfully emotionally-stunted ex-Flower Child. Here, Mom is only physically grown up. She married her true love, a tough Hippie Biker type who quickly grasped onto the life of a heavy hitting trucker.

Despite it all, a child needs to love her parents. Linda Manz & Dennis Hopper Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980 Cinematography | Marc Champion

Despite it all, a child needs to love her parents.
Linda Manz & Dennis Hopper
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980
Cinematography | Marc Champion

Cebe’s mother has forever give her heart to her husband, but she gladly hands over her body for some stability and a fix. We slowly figure out that Sharon Farrell’s Kathy is a closet heroin addict. She loves her daughter the best she knows how. Kathy doesn’t view her daughter’s rebellious nature as odd or worrying. Within Kathy’s limited understanding, Cebe is her father’s daughter. A natural born rebel. While Kathy has already hooked up with Dad’s best friend and former local nemesis, she is still married to Dad.

Kathy can’t wait for Daddy to get out of prison so that they can be a Happy Family again.

Burning what little ideal she covets of her parents, a child on the verge... Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980 Cinematography | Marc Champion

Burning what little ideal she covets of her parents, a child on the verge…
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980
Cinematography | Marc Champion

This was never a happy family. Cebe seems to be the only one fully aware of this.

She, too, is excited about her father’s release from prison and return to home. However, Linda Manz’s skill as a naturalistic actor allows her to show us that she is not so certain things will be getting better. She hopes that they will, but Manz’s forever perplexing ability to convey mixtures of emotions that often run against the very grain of her character’s dialogue and actions, we know she really expects that things for her are about to get a whole lot more difficult.

Her bedroom offers a great deal about the complexity of our lead character. Innocent childhood toys and 1970’s era children’s art remain in tact, but are almost buried beneath the impact of shrines to Elvis. Cebe has crafted old Elvis album art and magazine photographs into collages better suited to religious iconography. A huge amplifier, drum kit and an electric guitar take the front and center of her room.

While the Elvis art seems old and fading, newer posters, pictures and magazine cut-outs weigh down the walls. These are all related to PUNK rock. The Subhumans, Sex Pistols, Teenage Head & Public Enemy are among the iconic bands name-checked on Cebe’s walls. Linda Manz’s Cebe was something altogether new to cinema.

OUT OF THE BLUE, Linda Manz, Sharon Farrell, 1980

OUT OF THE BLUE, Linda Manz, Sharon Farrell, 1980

This is the child of an addicted murderous father and an Up With People hippie gone to seed. Born into a life of instability, threat and fear — Cebe is constantly seeking new totems and sounds to bolster herself. She must reinforce her strength and appearance of knowledge and power to stay ahead of the game.

She clearly does not possess a clear understanding of either Elvis or PUNK rock. But she painfully understands the messages conveyed.

She may not understand the joke that Elvis had become by the time she was old enough to know his music. She also may not understand the corporate ownership of “Johnny Rotten” / “Sid Vicious” or the tragedy of their lives, but she gets the over-all jest of what they and their music stood/stand for.

She can’t articulate what “pretty vacant” actually means, but she somehow understands it applies to her life and the lack of hope it provides.

Rebellion is all she has.

A startling glimpse into the psyche of a 15 year old girl born of free love, addiction and rebellion. She hides it, but the numbing reality of her life is constantly revealed by the all-too-realistic nuance of Linda Manz's performance. Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980 Cinematography | Marc Champion

A startling glimpse into the psyche of a 15 year old girl born of free love, addiction and rebellion. She hides it, but the numbing reality of her life is constantly revealed by the all-too-realistic nuance of Linda Manz’s performance.
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980
Cinematography | Marc Champion

Upon her father’s return things around Cebe seem to take on darker aspects.

Her mother’s drug use is now done in the living room. Even though Dad is home, Mom is all the more open about pursuing her sexual needs.

Dad has taken his drinking to a new level.

Classmates and some parents view her father’s return as an injustice to the children who were killed by the drunken crash four years earlier.

Worse yet, mother loses her worries in H while Dad and his pal take matters into their own hands and murder the father of one of the children killed in the tragic accident.  The angry father feels the need for vengeance. Even a hint of his anger is enough to stir Dad to go into full attack mode.

Cebe runs away. She sleeps on the streets and ends up in a sexualized world of predators. Smart enough to run from this world, she still returns home.

Sleeping on the streets seems a safer alternative to home. This is no late 70's After School Special. This is dire and real. Linda Manz Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980 Cinematography | Marc Champion

Sleeping on the streets seems a safer alternative to home. This is no late 70’s After School Special. This is dire and real.
Linda Manz
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980
Cinematography | Marc Champion

When she gets back, she has hardly been missed.

The final straw arrives when a drunken argument between Mom, Dad and dad’s best friend, played by Don Gordon, lead to a non-sensical idea that Cebe has become too butch (or “a dyke“) to use Mom’s words. In drunken/stoned stupor it is decided that Don must have sex with Cebe to set her “straight.” Hearing it all from her room, Cebe begins to transform into a sort of asexual PUNK God.

Fighting off her father as if where a lion, her bedroom chair legs aimed at him like spears — the father retreats. After slapping the stoned out mom a bit, mom returns to Cebe’s side to help her into her nightgown.

So angry. So alone. So desperate. Cebe’s rebellion takes a very dark turn.

She opts to patricide and suicide as her ultimate “PUNK” revenge. Just as you would expect from Dennis Hopper, the nihilistic ending feels almost surreal. But it isn’t. This is a reality born of rage. No child psychologist can apply some words and therapy to take away the crime of her murders. If Cebe knows two things it is that she wants to kill her parents. It is hard not to relate to her conclusion. It is her suicide that is the tragedy.

Hopper’s film offers a grim view of a societal issue.

Embracing the ideology of PUNK rebellion and the reality of her life, Cebe teases her drunk, brutish and leering father's sexual advances. Linda Manz and Dennis Hopper Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980 Cinematography | Marc Champion

Embracing the ideology of PUNK rebellion and the reality of her life, Cebe teases her drunk, brutish and leering father’s sexual advances.
Linda Manz and Dennis Hopper
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980
Cinematography | Marc Champion

By the time the film was ready for release, several minutes involving the disturbing scene in which the daughter sexually taunts her father prior to brutally killing him had to be edited to secure an “R Rating.” Originally conceived as a Canadian film, the Canadian Film Board quickly demanded funds returned and denied Canadian approval. The film was not released to Japan until the 1990’s over concerns related to rebellion, patricide and suicide. In the US the film barely managed a limited release. While it was largely supported by film critics — even Jack Nicholson stepped out of the celebrity bubble to promote the film which he felt had something very important to say.

The film quickly became a source of infamy.

Bebe applies her make-up to bolster strength. Linda Manz Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980 Cinematography | Marc Champion

Bebe applies her make-up to bolster strength.
Linda Manz
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980
Cinematography | Marc Champion

Interestingly, it began to develop a misleading reputation as a PUNK Rock Movie. It is not.

