Dec 20, 2014
Ken Russell (Lisztomania, Salome’s Last Dance) is certainly a filmmaker whose oeuvre I haven’t completely made up my mind about, namely because the idea of a rampantly heterosexual camp auteur seems patently preposterous to me, which is certainly reflected in some of the director’s more obscenely outlandish works, but I cannot help but like the man. Indeed, if there ever was a filmmaker who ever brought a flagrantly unfaggy flavor to camp, it was the ridiculously shamelessly rampantly heterosexual Russell, whose entire oeuvre contradicts virtually every single stereotype regarding the British, which is certainly something in the filmmaker's favor. Notably, Russell seemed to be perplexed by his own camp sensibility as demonstrated by his humorous response when a close friend accused him of being a latent homosexual, “Fine, maybe I am, who knows, I don’t think anyone knows themselves. We can all pretend, but I have no idea what I am, I’m me!” in what one be one of his many classic quotes. Of course, Russell sometimes had help from homos in regard to his audacious camp aesthetic, arguably most notably with his masterpiece The Devils (1971) aka The Devils of Loudun aka Ken Russell's Film of The Devils aka Die Teufel, which queer avant-garde auteur Derek Jarman (The Angelic Conversation, The Last of England) working as the production designer on the film before becoming a notable filmmaker in his own right (it should be noted that in Russell's audio commentary for the BFI DVD release of the film, he credits Jarman for the look of the film, as a rare period piece with a truly modernist look). Based on the nonfiction novel The Devils of Loudun (1952) by Aldous Huxley as well as the 1960 play The Devils by John Whiting, Russell’s film is a wholly idiosyncratic work set in a foreboding Fellini-esque 17th-century frog hell-on-earth of Catholic cruelty and bloodthirsty blueblood brutality of the spiritually apocalyptic high-camp sort where witch-hunters derive sadistic glee by performing ostensible exorcisms via primitive enemas and queer monarchs perform Schroeter-esque drag shows in between shooting protestants dressed up like black birds for sport. A film well known for being raped by its aesthetically retarded American backers at Warner Bros who to this day refuse to release the film in its completely uncut and undefiled form, The Devils is a rare work that straddles a healthy medium between Nunsploitation, pastoral ‘folk horror,’ Buñuel-esque surrealist arthouse of the sensually sacrilegious sort, and dichotomous Catholic and anti-Catholic sentiments and imagery that certainly reflects the filmmaker’s remark regarding his own works, “I always start out thinking that I am going to make a pastoral film but the darker side eventually creeps in. All of my films are moral, or immoral, depending on your point of view.” The surely sordid and oftentimes darkly humorous story of a pimp-like progressive Jesuit priest who has all the nuns begging at his knees for sins of the flesh and righteously fights to keep his pluralistic multi-religion town from being taken over by a scheming a cunt of a queenish Catholic cardinal who wants to take complete control of France by destroying every single town and village, The Devils is arguably the most eccentrically yet elegantly bawdy tale of religious martyrdom ever committed to celluloid. Indeed, created in a country that has a history of producing so many wretched and brutally banal period pieces, Russell's film was surely a cinematic revelation of sorts.
Opening with grotesquely effete monarch King Louis XIII (Graham Armitage) giving a drag show inspired by Sandro Botticelli’s classic 1486 painting The Birth of Venus for a nauseatingly nerdy power-hungry Catholic leader named Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue), The Devils immediately establishes a tone of wayward mockery for the Catholic Church and French monarchy, or at least for certain elements of the two. A seemingly sexless fellow who lives such a decadent and less than Christ-like life of leisure that he has people wheel him around on a cart instead of walk like a normal person, Richelieu humors Louis XIII’s truly aristocratic sense of narcissism so that he can con the king into allowing him to consolidate power over all of France via an universalist nationalist revolution by destroying every single town and village. The problem is that Louis XIII has agreed to keep one town, Loudun, intact as a promise to its recently deceased governor Georges de Sainte Marthe, who just succumbed to the plague. Before dying, de Sainte Marthe gave the much beloved yet superlatively sinful priest Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) reign over Loudun until the next election. As a man that loves women and their bodies just as much as he hates Catholic bureaucracy and greed, preternatural priest Grandier will ultimately prove to a thorn in Richelieu's side. The problem is that Grandier cannot keep his cock in his pants and after impregnating an ditzy young aristocrat named Philippe Trincant (Georgina Hale) who was sent to him for Latin lessons, the priest must face the wrath of the girl's father Magistrate Trincant (John Woodvine), will do anything to get his revenge against the Jesuit priest for defiling his little girl and bequeathing her with the grand dishonor of giving birth to the bastard brood of a sinful holy man. Unbeknownst to Grandier, the Mother Superior Sister of the Ursuline convent in Loudun, Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave)—a hyper cynical and hyper horny old spinster who less than flatteringly states of her fellow sisters, “Most of the nuns here are noble women who have embraced the monastic life because there was not enough money at home to provide them with dowries. Or they were unmarriageable because ugly, a burden to the family. Communities which ought to be furnaces where souls are forever on fire with the love of God are merely dead with the grey ashes of convenience”—is deeply infatuated with him and sees him and his cock as being quite Christ-like as depicted in various nightmarish hallucinations she suffers, but being a self-loathing hunchback who engages in self-flagellation after masturbating while thinking of her Catholic crush, she would never dare confess her undying love to the super pimp padre, who does not even know she exists.
