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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

LILITH (1964)

In his last film, writer/director Robert Rossen tried loosening up his stiff, formal visual style. But whether he was trying for a new look to reflect the unsettled minds of his story’s asylum inmates or merely jazzing things up with undigested technical grabs from New Wave garçons is unclear.* The slow dissolves, off-kilter angles & deep focus compositions, even with the subtle grey scale caught by lenser Eugene Schüftan, take over rather than abet the story. And what an odd story it is! Drifting after getting out of the army, Warren Beatty takes an intern position at what must be the world’s toniest sanatorium, a sort of insanity spa for the rich. His main patient is wild, but lovely Jean Seberg who seems more spoiled/neurotic than schizo. But just you wait! ‘Therapy’ consists of dates around town which inevitably turn romantic. But just who is doing the seducing? And is this seduction sexual or mental? No small matter to Beatty’s old townie flame (now unhappily married to Gene Hackman, assured in his film debut) or to Peter Fonda, a fragile fellow-patient carrying an unrequited crush for Seberg. All while Rossen pours on enough rain storms & churning water rapids to (metaphorically) drown Carl Jung. It’s all hopelessly unsatisfying.

DOUBLE-BILL: The surprise success of the low-budget DAVID AND LISA/’62 may have prompted this project. But, my!, does anything date quite as quickly as depictions of psychiatric treatment?

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Sure enough, the style appealed abroad, as the film, a big dud Stateside, was hailed by many French cineasts.

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