Costumed for fun a school bus full of children are trapped Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980 Cinematography | Marc Champion

Costumed for fun a school bus full of children are trapped
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980
Cinematography | Marc Champion

When AnchorBay was able to release the theatrical cut on DVD in 1999, the sales started off high. Driven by the rumors surrounding the film as PUNK Statement. Those sales quickly dwindled. Out of the Blue is not a fun movie. It is grim, gritty, realistic and offers the audience no easy way out. While the film does suffer from budget restraints. The crash into the school bus is not as potent when the film returns to the incident the second time and “goofs” can be seen. But mostly, this angry film remains a valid glimpse into human darkness.

A disturbingly logical but incorrect application of Elvis and PUNK mythology into identity. Linda Manz transforms... Out of the Blue Dennis Hopper, 1980 Cinematography | Marc Champion

A disturbingly logical but incorrect application of Elvis and PUNK mythology into identity.
Linda Manz transforms…
Out of the Blue
Dennis Hopper, 1980
Cinematography | Marc Champion

Although I am unsure if he has ever publicly discussed this film, it clearly had impact on Harmony Korine. Any Knowledgeable film-buff will see this film’s influences on Korine’s work.

It also captures teenage rebellion with a cause.  

Technically, AnchorBay no longer has this film in print, but copies can still be found on Amazon. Sadly, many other versions of this film are out there on DVD. Be warned: most are of very poor quality. Most look as if second-hand dubbed from old VHS tapes.  And most of the non-AnchorBay prints are heavily censored. It remains to be seen if this film will ever find it’s way to restoration.

1969’s Coming Apart offers an equally realistic and dark journey to the heart of human self-destruction, but with a different sort of reason in mind.  Milton Moses Ginsberg’s much discussed film is one of style, human pain and classic NYC Method Acting. Often compared to  Jim McBride’s David Holzman’s Diary. In truth Ginsberg’s film has very little to do with McBride’s groundbreaking film beyond the use of “documentary” style and mirror metaphor. The idea of exploring identity and/or sexual identity is not really traceable to one work of art. What makes Ginsberg’s experimental 1969 film so important is that it captures more than just a time capsule moment within the 1960’s Counterculture Movement as it brings focus to the resulting identity problems that movement helped to acerbate. It also serves as a great example of the power to be found within filmmaking.

Setting up a hidden movie camera in a mirrored box designed to look like an object of art. Welcome to the world of "Joe Glassman" Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

Setting up a hidden movie camera in a mirrored box designed to look like an object of art. Welcome to the world of “Joe Glassman”
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

Having just survived a devastating end to a relationship which led him to securing an apartment in the same building as the woman who had rejected him, Milton Moses Ginsberg essentially found himself in an existential downward spiral. This experience drove him to create the script for Coming Apart. An almost shockingly detailed script, he also sought to utilize some of the most respected young actors trained directly under the mythic teachings of Lee Strasberg. Very few of the actors seen in this film were not members of the original Actor’s Studio. It’s three leading actors were among Strasberg’s most prized pupils. They were also known as his most fearless actors who fully embraced every philosophy of Strasberg’s ideology. Rip Torn, Viveca Lindfors and Sally Kirkland may not have been the most famous, but they commanded a great deal of respect within the realm of NYC Actors and Method Acting. The easiest way to sum up Strasberg’s Method Acting was to understand and pursue acting as truth. Truth without filter. Truth without censor. Truth pursued at all costs and concentration. Essentially, Method Acting seeks to pursue the truth of the human soul to it’s deepest and often darkest depths. This was and remained the essential elements of all three actors.

Checking his hidden camera's perspective... Rip Torn Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

Checking his hidden camera’s perspective…
Rip Torn
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

Milton Moses Ginsberg once stated that the Coming Apart script served as a “vehicle for actors to reach into their souls and I found two actors who could reach deeper and better than any others at that time.” He was referring to both Rip Torn and Sally Kirkland. But the entire film is filled with Method Actors. This is particularly interesting to note as most who have seen Coming Apart walk away from the experience thinking that they have seen improvisation and even partial biographical film. This is not at all true. Almost everything in the film is scripted. While Ginsberg was not afraid of improvisation, he expected that each actor honor his script. They did. Each was fully invested in the three week project.

It is interesting to note that every single film snag, break, audio interference, audio loss and distortion is clearly listed and often even drawn into the script. When we are unable to hear or see something it is because Joe can’t deal with hearing or seeing it himself. The only post-production decision to deviate from the script was Rip Torn’s long rant into the camera. It was originally to be an articulated four minute rant during which Torn’s Joe experiences an emotional break. Ginsberg felt at looking at Rip Torn’s face was far more insightful than his own words. So he added unplanned chops and drops of sound during this one scene.

The idea of the film stems from the writer/director’s own self-destructive act of almost stalking a former lover, the premise is quite simple. A burned-out and emotionally ravaged psychiatrist rents an apartment in the same building as that of a woman with whom he had what he feels was a meaningful affair. However, this does not stop the doctor from pursuing an experiment in which he hides a movie camera within a mirrored box. Intended to look like a piece of modern art, he places this hidden camera so that it captures the goings on in the living room from one perspective. Trained on a sofa, “Joe” has placed the sofa in front of a huge mirror. In this way, the camera picks up all activity from two perspectives.

"What's this?" "Kinetic art object." "What?" "Modern sculptory." Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

“What’s this?”
“Kinetic art object.”
“What?”
“Modern sculptory.”
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

While he has set up the apartment as a sort of trap which will require his former lover to interact with him, he is also intent on filming his interactions with women. What at first seems like an extended and sick “bachelor’s weekend” soon devolves into an examination of sexuality and identity at it’s core root. Almost immediately the audience is placed in the role of Voyeur. It is an uncomfortable place to be. There is very little erotic about the goings-on, but it is quite sexual. It is also intense, provocative and disturbing.

When Joe’s former love confronts him for having crossed a line by moving into her building, Joe’s idea backfires. Viveca Lindfors’ Monica is not interested in Joe. If anything she pities him. But is Joe even worth pitying?

"Did I do this to you, Joe?" Viveca Lindfors & Rip Torn Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

“Did I do this to you, Joe?”
Viveca Lindfors & Rip Torn
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

Joe’s first visitors are there strictly for sex. The first encounter comes the closest to being erotic. The second encounter with Elaine played by Lois Markle in one of the film’s few comical moments, presents Joe with a type of sexuality he has perhaps only studied or discussed with patients. When presented with a true sadist, Joe isn’t sure about what he should do. In both comical and realistic ways, Markle’s characters tries to turn Joe on by exposing the permanent scars caused by cigarettes. It would seem that Elaine enjoys being a human ashtray.

This does nothing for Joe. She quickly suggests putting on provocative clothing. She even quickly runs back to her home to return in full-on BSDM gear designed to entice. Joe seems more curious than turned on. As she shows off her spike heel shoes, Joe asks her if it is hard to walk in them? She advises that these shoes are not for walking. Just when it seems she is about to give up all hope of getting laid, Joe decides to feign interest. As he pursues her on the floor, we see her legs up in the hair and she returns to her cooing and moaning while yelling, “You’re raping me! You’re raping me!” We see Joe hesitate and Elaine reach up and pull him back to her. She then returns to pretending that Joe is raping her. This is the only “light” moment to be found in Coming Apart.