While Grandier has both holy and unholy women of all ages throwing themselves at him left and right, he ultimately falls in love with a more simple and mostly morally supreme girl named Madeline De Brou (Gemma Jones), who has been ordered by Sister Jeanne to read a book by Ursuline convent foundress Angela Merici. After telling Madeline that Merici’s book is “sanctimonious claptrap,” Grandier discusses marriage with the little lady and the two decide to get married. When Sister Jeanne learns of Grandier’s marriage after a group of nuns do a mock drag reenactment of the marriage at the convent where one of the nuns dresses like the priest, she goes completely insane. After all, Sister Jeanne is a woman who hallucinates seeing Grandier as a Christ-like figure who can walk on water and who gets off the cross to so that she can lick his Christly wounds she licks with the utmost satisfaction, so after learning that her crush has given his heart to another woman, she completely loses it and ultimately unwittingly unleashes a micro-crusade as a result of her loony lovelorn hysteria. Meanwhile, Cardinal Richelieu sends a fellow named Baron Jean de Laubardemont (Dudley Sutton) who plans to use an army of protestant slaves to level Loudun to the ground, but Grandier temporarily stops him with the armed threat, “if one more stone be torn from our city walls, you will be dead before it touches the ground.” The Baron has been brainwashed to think that Loudun is “a nest of dangerous Huguenots” and he goes back to Cardinal Richelieu to scheme a way to obtain the power to demolish the city. Meanwhile, Grandier heads to see King Louis to ensure that nothing happens to Loudun. Luckily for Cardinal Richelieu, Laubardemont, and the rest of the conspirators, Sister Jeanne tells new convent confessor, Father Mignon (Murray Melvin), that Grandier has not only been married and is a lecherous lady man, but also makes up the absurd fabrication that the priest practices witchcraft and has ‘possessed’ her. Needless to say, Father Mignon tells Magistrate Trincant, who in turn tells Baron de Laubardemont, and the three plot together to use this information to destroy Grandier. Ultimately, they decided to bring in a “professional witch-hunter” named Father Pierre Barre (Michael Gothard)—a patent fraud and hateful bigot who does not even speak Latin and thus is incapable of even properly doing his job as a character that director Ken Russell intentionally made look like a hippie to show he is a “false messiah” and charlatan—to ‘prove’ that Sister Jeanne is possessed, the nuns of Ursuline convent are practicing witchcraft, and Grandier has made a pact with the devil and is the black magician behind all of this sinister behavior.
