In Search of Gregory (1969)
Peter Wood directs Julie Christie, Michael Sarrazin and John Hurt in this romance movie where a British heiress visits her father’s villa in Milan and becomes sexually obsessed with his elusive house guest who she keeps failing to meet.
A frippery. Greenlit as Christie wanted to be in the same country as then lover Warren Beatty, who was in Italy for some other long forgotten project. John Hurt gives a strange but indelible performance as Christie’s incestuous bisexual brother. Otherwise this is is all mouldy Italian New Wave afterthoughts and stale Swinging Sixties stylings. It is genuinely a shock how long they drag out and string along such a thin concept, but there’s minimal entertainment value. If you haven’t come to ogle Christie or Sarrazin in expensive fashions than there’s palpably not much here. Reminds me of the kinda movie they used to project on the walls of club nights in my twenties. Evoking some abandoned sense of style and glamour but not obtrusive enough to distract from the DJ.
Demon Seed (1977)
Donald Cammell directs Julie Christie, Robert Vaughn and Fritz Weaver in this sci-fi horror where a supercomputer hijacks a woman’s automated home and terrorises her.
A beguiling little freak out. The first half hour is testing, really staid and dry. But then once the villain, a prescient mixture of Alexa and HAL, locks Julie Christie in with minimal options for escape we take a strange psycho-sexual road less travelled. Cammell, a former artist who co-directed Performance, shows his artificial intelligence monster spying, torturing and coercing his infatuation. It is explicitly a male being, he stares at Christie in the nude, strangely lingering not on her breasts, legs, bum, muff or face but her arms and her stomach. The things Proteus IV desires. His own limbs, a womb. The unsettling insemination and cyber bondage sequences are queasily intrusive. For pure horror fans there is a geometric shape shifting sentry that pinches a man’s head clean off. For the arthouse crowd there are trippy moments of the computer visualising its assessments of man, the ecology and itself. There are longueurs that stretch the patience, it could probably do with Christie having at least one more dynamic crack at fleeing to fulfil its genre requirements, and she is better than the material no matter how creatively it is all shot. Still, for a dated old shocker Demon Seed still retains an unsettling late night thrall.
John Schlesinger directs Julie Christie, Dirk Bogarde and Laurence Harvey in this drama following the affairs and career of an aimless but sunny fashion model.
I’ve seen many reviews of this describe Christie’s Oscar winning Diana Scott as amoral, calculating or vapid. I think that misses the point. The world as portrayed by Schlesinger is all those things. Hypocritical too! Charity benefits see rich people gourge themselves, pampered white faces served by tired looking black children in Regency servant dress. A cuckold is cheated on using the exact same method of phone box deception as he tried on his first wife. Advert shoots for chocolate and shampoo make the pleasurable a gruelling chore. Art is dead (see the subplot fate of that old Tolkien inspired writer who is charmed by a gauche Christie), long live consumer products. Christie’s character makes good decisions and bad decisions, she is rarely mercenary or foolish. She is promiscuous but why the double standard for her when all men are? She has an abortion, and why shouldn’t she? She frames the act deceptively to us and herself in her narration as ‘losing’ the baby after some initial excitement. Her only unethical sin is shoplifting from Fortnum & Masons. Twenty years ago she might not have been allowed through the door. Why shouldn’t she enjoy the best in life, whether she can afford it or not? These freedoms, services, men, loves, products and choices might not have been hers 10 years before. Who are we to judge if someone whose beauty and innocence is exploited chooses to live a life that is that is ugly under the surface and experienced by its very nature. Schlesinger holds a mirror up to the old guard, the conservatism and patriarchal ways and shows someone who shouldn’t be here naively succeeding on their turf and by their rules. The end result might be lonely and hollow but the time capsule nature of the movie’s location work and costuming overrides the emotions and needs of the characters. They are now artefacts for us gawp at through a wonderfully lit, spotless museum glass showcase. Exhibits from when gender politics first started changing. One unsettling party scene in the middle all but blurs the notions of man and woman completely. Probably the nearest a British film ever got to playing Fellini at his own game. Christie and Bogarde are ever excellent here, whether in or out of love, and Schlesinger includes some daring frank depictions of homosexuality, both positive and negative. A very exquisite looking satire of Sixties Britain.
Hal Ashby directs Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn and Julie Christie in this sex comedy following a dumb hair stylist’s parade of conquests on the eve of Nixon winning the presidency in ‘68.