Are you sure you don't want to put a cigarette out on me? Rip Torn & Lois Markle Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

Are you sure you don’t want to put a cigarette out on me?
Rip Torn & Lois Markle
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

The entire film runs like a document of what we would now call “found footage.” The scenes cut off. The film appears to run out or break. The audio goes off and on. The light has impact on the quality of the film and the way in which we can see. This approach has an interesting sort of effect for the viewer. Even when we don’t want to see everything, we often strain to keep up with what is going on in front of us. It is inappropriate. It is far too private. Welcome to being the target of the film. We are somewhat seduced into an act of voyeurism. The problem is that the eroticism of this film is short-lived. The erotic quickly becomes heart breakingly neurotic. Coming Apart is just that. We end up watching two people falling apart — or as their connection is grounded in the sexual, they are both cuming apart.

When we first see Sally Kirkland’s Joann, she sits on the sofa slacked and bored. Far too young for Joe and not the sort of woman we have been seeing. She is beautiful, but clearly not sitting there waiting for sex. However, Joann comes to animated life when we see Joe actually take an interest in her. In what is extremely naturalist and real dialogue we discover that Joe and Joann have run into each other just outside the building. She is also a former therapy patient who had quit therapy. She claims to have no interest in therapy, but Joe insists that it would be inappropriate for him to see her. He explains that he has cut back on therapy sessions and has taken this apartment to work on a paper for which he has been given a grant to write.

A drunken/stoned gathering quickly devolves into an uncomfortable challenge of group sex and sexual identity... Sally Kirkland is disengaged as "Sarabelle" The Clown hits on Joe... Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

A drunken/stoned gathering quickly devolves into an uncomfortable challenge of group sex and sexual identity…
Sally Kirkland is disengaged as “Sarabelle” The Clown hits on Joe…
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

This only seems to serve to excite Joann. Sally Kirkland’s character seems to be literally morph into a sexual being. She begins to shamelessly flirt with Joe. She mentions that she is involved with a man who likes to experiment. He likes to watch her get it on with other men. As she is clearly exciting Joe, she begins to tell him about an orgy she recently attended.

When he asks her more about orgies she responds, “It’s wilder than you can imagine.” And, it is here that we start to understand that Joann is every bit as broken as Joe. As she continues to try and excite him, she stumbles onto her own issues and woes. They slip out more clearly defined than a tale of her orgasm. “Why am I telling you all this for? You’re not my doctor!” Yet, she can’t help but keep speaking. Her rambling becomes less erotic than tragic and filled with self-loathing. Her energy drained, Sally Kirkland’s Joann is heart-broken and filled with a confused anger. Her body has started to fold in on itself but she continues to attempt some idea of body flirtation.

She tells him that her lover likes to call her “Whore.” It is apparent that Joann herself is confused why she has shared with Joe. It is a source of pain for her.

An awkward lapse of silence follows. Without any sort of reasoning, Joe offers “I’m lonely, too.”

This of course is as if he has given invitation. Joann has now placed herself across the room, hand close to Joe’s crotch — soon her head rests there as well. After allowing her to sublimate her entire body poised to give him oral pleasure, Joe cruelly dismisses her, “You’ve got to go to work and I’ve got to go home to my wife.”

"Let's make the most of a bad thing, shall we?" Rip Torn & Sally Kirkland  Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

“Let’s make the most of a bad thing, shall we?”
Rip Torn & Sally Kirkland
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

But Joe may have met his match. Joann quickly turns the tables on him by pointing out that she’s relieved he has a wife. A slight pause as she glances toward his crotch, “I thought you were a fag.”  This comment seems to have a far greater impact than we expect. Before long Joann is back an affair begins. Or at least, a sexual relationship begins. We see her consistently working hard to bring him sexual pleasure, but Joe seems to have lost the ability to achieve a hard-on. Drunk and nude, both Joann and Joe seem miserable. The camera unknown to Joann, Joe appear to start mugging at his camera — at us. It quickly becomes clear he is trying not to cry.

Later Joann returns, after a bit of an argument they end up attempting to have sex. She ends up masturbating against Joe’s leg. Sexuality between Joann and Joe seems to illicit impotence for Joe and rage for Joann. Just before his camera’s film runs out, he commands that Joann face away from him on all floors. The implication being that he can’t look at her to fuck her. Yet, Joann agrees. Four on the floor, Joanne waits. As Joe stands and removes his underwear, the film runs out.

A bit further into the film Joann returns with a whole group of people. All of whom seem to be in various degrees of intoxication. Group sex takes place, but it seems to present Joe and Joann with frustration. Joann seems angry. Joe seems afraid. When he mistakes a transgender female for a biological woman — this is 1969, but this person looks far more female than male. Later Joe is presented with a nude gay man who clearly wants to pleasure Joe. This is a returning theme in the film. Joe’s heterosexuality is consistently under scrutiny. It is never clear how much Joe’s developing sexual issue is related to the fact that perhaps he is sexually conflicted or merely depressed.

Sally Kirkland looks into the abyss... Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

Sally Kirkland looks into the abyss…
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

The downward spiral for Joe and Joann continues. Joe is clearly experiencing a nervous breakdown. Joann has been kicked out of her home — she claims this is because she has become Joe’s sex toy. Yet he refuses her a place to sleep. Telling her she stinks. We know that they have just had another unsuccessful attempt at sex. Beyond abusive, we have entered the realm of human cruelty.

At one point, Sally Kirkland’s Joann tells Joe: “You’re not as strong as I thought. You’re frightened. You’re weak-willed. There’s no mystery about you. None!”

She aims this as a threat, but she doesn’t give up. She continues to pursue Joe despite repeated failures, insults and even physical threat. It is illogical, but feels believable real.

It is crucial to note that there is nothing amateur or limited within Coming Apart. Each and every performance is so authentic in emotion, sexual need, desperation and rage that the viewer feels uncomfortable watching the interactions especially given that Ginsberg films it all from a secret camera perspective. Filled with mirror reflections that capture information from all perspectives with limitation of being stuck in the position of a perverse voyeur. A limited budget does not matter. Nothing is boring. The opposite. However, very little if any of it is “enjoyable.”

Half nude, loaded gun and on the attack: Sally Kirkland's break results in unhinged destructive blood-lust Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

Half nude, loaded gun and on the attack: Sally Kirkland’s break results in unhinged destructive blood-lust
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

Everything we see feels real. In fact, at the time the film was released many labeled it as pornographic. It carried an “X-Rating” and is still rated “NC-17” despite being tame in comparison to many films other than the entire movie just feels so real. And an even larger number of people refused to believe it was fictional. Even some of Rip Torn’s friends were convinced he had left his wife, Geraldine Page, for several weeks. Hired Ginsberg to take credit for shooting a film which was simply a drunken Torn having his way with women. This was something that was a source of both comedy and annoyance for both Rip and his wife. As for Sally Kirkland, she soon found herself being questioned about the idea of “Art vs. Pornography.”