When carny-like witch-hunter Father Barre arrives in Loudun, he decides to perform an ‘exorcism’ on Sister Jeanne by giving her a brutal enema with some sort of archaic device that looks like it would be more than a little bit painful, even for a power bottom, in front of everyone in town. Needless to say, Sister Jeanne had no idea that her malicious lies regarding Grandier would backfire against her in such an absolutely hellish fashion and she even screams, “unhand me you Christ-loving runts” at Barre and his comrades when they go to perform an enema on her, thus making it seems as if she is indeed possessed by Satan. Determined to get all the ‘evidence’ and testimony against Grandier that he needs, Father Barre has all the young Ursuline brought to the woods by a group of soldiers and threatens to brutally kill every single one of them if they do not confess to being devout devil worshipers. Indeed, Barre is such a shameless and maliciously manipulative little liar that he actually tells the nuns how they should act while pretending to be possessed, stating like some sort of third-rate theater director, “The evil spirit of Grandier has taken possession of your souls. Now you resist him, but soon he will have his way! You will scream. You will blaspheme. You will no longer be responsible for your actions. Denounced your devilish master Grandier! And we will save you!” while sisters grab on him in a sensual fashion to demonstrate their relief that they will not be executed. The nuns immediately take advantage of the “possessed the devil” sham by stripping completely naked and carrying out every single hedonistic fantasy they have ever dreamed of, including lesbo orgies, giving handjobs to holy candles, molesting priests and other holy man, and destroying everything in sight in a scenario that culminates in the (in)famous ‘Rape of Christ’ scene where the sinisterly sensual sisters take down a gigantic life-size crucifix from the high altar of the church and savagely molest and destroy it. During the middle of the unholy orgy, King Louis XIII shows up at the church barely disguised as fellow named Duke Henri de Condé with an entourage of makeup-adorned little boys à la Federico Fellini’s Satyricon (1969) and wallows in the waywardly wanton degeneracy, thus indicating that he could truly care less about Catholicism and has only joined up with the Catholic Church for purely political reasons. To play a prank on Father Barre, King Louis/Duke de Condé pulls out a supposed golden holy relic containing the ostensible blood of Jesus and asks the witch-hunter to use it on the pseudo-possessed nuns in an attempt to free them of demonic possession. Somewhat humorously, when Barre uses the holy relic on the nuns and they immediately claim to cured, King Louis reveals there was nothing inside the golden case, thus exposing the witch-hunter for the showman carny fraud he is.
When Grandier finally gets back to Loudun after his pilgrimage to see the king and walks in on the chaotic nun orgy going on at this church, he loudly declares, “You have turned the house of the lord into a circus. And its servants into clowns” and adamantly denies engaging in witchcraft, but lovelorn lunatic Sister Jeanne self-righteously contradicts him, so he and his new wife Madeline are immediately arrested under the bogus charge of “heresy” at the order of Baron de Laubardemont. From there, Grandier is forced to undergo a series of absurdly pointless torture scenarios to prove he is a member of Satan’s legion. After Laubardemont has everything in Grandier’s home searched through and destroyed in a Gestapo-esque fashion, the persecuted priest is given a preposterous Soviet style show trial that is presided over by a group KKK-esque dudes in white cloaks. Of course, the only real ‘evidence’ that they have against Grandier is love letters from his various sexual conquests, thus making it seem like he would indeed defile an entire convent of young nuns. Of course, Grandier is ultimately found guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake in front of the entire population of Loudun. Before he is executed, Grandier suffers the public shame of having the priestly mop on his head shaved and is tortured with various bone-crushing blows to his legs by Father Barre, who tries in vain to get the priest to admit his guilt. Meanwhile, Sister Joanne attempts suicide via hanging and even recants her claims regarding Grandier due to her overwhelming guilt, but of course professional bullshitter Barre blames her actions on demonic possession and then proceeds to rape some sense into her. Even when offered the opportunity to go free and become an active player in the increasingly powerful Catholic Church, Grandier refuses to give in and continues to maintain his innocence, which eventually convinces Mignon he is innocent, for no man would pointlessly endure such pain and torture unless they were innocent and actually believed what they were saying. While initially supporting him, the entire populous provides credence to Gustave Le Bon’s theory of mass psychology and herd behavior by actively supporting and even eagerly awaiting Grandier’s execution by throwing a huge festival, not realizing that his death will also result in the death and complete destruction of Loudun. While the executioner promises to strangle Grandier just before he is burned alive, Mignon nonsensically ties the rope in a knot after becoming consumed with guilt over the priest’s innocence. As Grandier burns alive, the bastard baby spawned from his affair with high-class harlot PhilippeTrincant is forced to watch the execution while some perverted old rich geezer says to the child, “lucky little bastard, it’s not every day that baby sees daddy burn to death.” Immediately after Grandier is burned alive, Baron de Laubardemont orders the demolition of Loudun and the entire place is reduced to rubble. After the priests execution and martyrdom, Baron de Laubardemont visits Sister Jeanne in reveals that Father Mignon has been institutionalized for being ‘demented’ due his claims that Grandier was innocent. Before leaving, the Baron hands Sister Jeanne Grandier’s charred femur bone as a “souvenir” and she subsequently diddles herself with it. In the final scene, Grandier’s young widowed wife Madeline climbs through the rubble of ruined Loudun and leaves the town for good.
