Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 11. 1969.
Films — Subliminal Spinster
Our subcultural benisons continue—good luck to us, we have nearly cheated death because the fickle-headed movie moguls have been up to something, and we will be able to see them near lurgy-intacto, for the sake of our erogenous zones and their $ $ $ $ $.
A month off from films meant a gingerly squint at the 'vision: the new NZBC censor's honing-ins seem to have enriched the Garnett's outrageous ness (the full length film however, has been cut) added a new dimension to violence in N.Y.P.D., The Defenders, Lancer etc, and assorted rude comedies, not too taxingly funny.
The New Zealand film censor hasn't banned a thing in years. He now plasters film after film with an R18, setting aside all judgment between himself and the distribution for cutting it, as usual. We are lucky and should be content but McAussie Fleshpot, the Commonwealth hack, is earning one of the most disreputable names in the business.
Recently he banned Pretty Poison (here last year, R16 and uncut), Night of the Following Day (a thriller with Marlon Brando, passed here, cut, with A certificate), The Killing of Sister George (R18 here with minor excisions, probably less than LCC's John Trevelyan thought fit to show) and reconstructed Losey's Secret Ceremony (R18 and seemingly uncut here).
I have yet to hear what they have done to Lindsay Andersons If ...., the Grand Prix winner at Cannes recently, that opened the Sydney Film Festival this week. They have restricted the festival this year to those over 18; good omen then for the Auckland Adelaide festival in August?
Some reassuring news is that Anthony Harvey's The Lion In Winter is being distributed by 20th-Fox here and will follow Custer of the West (next change) at Cinerama. There is still no sign, however, of its release of Barry Shear's Wild in the Streets; the film has not even reached the censor. Meanwhile the slump continues. One can lose more than patience at distributor's stewpidity in keeping these dreadful thing wot will be nameless, on. Thomas Crown is holding up Secret Ceremony, I'll never forget What's is name; McKenna's Gold prevents How I Won the War, and You're a Big Boy Now from ever being shown, and the Plaza and Kings boast a near immediate release of goodies, including Bullitt, Charly (to be reviewed next week) Only When I larf, The Guru (from James Ivory), The Subject Was Roses (with Patricia Neal), John Boorman's Hell In the Pacific (a ridiculous title!), Robert Aldrich's dirty doyen Sister George and sometime, somewhere John Frankenheimer's The Fixer (not yet shown in Britain).
Salient has surely stressed over the years (by its miniscule band of film reviewers) the most devoted importance to Frankenheimer, Kubrick and Bergman. They usually get a whole page to themselves—and will continue to do so.
So then, apart from Bob Rafelson's Head (one of the few consistently revolting films of the 60s which nearly everyone managed to miss due to School hols) I am left with Rachel, rachel (Warner-Seven Arts).
Joanne Woodward is Rachel Cameron, aged 35, spinster-schoolteacher, who at the end of a term finds herself at the "exact middle of my life, in my last ascending summer". She lives in a small funeral parlour, in a small American town and looks after her ailing mother (Kate Harrington), supplying her with sleepy-bye pills, and chocolate bars. Estelle Parsons (Blanche in Bonnie and Clyde) is Calla, desperately in need of Rachel's love. Rachel has fantasies about herself as a child, what would happen if?—ones (erotically kissing hairy knuckles, making slow love, dying in front of everybody) or wishful flashes like cramming pills down her mother's throat (recalling Shoot the Pianist). She experiences her first love with a schoolteacher (James Olsen), who disappears leaving Rachel, as she thinks pregnant. She has a cystic operation, recovers and leaves for the city with her mother.
So simply direct, this film directed by Miss Woodward's husband, Paul Newman, is evocative of so many other films that attempted this: The Stripper (Woman of Summer), Baby the Rain Must Fall, Woodward's own Three Faces of Eve, and uncannily resembles Janet Frame's Edge of the Alphabet (the stolen transcontinental kiss by an unknown sailor). She has a continual pre-occupation with death. Rachel, rachel disturbs because Newman cannot conceal his artistry by mere overstating any simple scene, reflection or flash. Transitions are superbly done, thanks to editor Dede Allen.
It is not a woman's picture (which can hardly mean much, but they still use it, bloody fools), but the ads are reckless and their obscene generalisations pall. (In Sydney, Rachel, rachel is advertised thusly: "Sydney Women see Rachel, raehel"— snobbery; and "the intellectual movie for '69"). If such a case happens here, I advise you to ignore it, please.
I think Rachel is a re-incarnation of Lilith, Rossen's masterpiece is among the few that does unsettle an audience. The revivalist sequence in Rachel, rachel at the tabernacle, is similar to the group therapy scene in Lilith. Rachel is locked in among a crowd of elderly, sick people, a young spiritual woman doctor (the wonderful Geraldine Fitzgerald, social worker in The Pawnbroker) an evangelist and a hippy. An hysterical sermon is delivered, gradually unsettling Rachel, and finally she breaks down. Calla tries to confront Rachel but her overpowering presence is too much. A superb sequence. Director of photography, Gayne Rescher, provides some of the most precise autumnal colours I have seen since Our Mother's House, and a semi-Coplandish score by Jerome Moross hardly intrudes.
But it is Joanne Woodward's film, She is in nearly every scene, pale faced, a nervous ticking mouth often exploding into laughter, and an incredible range of emotion. I will never forget her hesitant playing of Schumann's Album leaf on an old honky-tonk piano in an empty hall; being called up to Calla's room to catch "the eagle has escaped!" (a canary) the music continuing, juvenile and sad. Rachel, rachel, is a disquieting and lovely film.