Raging and murderous, Sally Kirkland tosses a piece of art directly at us, or, uh, Joe's hidden camera... Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

Raging and murderous, Sally Kirkland tosses a piece of art directly at us, or, uh, Joe’s hidden camera…
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

Perception is attacked... Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

Perception is attacked…
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

The film was made at the darkest moment of the counterculture revolution. 1968 was indeed a tipping point for the United States.

Erotica was very much a part of the Counter-Culture Revolution in the New York City art world!” Kirkland explained during a Q&A of the film in the late 1990’s.

Coming Apart for many of the actors was a natural extension of the revolution that they were so deeply vested. The was a revolution against war, oppression, inequality and perhaps most importantly — the Counter Culture was acting out against the regimented cultural and societal perceptions of what normalcy was supposed to be.

Like Dennis Hopper’s gritty little strange 1980 movie, 1969’s Coming Apart was also a subverting normality. It is of particular interest that this was all captured in what most would consider the final year of the 1960’s.

Reality shatters Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

Reality shatters
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

Despair, contempt, loneliness, heart break and rage destroy realistic perception once and for all... Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

Despair, contempt, loneliness, heart break and rage destroy realistic perception once and for all…
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

 

In the late 1990’s Sally Kirkland bluntly asserted to the audience for whom Coming Apart had just been screened, “People are still dealing with this revolution!

 

Nothing left to see or say. Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

Nothing left to see or say.
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

 

While more than a few of her fellow artists would consider Sally Kirkland an eccentric, none would ever argue her intelligence. An esteemed, highly intelligent and articulate individual, Sally Kirkland really hit the nail on the heard. 46 years on and Ginsberg’s Coming Apart is still shocking and confusing viewers. In many ways, this film’s examination of sexuality, loneliness, desperation and human rage goes beyond authenticity. It pursues and touches the rawest of human nerves. For many, it might be easier to watch the extreme torture porn of Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film.

The film continues to polarize audiences. However most cinephiles, critics and actors now see this film as a masterpiece.

Kino had issued a great DVD of the film in 2000. I get contradictory reports about whether or not Kino still has the rights to continue to print their DVD of the film. However, while it has sold well a second reprint was never required. Or, it was never done. It can still be found on Amazon. There are no plans in place to give this historic and highly personal film a restoration it deserves. It would be a good time to more forward as all three of the key players for this film are in their 70’s and early 80’s. One of the challenges seems to be regarding the use of Jefferson Airplane music.

One thing is for sure — neither of this films should be forgotten.

Actually, I don’t think either will. Both Out of the Blue and Coming Apart carry a certain cred that is undeniable. They also both retain a level of curiosity. Neither fit into mainstream cinematic ideas. Both push the envelope without sacrificing artistic merit. These two films have respective followings.

Naked despair, rage and sexuality come to limited cinemas in 1969. Coming Apart Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969 Cinematography | Jack Yager

Naked despair, rage and sexuality come to limited cinemas in 1969.
Coming Apart
Milton Moses Ginsberg, 1969
Cinematography | Jack Yager

Matty Stanfield, 10.4.2015

As the bass, drums and orchestra kick in and we can hear Cher start to sing:

Well I’m hell on wheels, I’m a roller mama. I can slide down places that you never knew. Try me on for size at the roll-a-rama.
If you tie my laces then I’ll follow you. Follow you! Follow you!!!
See something I like, gonna go for it
See something I want, I’m gonna go after it
See something I like, gonna go for it
See something I want… Let’s roll! Hell on wheels!! Let’s roll! Come on roll with me!
I roll at a quarter till three yeah
Let’s rock! Hell on wheels!  Let’s roll!
Come on rock with me! I’ll make you feel so free! Yeah! Look out!!! “(voice echo effect)

Thus begins the infamous 1979 Roller Disco Movie which promises us “love on wheels!”

Cher croons a warning: "Look Out!"  Linda Blair & Jim Bray Roller Boogie Mark Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Cher croons a warning: “Look Out!”
Linda Blair & Jim Bray
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

The 1970’s were a strange time. Gone were the revolutionary / political activism of the 1960’s. As our nation crossed over the years of 1969 to 1971, the idea of peace and love were starting to fade. By the time American Culture slipped in the haze of the 1970’s, people were more concerned with giving The World a Coke than offering peace and love. Chairs began to fully form into vinyl sacks filled with “bean-like” substances. Colors that should never have gone together were thought to match. Suspenders were no longer a utility, they were a multi-colored/glittered fashion statement. Men in Southern California and NYC began “perming” their hair. Blow-dyers were not something limited to the hairdresser, by 1974 this item was anticipated to be in every woman’s home. By 1978 every human being was expected to own a blow-dryer. Wings were no longer just for angels — they were for your hair. Your very dry/brittle hair. Drug use for mind-expansion quickly became a tool for fun and escape. Sexuality was no longer an aspect of “free love.” Sexuality was almost required of anyone over 16 as a political state of independence.

"Feels sooooo good. Sooooo good." Donna Summer Giorgio Moroder I Feel Love, 1977

“Feels sooooo good. Sooooo good.”
Donna Summer
Giorgio Moroder
I Feel Love, 1977

The concept of The Sexual Revolution took a sharp left turn toward The Hedonistic. Love and sex became two very different things. The people who came of age in the mid-1970’s had rocks to love. This would be the era when gay men finally took a stand. Many of these men were especially trapped within the confusion of 70’s sexuality. Sex was not just for enjoyment is was an assertion of a human right — And, it was for all the world to see. Despite all the tackiness and odd ideas — Bataka Bats, anyone? Earth Shoes? Male half-shirts? Mini-shorts with tube socksBell-Bottom jeans? Special chain guards for bell-bottom pant wearing hipsters? The Brady Bunch? Battle of the Network Stars? Jeff & Pink Lady? The Bay City Rollers? Herpes?

Battle of the Network Stars

Battle of the Network Stars

Sadly it would take us till about 1982 to fully realize how lame it all was. Not that we aren’t “nostalgic” for some of it, but I’m not sure any of us would be interested in having an elementary school Guidance Counselor make us hit her puppet with the Bataka Bat she kept in the corner of her tiny space. And while it is fun to watch Jeff & Pink Lady or Battle of the Network Stars on YouTube for a couple of minutes, would any of us really want to spend an entire weekend binging on them?

If there were ever a sign that the 1970’s were a profoundly horrible era for all of us it was the advent of a Euro-idea that transformed into what we call “Disco.” In fact, everything started to go firmly downhill after Disco thumped its way into our hearts and collective culture. As the fun offered by the multi-colored flashing floors of the discotheque started to become a bit tired, the situation took a very fast slip into an odd sensation that would sweep not only the US but Canada as well!