Similar to Darling, in that we focus on a protagonist who is a mere pawn in the big game and who does a lot of fucking as they move around the board. It is fair to say Beatty’s George Roundy has a lot less nuance and affection. He’s a horny twit, he struggles to complete sentences of more than two words and rarely has the upper hand even in the bedroom. Beatty, Ashby and Robert Towne want to make a mod(-ish) take on Tom Jones. Where the vapid and vacuous’ successes are within his limited realm of being a fuckboy but the bigger machinations of political conspiracy and capitalism envelop his world obliquely. He can’t get a bank loan but he ain’t “anti-establishment”, he gets invited to exclusive senator’s parties but spends the night juggling his many amours, never paying any attention to the shift in power. Much like Chauncey Gardiner in Ashby’s later and superior Being There, he coasts through upper society with very little political nouse or awareness to preserve himself from the dangerous tides he is adrift in. The film for all its pleasant horny merits has dated. The farcical humour frequently no longer works. The treatment of the female leads is awkward… Christie’s and Lee Grant’s prominent characters never settle in to consistency, and even though Hawn gives an effervescent performance it is also a very effecting, sad one for much of the running time. At least a teenage Carrie Fisher makes a strong impression in a three scene role as the already brokenly jaded next generation. The then recent 1968 Los Angeles scene is recreated but damningly and wistful. Shampoo would make a great double bill with Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, and I think like Tarantino’s epic it was intended as a celebration of this point of counterculture fluxation, the older film just is too needy and wet eyed to still gift much joy. We watch Beatty end his crazy day used up and alone, watching who he has finally decided is the love of his life drive away in a silver Rolls Royce. The Beach Boys begin to play. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older?” laments the reprise. But what has been learnt between 1968-1975? Beatty should have focussed on one woman? He didn’t in real life and I’m not sure Christie’s Jackie rejects him for his promiscuity here. The kids should have been more astute about Nixon when he was elected? Natalie pointed out when watching she’d be surprised if any character we follow aside from Jack Warden’s business magnate even voted. That the old keep all the spoils in the end and nothing much has changed? Beatty might be sporting a bouffant hair-do and a puffy shirt but let’s be honest his craggy leathered face betrays a middle aged man already wishing it was still seven years ago. Bittersweet but it is hard to fully submit to a vanity project made by a millionaire who pretends he wasn’t yet in his late thirties throughout.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
Robert Altman directs Warren Beatty, Julie Christie and René Auberjonois in this revisionist western where a gambler and a whore develop a mining community into a flourishing township.
Probably Christie’s best performance as the cockney madame who hitches her hopes to a man not smart enough to recognise his dwindling place in the evolving eco system. Don’t Look Now probably stretches her more emotionally, Darling demands greater subtleties from her but Constance Miller is the rare time you feel she is inhabiting a role rather than playing a variation on the irresistible sunny English Rose™. Opium addict, strong negotiator, beauty almost obscured by a nest of curls. While Beatty’s McCabe is all bluff and odds, she not only can see ahead into the long term but has clearly experienced men who value human life very differently – a bullet is cheaper than a fair price, if the numbers don’t make sense quickly they cut their losses and exploit. Capitalism as brute Darwinism. Big fish only, no room for small free enterprise. A movie presented to you by Kinney Services – a parking and cleaning conglomerate who bought out Warner Bros. and then assumed the legendary studio’s name after a price fixing scandal concurrent with this very movie’s release.
Leon Ericksen’s production design is a wooden labyrinth of society under construction, built and populated by draft dodging American boys hiding in Canada. The Robert Altman movie this evokes early on is his notorious Popeye production. A ramshackle town connected by planks and rope bridges, a community of eccentric losers and dirty tenderhorns, their background dialogue overlapping so much in the introductory scenes that you are frightened you’ll never hear an exchange cleanly. Eventually order emerges from this chaos. Much like the later (and patently influenced) Deadwood we see vice and avarice ignite into community and cooperation. The pioneer spirit gives way to prosperity, health and urban development. A church is even built but is misused as storage for junk and offers no solace in the final showdown except as a fiery distraction. Once Altman puts aside his incomprehensible chatter techniques we get a few interactions that leave a wounding impression. Hugh Millias, a fascinating character in real life who didn’t make many movies, turns up as the mining company’s assassin and commands the screen in a terrifyingly callous moment of realisation. Later, one of his henchmen goads a boyish saddle tramp into an equally chilling one-sided shoot out. A lawyer gives McCabe the full legal sales pitch but little practical protection, dealing in the same blustering verbiage that our anti-hero used to command temporary control of his camp of outsiders only an hour earlier.
It would take a very hardened soul not to get swept up in the inevitable tragedy of it all. Leonard Cohen’s dirges fill in for a score, laments for some self-hating loser’s dreams and desires. Fans of traditional genre movies can fill their boots in the grand finale, a drawn out game of cat-and-mouse in a blizzard. When the fatal bullets start flying, they come after an near-excruciating hour of malignant threat bearing down on McCabe, full of pregnant menace. And Beatty plays one of his over-confident twits to perfection here. His chemistry with Christie has a stunted melancholy, his hubris drops away and his stock jokes and non-sequiturs lose all confidence. Watching him desperately scrabble through the snow, outgunned and trapped in the very buildings (made from the same materials as coffins) he funded, you feel truly sorry for the little man who for a few transactions was master of his destiny.
Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk
We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/