Friday, February 13, 2015

Films You May Have Missed: Petulia

Richard Lester is a name that is not nearly mentioned enough in the annals of cinema. From 1964 to 1968, he completed three masterworks. A Hard Day's Night, The Knack and Petulia. Today, we are going to dive head first into the third one. But before that, a quick leap forward in time to 1999.

When I first set my curious eyes on a film called The Limey, I knew I was in the presence of someone who was able to take a film as simple as a revenge thriller and scramble its brains into a film about memory, or rather, fractured memory. Most films that play around with that do it in a linear way. Hell, even Memento used reverse chronological narrative. Now it's not that I'm dogging Memento. I consider it one of Nolan's best films. But when the subject of memory pops up, The Limey always comes to my mind first. I felt like I was watching Terence Stamp's character cycle through his memory bank.

Editing in the 1960s was entering a fresh, exciting new stage. Godard hit with Breathless and British directors fired back with "Oh yeah? Watch this shit!" Those directors being Richard Lester and Nicolas Roeg. The former coming off a Palme d'Or win for The Knack, a John Lennon vehicle named How I Won the War, and A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum. The latter soon to create seminal cult classics Performance, Walkabout, Don't Look Now, and The Man Who Fell to Earth (Starring David Bowie and his penis). What happens when you take those two minds and bring them together? Well, you get Pet...ah fuck. You get it. At this point I'm just as bad as the trailer for this thing.

Rest assured, watching this film not only did I recall The Limey, but John Boorman's Point Blank and John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy. There was something in the psychadelic, pot heavy air in the late 60's. Not only did it catch on to the music of four British lads in Liverpool, it infected narrative structure.

It's not that it is just a film with great style. It also happens to be one of the saddest films to come out of the late 60's. It's fractured structure mimics the emotional turmoil its two characters played by George C. Scott and Julie Christie go through. The world of Petulia is soaked in materialistic excess. With characters clinging to each other lives like driftwood from a wrecked ship. It's a bold, stylistic experiment. More than that, it's just a great film.

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