At the time it must have made sense. But it would appear that with a simple blink of the eye, Roller Rinks which had been content for us all to skate along with Billy Swan crooning “I Can Help” or Grand Funk Railroad’s reworking of “The Locomotion” suddenly magically became Disco Roller-A-Ramas. I remember being a child at a friend’s innocent Roller Rink Birthday Party when “Disco Duck” and “I Feel Love” began to throb throughout the huge space. The lights dimmed and glitter balls began to twirl. Multi-colors spraying out in all directions. Suddenly, KISS was no longer rockin’ our world. No. It was that quick. Rick Dees, Donna Summer  and The Bee Gees has replaced Grand Funk, The Bay City Rollers, Peter Frampton, Heart, Fleetwood Mac and Dear Sweet God — Billy Swan!!! It only took our little heads a couple of minutes to find our rhythm regain appropriate sway. Our wheels took to this new level of pulse once they began to roll across the throbbing wooden floor.

Roller Disco Dancin' Baby!

Roller Disco Dancin’ Baby!

Soon we were rollin’ and disco’ing our way around the circular run that was our Roller Rink. We were not simply roller skating. No way, Baby. We were Disco Roll-A-Rama Skating. We were 7 and 8 years old hip disco rollers! And, for about 3 weeks it seemed cool.

Now. Before we engage in any discussion of Disco and the sad tilt down the ramp of Disco Roller Skating which would call Hollywood to take up any slack that might be left in our degenerate swag — we must discuss the American Anomaly we all call Cher.

Cher is more than ready to roll... Photograph | Harry Langdon, 1979

Cher is more than ready to roll…
Photograph | Harry Langdon, 1979

Yes, you know who she is. And you are lying if you do not own some music or a movie featuring her unique skill and talent.

Hey! You! Yeah, you! Super Cool Rock Dudes! No! Even you can’t escape the bitter truth!

Think about it. That was Cher on the cover of the now iconic Rod Stewart LP cover. And, take a deep breath, Cher rocked it down hard with Gregg Allman and his brothers. And if you’ve still not fallen prey to the truth: Cher was also gettin’ down with Gene Simons of KISS. If for some reason you refuse to admit any claim to Cher, check with the person nearest to you.

Gene Simmons and Cher ...eating a wiener.  c. 1979 Photographer | Unknown to me

Gene Simmons and Cher
…eating a wiener.
c. 1979
Photographer | Unknown to me

One of the two you have listened, watched and paid for Cher and her follies. They even gave her an Oscar!

One could debate if Cher really understood how “jacked” into the fleeting “cool” moments of our collective culture at just the right times. Back in the day, Cher’s motives do not seem as calculated as her fellow celebrities and artists. But none can deny that some sort of Divine Benevolence has always guided Cher to the epicenter of cool.

Sonny & Cher c. 1966 Photograph | Michael Ochs

Sonny & Cher
c. 1966
Photograph | Michael Ochs

When she cut her own “bangs” and put on an ugly-ill-fitting sort of vest and sang “The Beat Goes On” with her Svengali-like husband, how could she have known it was jet her to a level of fame beyond understanding? Even later in the late 1960’s and very early 70’s as the Sonny & Cher records screeched to a stop, she would follow Sonny to Las Vegas. They made a great deal of money in the “unhip” Vegas. Their style and Cher’s sarcasm turned Vegas toward a new kind of cool. Not far behind them would be the likes of Tony Orlando & Dawn, Diana Ross and Streisand. True, they would make more money — but it is doubtful that they would have made the trek to that Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin saturated world first. Does anyone really think that an early 70’s Streisand went to Vegas because Liberace asked her? No. She and the others flocked there because Cher went there first. It was around this time that Cher would follow Sonny to the land of TV. They were a hit for a quick year or two. She stumbled into Warren Beatty who she decided to sleep with because she had nothing better to do. As Sonny & Cher began to fade and tabloids reported of a tryst with Beatty and her divorce.  Cher happened to meet a

Does Cher's 1974 album cover remind you of Stevie Nick's Belladonna Album of 1981? ...Cher Factor!  Cher  Dark Lady, 1974 Fashion | Calvin Klein Photograph | Richard Avedon

Does Cher’s 1974 album cover remind you of Stevie Nick’s Belladonna Album of 1981? …Cher Factor!
Cher
Dark Lady, 1974
Fashion | Calvin Klein
Photograph | Richard Avedon

then major Power-Broker who had yet to achieve household fame, David Geffen. Sure Beatty just wanted to score and Geffen was about as Gay as Gay gets, but Cher didn’t realize either of these things. No, she simply liked Geffen and he found true fame with her at his side. She also found her way into Studio 54.  At the time, many hipsters of the day doubted Cher had what it took to party among the NYC Elites of Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger and Sylvester. But come on. We are talking about Cher. Her entry into the doors of Studio 54 was at the exact moment it became mainstream noticed. And while we cannot directly link Cher to the drug addictions of Liza Minnelli, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gary Valentine, but many suspect that The Cher Factor is at least partially to blame.

Cher liked Disco music. She deemed it fun and cool. Yet, she would not run to the recording studio to record it. No. She was too busy with Gregg Allman, his brothers, Gene Simons, KISS and toying with idea of staring in some Anti-Vietnam movie called Coming Home and even a remake of A Star Is Born. These would have been logical, sound and smart marketable choices. But Cher was busy. No, not with a TV Show or in a recording studio. She was busy figuring out Aerobics.  This was long before Barbra Streisand, Goldie Hawn and Jane Fonda even put a toe in the gym. Yes, true fact. 

And while Ms. Fonda marketed Aerobics & Fitness to the masses and made millions. It was because her two pals, Barbra Streisand and Goldie Hawn were discussing politics over odd bodily contortions. But Streisand and Hawn only showed up to the Aerobic Studio because Cher was bending her body in positions that remain a thing of un-photographed legend. Tragically, these career opportunities were just for fun for Cher. She didn’t make any real money from these things.

Putting up the Cher Take Me Home billboard.  LA, 1979

Putting up the Cher Take Me Home billboard.
LA, 1979

When Cher finally turned away from the sound of Rock and California-Country-Rock toward the Disco she had been playing within, she was a bit late in recording it as her sound. It would be in the mid-point of 1979 before Cher would find her way into Bob Esty’s Disco Studio. She scored a hit single with Take Me Home plus Barry Levine captured her in Bob Mackie designed “Cher Disco Armor!” on an album cover. That album didn’t sell badly, but it didn’t sell great. But her one single sold.

Cher Bob Mackie Disco Armor! Take Me Home, 1979 Photograph | Barry Levine

Cher
Bob Mackie Disco Armor!
Take Me Home, 1979
Photograph | Barry Levine

Cher was the Secret Pioneer, but she was no marketing/selling match compared to Barbra Streisand’s The Main Event single or far less compared to the infamous and iconic Power-Diva-Duel that would become the Streisand/Summers’ massive hit, No More Tears (Enough is Enough.)  We have no real way of knowing if Cher was bothered. I mean Donna Summer was sitting on an old-fashioned Radio and Barbra was soaked Wet and looking more than a little bit confused. Just as audiences had rushed to see Jane Fonda in Coming Home and Streisand in A Star Is Born, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt secured the concept of country-pop-rock and translated them into big hits. And of course, it would be Jane Fonda who would whisk past Cher as well as Streisand/Hawn to Aerobic Glory.

I must apologize. I have just taken us into the 1980’s.  OK. Let’s kick it back a couple of years. Cher has already decided she should endeavor to make a Disco record, but it would have to wait a few months.

Why?

Well, Cher was far too busy having fun. True, her second marriage wrecked in under several weeks, a new baby arrived, an eager young daughter and a frustrated Gene Simons simply refused to join her. But she left one issue and three individuals with the Nanny(s) and took off to Brooklyn.

Why would Cher skip over to Brooklyn and out Studio 54? And you must remember:  just Studio 54 was really only heating up with the Ride of The White Horse. And things between Debbie Harry and Truman Capote/Andy Warhol were forming into Art as Jessica Lange wedged her way between Mikhail Baryshnikov’s coke spoon and an increasingly frantic yet dazzling Liza were catching the public’s interest.

Why bother with Studio 54? Cher Brooklyn Disco Roll-A-Rama, c. 1976 Photographer | Unknown to me

Why bother with Studio 54?
Cher
Brooklyn Disco Roll-A-Rama, c. 1976
Photographer | Unknown to me

You see, in early 1977, one had to go to Brooklyn to Disco Roller Skate in true style. Cher rolled out a whole new type of fashion into her excursion into The World of The Roll-A-Rama Disco! Skates had to match the outfits and the outfits had to be sexy, fun and provocative! Bob Mackie was her real friend and was more than happy to assist. She owned that rink in all her see-through glitter costumed glory!

Cher Boobies by Cher Dress by Bob Mackie Photograph | Harry Langdon

Cher
Boobies by Cher
Dress by Bob Mackie
Photograph | Harry Langdon

The only reason her agent and Bob Esty was able to drag Cher out of that rink was because she had heard —  in what one can safely assume was presented in the form of a plea to her — Cher finally admitted that she was Disco Roller Skating Fanatic. Bob Esty worked like a speed-freak with Michele Aller to compose a song called, Hell on Wheels. It only took the mention that they written what they considered a true Disco Roller Skating Anthem to get Cher and her family back to LA to record that song. She also ended up recording enough songs to fill two albums which were largely fueled by the Disco Sound.

Cher is Disco-Rollin' with un-named friend. The Disco Boobies and the Disco Skating that would inspire a Hollywood Marathon Sprint!  c. 1977 Photographer | Unknown to me

Cher is Disco-Rollin’ with un-named friend. The Disco Boobies and the Disco Skating that would inspire a Hollywood Marathon Sprint!
c. 1977
Photographer | Unknown to me

One problem: This was now 1979 and the Anti-Disco Movement was building momentum. Cher barely had time to squeak out one hit. This now leads us away from Cher directly to an atrocity that her Factor helped to fuel in The Land of Hollywood. However, in all fairness to Cher — she probably knew nothing of the impact of her actions and Disco Anthem.

Hollywood had no problem with grabbing onto Disco Culture, but the subculture of Disco Roller Skating would allude their radar. The executives should have been paying better attention to The Cher Factor. But to be fair, none of us did. The Cher Factor is usually so far-ahead of the Cultural Curve that it is only obvious with the gift of hindsight.

Irwin Yablans had been an instinctive film producer. He was inspired by Cher’s sheer Disco Roller Skating Boobies images and got wind that she was about to record a Disco album! Irwin Yablans, in some ways is like Cher. He didn’t really need to put on the skates. The bump, grind and jiggle of Cher’s meshed boobs was all he needed for cinematic inspiration.

The single that failed to chart until Roller Boogie which it would help to inspire.  The Cher Factor Cher Hell On Wheels, 1979 from the Prisoner album Photograph | Harry Langdon

The single that failed to chart until Roller Boogie which it would help to inspire.
The Cher Factor
Cher
Hell On Wheels, 1979
from the Prisoner album
Photograph | Harry Langdon

 

Remember, the world of film would not have John Carpenter’s Halloween had Yablans not suggested the idea of a babysitter serial killer slasher movie to the young director. So when Yablans suggested the idea of a Disco Roller Disco movie to screenwriter, Barry Schneider, he quickly wrote what became Roller Boogie. There seems to have been a brief period when the Yablans’ project was stalled. Apparently, Schneider wanted the male lead to be a struggling song-writer and the lead actress to be the solid Disco-Rollin’ Mama. For whatever reason, this idea didn’t suit Irwin.

He was also not particularly easy in appealing to “the R-Rated Adult Audience” demographic. Kids. Irwin wanted to pull in and do it for the kids. And to do that the leading man would need to be an instant winner and cool.

When they were ready to, um, roll, Linda Blair was their first and only choice for the Leading lady.

Linda Blair Hollywood, c. 1977 Photographer | Unknown to me

Linda Blair
Hollywood, c. 1977
Photographer | Unknown to me

Linda Blair had instant name recognition, she was hot but not too hot and she could be had on the “cheap.” This had nothing to do with her talent or her fame. This was because she had recently laid claim to negative  “infamy.”  Yep. Poor Linda had strayed from the world of Demons and Rick Springfield and had found her way into the world of real rock, via Lynyrd Skynyrd and cocaine. I’m not quite clear on how that band came into play, but it did. There are a number of photographs from 1975 to 1977 that feature Linda with Ronnie Van Zant. Anyway, poor Linda had gotten into some trouble. But she was no Lindsey Lohan! She got it together pretty darn quick.

I'm not sure any of us want to understand how Linda became close to this dude and his fellow-brilliant musicians. But it was probably not a very good idea... Linda Blair and Ronnie Van Zant c. 1975 Photographer | Unknown to me

I’m not sure any of us want to understand how Linda became close to this dude and his fellow-brilliant musicians. But it was probably not a very good idea…
Linda Blair and Ronnie Van Zant
c. 1975
Photographer | Unknown to me

For Irwin Yablans and his limited budget there was only one choice for his Leading Man. True he did initially agree to Linda Blair’s request that he cast her then boyfriend. But by the times the cameras were ready to roll, she had kicked him to the curb. So there was only one choice. On paper, it would make sense to cast Jim Bray in the leading male role because he was a big deal within the Roller Skating World an “artistic roller skating champion,” but in reality it was probably a poor choice. It still puzzles me why they didn’t pull Jimmy Van Patten from out of the supporting cast and into the lead. Jim Bray was able to skate, but he wasn’t particularly great-looking and was — well — kind of scrawny with no real charisma. Jimmy Van Patten is clearly dying to jump to the head of the class, he was well built, better looking and just cooler.

The other issue with Bray in the male lead is that he just seems “small” next to Linda Blair.

Let's Roll! Let's Rock! Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Let’s Roll! Let’s Rock!
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

It is here that I find it essential to contradict something to which people always refer: Linda Blair was not fat. She was not the slim, in-shape beauty she is today — but, seriously, Linda Blair was not fat. She was seriously hot. Even in The Age of Disco, most straight dudes would have gone for Linda over any 3 of the Charlie’s Angels.

Why? Because she was naturally hot and nothing seems “high-maintenance” about her. She is accessibly hot. However, when Mark L. Lester has stand her next to a 95lbs guy like Jim Bray — it looks “off.” This is why there are so many shots of both by themselves or shots together are carefully framed so that Bray’s skinny physique is not interacting with Blair in obvious ways.

A tender moment... Jim Bray / Linda Blair Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

A tender moment…
Jim Bray / Linda Blair
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

But then again, Jim Bray is one of the odd-fitting pieces that help to make the Cinematic-Taint we all love called Roller Boogie. Had the equally hot Jimmy Van Patten played opposite Linda Blair, Mark L. Lester and Yablans probably would not have felt it important to cut “the not quite R-rated sex” scene. This was not cut because it would have gained an R-rating — it was cut because I think we can all admit it would have been “uncomfortable” to think about Linda doing the deed with Jim Bray. Poor Jimmy Van Patten. It would be his younger brother, Vincent Van Patten, who would get his day in the sun with Linda Blair in the R-rated Hell Night. Wait. Maybe we should feel more sorry for Vincent.

Back to focus:

Production of Roller Boogie went fast. It had to. Just as they went into production — Columbia Studios was financing a bigger budgeted Roller Disco Movie staring Scott Baio, Marcia Brady, Ruth Buzzi, Playboy’s Dorothy Stratten, the screen debut of Patrick Swayze and the sought-after prize that was Flip Wilson. This movie was called Skatetown, U.S.A. As it turned out, this turned out not to be a problem.

Skatetown USA Cinematic Error Trust me, the poster is the only entertaining thing to be found in this movie.

Skatetown USA
Cinematic Error
Trust me, the poster is the only entertaining thing to be found in this movie.

Columbia and Rastar did beat Yablans to the screen by 2 months, but Skatetown, U.S.A. was DOA upon arrival to the cinemas. There was also a great deal of pressure to get the production filmed before Poor Linda had to be in front of a judge in Florida to face the music for her post-Exorcist II: The Hertic-Lynyrd Skynyrd-Cocaine Adventure of 1977. Production completed just in time for Linda to catch her plane and Jim Bray to visit Studio 54! Roller Boogie might have not arrived until December of 1979, 2 months after Skatetown, U.S.A., and more than several months after the Historic Disco Demolition Night — but Linda Blair and Jim Bray in Roller Boogie were a hit. Skatetown, U.S.A. was a major flop and only sounds good-bad fun. It is actually just very bad.

Still much disco work to be done through 1981. Disco had a slower death than many expected. Andy Gibb After Dark Magazine

Still much disco work to be done through 1981. Disco had a slower death than many expected.
Andy Gibb
After Dark Magazine

And while Disco Demolition Night did have some significant impact, Disco Culture was not quite done yet. Disco would not fully die until early 1981. Just in time for the ULTIMATE big-budget Disco Roller Skating Movie, Xanadu, to arrive. Xanadu’s soundtrack sold well, but the movie tanked.

Here is my challenge: The Notorious & Much-Beloved Roller Boogie was recently restored and re-issued to Blu-Ray by Olive Films. I was asked to review it. But you know I think I can sum up Roller Boogie fairly fast. Almost as fast as The Disco Roll-A-Rama Fad.

Linda Blair cruising with her best friend, Big Tits. Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda Blair cruising with her best friend, Big Tits.
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda Blair is a classically trained flutist who doesn’t really appear to know how to play the flute. Her mastery of the flute reminds one of another oblong thing. Linda Blair gently massages her flute while teasingly gently blowing upon it’s head. Get your mind out of the gutter! The head of the flute! Linda’s flute-ing appears to be “sync’d” in. Anyway, her mom is the Step Mom from My Three Sons. And she is stressed-out! Linda’s Daddy is really rich. He gives Linda everything she wants except her freedom to really get her roll on! She has two friends: One is female. I can never recall her friend’s name. I call her Big Tits. Her other friend is a an early version of geek+Yuppy.

"Hmmm. Should I let it slip a little further down?" giggles. "NO!" Linda Blair in her closet Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

“Hmmm. Should I let it slip a little further down?” giggles. “NO!”
Linda Blair in her closet
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda contemplates the weary challenges of being rich, forced manipulation of a flute and best friend, Big Tits, who claims to be her age but is probably lying. Linda is pretty sure Big Tits is pushing 30. So it is time to change clothes and do what she needs to do!

"Outfit. Check. Skates. Check." Linda Blair Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

“Outfit. Check. Skates. Check.”
Linda Blair
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

"OK. Hot enough!"  Linda Blair Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

“OK. Hot enough!”
Linda Blair
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

"I'm outta here!" Linda Blair Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

“I’m outta here!”
Linda Blair
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda gets fed up and drives her sleek and way-cool car that has a telephone in it! She goes where all wealthy Beverly Hills girls go to rebel and be cool – Venice Beach!

The flute can wait! I gotta learn how to disco roller skate! Linda Blair on what I believe is an early form of a cell phone attached to her fancy car. Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1976 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

The flute can wait! I gotta learn how to disco roller skate!
Linda Blair on what I believe is an early form of a cell phone attached to her fancy car.
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Here she happens to notice a Totally Hot Stud, Jim Bray!,  who we have already had the benefit of seeing — but as he rolls up, Linda is unable to escape his boy-ish charm. He lives in a seedy hotel! (only we the viewers seem to be aware that Jim Bray is most likely a rent boy who skates to peddle his ass, but this may not really be true) — Anyway, Linda works her permed-giggly charm on Jim. She had him at her  brief confusion determining if he is her leading man and not some gay hooker who rolled up on the set.

Whoa! Wait. Is that the leading man? Oh, yes. Well he is ONE HOT HUNK OF A MAN!!! ...in mini-shorts, tube socks, skating around Venice Beach. No worries.  Jim Bray doing his best Roller Boogie Marl L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Whoa! Wait. Is that the leading man? Oh, yes. Well he is ONE HOT HUNK OF A MAN!!! …in mini-shorts, tube socks, skating around Venice Beach. No worries.
Jim Bray doing his best
Roller Boogie
Marl L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

One thing leads to another and Jim teaches Linda how to Disco Roller Skate. He really had to — she already had all of the wardrobe and the skates. She just needed the skill. In truth, I think Linda was just using the Disco Skate Lessons as a ploy. She wants him. She clearly knows how to dance. The real “training” seems to be in this frail hustler’s ability to “lead” and “lift” anything above 30lbs.

So far so good. Now Jim, turn and hoist Linda above your head!  Jim Bray / Linda Blair Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

So far so good. Now Jim, turn and hoist Linda above your head!
Jim Bray / Linda Blair
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

But he masters it. Linda’s friends and family do not accept her interest in pursing this Cher-like lifestyle. She has to go to Juilliard and sign with some classy classical music label to play the flute! Jim’s friends, who are all a way lot better-looking — especially the Van Patten boy, all like Linda and Big Tits!

Jim's pals!  Little Jimmy Van Patten in yellow. Are you sure he is not Linda's leading man? Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Jim’s pals!
Little Jimmy Van Patten in yellow. Are you sure he is not Linda’s leading man?
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

But they worry that she is going to crush his heart. Also he’s not bringing in his share of the sex bread. He is spending way too much time skating around with Linda. And she’s not paying! Jammers is Jim’s Disco Roll-A-Rama of choice. Cue Audience: “Of course it is!”  But Jammers is about to go down due to some shady deal to build senior housing. Senior Citizen’s don’t need housing on Venice Beach! Not when the kids need Jammers! Comic mayhem ensues! It all comes to a head and a happy conclusion at the Big Jammer’s Roller Boogie Competition!

And, Hoist! The Winners! Linda Blair/ Jim Bray Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

And, Hoist! The Winners!
Linda Blair/ Jim Bray
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda & Jim want to win! And all of Jim’s pals and Big Tits cheer them on. They win! And Jammers beats the evil attempt to take away their Disco Roller Fun!

In the end, Jim and Linda take a sunset walk. Yes. A walk. Not a disco roll. They love each other, but they need to take care of few personal issues first. Linda has to achieve Flute control and fame in NYC. And, Jim explains to her that he is going to take his Disco Roller Skating skill to the US Olympics!

Time to put our roller disco love on hold. Linda Blair / Jim Bray Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Time to put our roller disco love on hold.
Linda Blair / Jim Bray
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

They kiss. Linda drives away. I searched the disc for that Easter Egg feature that would at last allow me to see Linda discuss all of this with Big Tits. I could not find it! But I am fairly sure I know how Barry Schneider wrote it.

Final Scene: Airport Gate

Linda leans on Big Tits.

Linda:  I’m going to miss you sooooo much, but I’m going to miss my Jim more!

BT: Just fly him out to NYC. No major.

Linda:  Oh, no! I couldn’t do that to him. He’s on his way to disco skate for the US Olympics!

BT:   Like, Oh my God! Linda? Disco Skating is not an Olympic Sport. I mean, like, it’s barely a “thing.” As if!

Linda:  Oh, no! I need to let him know! He took the Roller Boogie prize money to get to the Olympics!”

BT:  Look. Jim is a man-hooker. Ok? He took that Roller Boogie prize money to buy some new mini-shorts.

Linda: Oh, no! Don’t be so silly! You are such a goof, Big Tits!

BT:  Look, Kiddo — you just focus on mastering the flute and the real men will be crawling to you!

Linda:  K! Byyyyeeee!

The End

Jimmy Van Patten, Coke-Fueld-Disco Skate Fan & Big Tits give a hand for Linda & Jim! Well, Van Patten is more upset that he's not skating with Linda, but he's doing his best.

Jimmy Van Patten, Coke-Fueld-Disco Skate Fan & Big Tits give a hand for Linda & Jim! Well, Van Patten is more upset that he’s not skating with Linda, but he’s doing his best.

Cue formerly failed Cher disco single.

The way I see it, if you haven’t already seen the incredibly bad-good fun that is Roller Boogie. You need to. Go on line, but the Blu-Ray or the new DVD from Olive Films. It’s cheap! You will not regret it. I think one of the main reasons Roller Boogie remains so much fun to watch and re-watch is that it is the extreme opposite of movies like Saturday Night Fever and also far better than lame movies like Skatetown, U.S.A. There is nothing “realistic” about it.

Jim laces Linda up! Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Jim laces Linda up!
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

It embraces only the fun and innocent side of things. There is plenty of room to project and talk back to the screen if you feel the need. The comedy and subplots are so very bad — they become fun. By the way, a sequel was planned, it was to be titled Acapulco Roller Boogie. Tragically, this film never came to be.

And there is The Cher Factor going down. The producers were able to use Hell On Wheels for the movie’s theme song. It was included on the mildly well selling soundtrack album.

The soundtrack for Roller Boogie featuring "a song by Cher"

The soundtrack for Roller Boogie featuring “a song by Cher”

However, Hell On Wheels was not recorded for the movie. This is mistake many make. This was a track off her second Disco-oriented album called Prisoner. It had been released as a single as shown far above in this post. But Roller Boogie gave the song a “re-visit” and it became a minor success. A very early Cher music video for Hell On Wheels started to gain some air-play. Even with a broken arm, Cher skillfully Disco Skated with the aid of holding onto moving cars! The vid-clip was not made for Roller Boggie. If you look close, you can still find it on YouTube. Wait. Now that I think about it. Cher’s disco vid-clip might ever very well inspired Olivia Newton-John to use video to promote her Physical album. Well, that’s The Cher Factor.

Linda Blair requests some new laces for her skates. Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda Blair requests some new laces for her skates.
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

It is not clear if Cher is even aware of this movie. No one knows and no one is going to ask her. Don’t go there. Just a friendly warning.

But were it not for Roller Boogie, Cher’s Hell On Wheels would have been lost forever. …sort of like that “punk” rock album she made which was actually more like pop attempting to be New Wave.  Black Rose, anyone? It doesn’t matter. Something made her curious about this thing that used to be called Broadway. She sort of fell into a role for a Robert Altman play that became a movie. Then she “hung” out with Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep and on her way to Vegas, she took a brief stop and made a movie called Silkwood. She would have to put off her plans for Vegas for a while. She ended up making a lot of movies that made a lot of money. She had sex with Tom Cruise but rolled her eyes at the idea of Scientology and hooked-up with this cool dude who made bagels in NYC.  She won an Oscar on her way to a party Madonna was giving. She recorded some really big-selling albums in the late 80’s. She called David Letterman on his shit. Then she got bored.

The LAPD is always trying to crash the fun... Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

The LAPD is always trying to crash the fun…
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Flights to Vegas were booked. So she went back to LA. She directed an acclaimed Pro-Choice HBO movie. This dude talked her into recording a pop album that used this odd microphone that changes the human voice. He was gay and kind of cute so she listened. The music reminded her of Disco and all that fun she had on skates. Several publicists explained this was not “disco” music. This was “club” or “dance” music — like Madonna only without the sex. For Cher, this was a good thing because, well, you know She was tired.

She was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She dealt and kicked it’s ass. While the cause of this illness is still debated, I suspect we will eventually learn it is caused by being too fucking cool and independent. She did several — no, wait. I’m not sure. She did a lot of Farewell Concert Tours. She wrote a book. She did a lot more Farewell Tours. She supported her daughter when she realized that she was a he. Cher had always been generous with a buck, but made her philanthropy well known once she saw the shit with which her son had to deal.

Cher Believe, 1998

Cher
Believe, 1998

She turned down leads in everything from Thelma & Louise to War of The Roses to a cinematic re-make of the musical Gypsy. Streisand was to direct Gypsy. Probably can’t blame Cher for turning that one down. But it does seem strange that she turned down the other two. Interestingly, as far as I am aware she has only one professional regret: An infomercial for a pal’s hair product. Yet, even this one Cher’s regretted mistake:  Her infomercial is the thing of legend.

Cher is still tired. 

Cher is not bored.

She is “creeping” about the Internet. So you better watch your ass!  I’m not kidding. She will take you down. Don’t be giving Cher shit.

Cher c. 1981 Photograph | Harry Langdon

Cher
c. 1981
Photograph | Harry Langdon

Cher stopped taking shit after they took her Disco Roller Skates away.  Never underestimate The Cher Factor. Seriously, you will regret it.

Somehow Cher is always correct. And Roller Boogie remains a very fun watch!

 

Matty Stanfield, 8.8.15