In its strangely ‘feel-good’ and mirthful approach to depicting religious and political corruption, mass hysteria, heresy, religious hatred, sexual perversion, mental illness, the plague, medieval style torture, enemas, and exorcisms, among other things, The Devils ultimately demonstrates Ken Russell’s greatest talent as a filmmaker as a man so charming that he could make coprophagia seem like an absolutely delectable experience. Indeed, in its highly addictive compulsively carnivalesque approach to everything from human atrocities to religious martyrdom, Russell’s film is like the artsploitation equivalent of a ‘popcorn movie,’ as a classic work with seemingly infinite replay that can be enjoyed by even the most prideful of philistines, though the film might offend more anally retentive types as Roger Ebert, who was himself a lapsed Catholic, seems to have suffered a yeast infection after watching the work and gave it a notoriously scathing review. Notably, considerably cunty kosher film critic Pauline Kael also once wrote regarding Russell, “What Sen. Joe McCarthy did to people’s reputations is nothing to what Ken Russell does…he is the chief defiler of celebrities of the past and present,” yet I doubt any man or woman could get through The Devils without thinking that Urbain Grandier is the ultimate charismatic pimp, player, and man’s man, which cannot be said of many priests, be they fictional or nonfictional. Russell’s film is also notable for bringing celluloid life to ancient paintings ranging from Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus to the work of Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder, especially his 1562 oil panel painting The Triumph of Death. Of course, the film’s production designer, Derek Jarman, should be largely credited for the film’s overall look. Unquestionably, the influence of The Devils on Jarman’s oeuvre can be seen everywhere from the sadistic queenish Emperor Diocletian (who has more than couple things in common with Louis XIII) of his debut feature Sebastiane (1976) to the allegorical religious imagery of his highly autobiographical arthouse work The Garden (1990). Of course, with its emphasis of hairy cunts over flaccid cocks, Russell’s film demonstrates a singularly rampantly heterosexual camp sensibility that is second to none. Not surprisingly, Russell's work is not the only film inspired by the Loudun possessions of 1634, as the event also influenced the Polish film Mother Joan of the Angels (1961) aka Matka Joanna od Aniołów aka The Devil and the Nun directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz and the West German TV opera Die Teufel von Loudun (1969) aka The Devils of Loudun directed by Rolf Liebermann (who also adapted his version from Huxley’s novel and Penderecki’s play). Although more overtly serious and thus more brutal than The Devils as a work featuring a far from campy portrayal of Sister Jeanne receiving a holy water enema, Liebermann’s The Devils of Loudun seems to have too many similarities for Russell to have not seen it and been influenced by the work. Interestingly, William Friedkin also used part of the score from The Devils of Loudon for The Exorcist (1973), which is another work that blurs the line between Catholic celluloid and pure heresy. While it is true that Russell converted to Roman Catholicism in the 1950s, the circumstances of the filmmaker's conversion seem somewhat dubious as reflected in his remark in the audio commentary track for the BFI DVD release of The Devils, “I was brought to the faith by intimate intercourse with a nun in the Poor Clares.” Personally, I see the character of Urbain Grandier as a sort of alter-ego for Russell, as a sort of proud sinner who truly believes, albeit in his own highly idiosyncratic sort of way, with The Devils not only being the director's final word on religion, but also authority in general, the aristocracy, politics, and the masses as well as a work that more or less encompasses his entire weltanschauung, thus making it the perfect introductory work for novices of the singularly eccentric English auteur.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:37 PM
Dec 19, 2014
After reading comparisons to gutter auteur Andy Milligan’s once-lost English arthouse anti-romance Nightbirds (1970) and Joseph Despins and William Dumaresq equally brutal, ruthlessly raw, and culturally pessimistic lost masterpiece Duffer (1971), I decided to watch Private Road (1971) directed by British auteur Barney Platts-Mills (Bronco Bullfrog, Hero), which, like the other two films, was saved from celluloid oblivion somewhat recently after it was rightfully restored and reissued on DVD/Blu-ray by the British Film Institute under their BFI Flipside label. Starring British cult writer/director Bruce Robinson (How to Get Ahead in Advertising, The Rum Diary) in an early pre-fame role as the lead character, Platts-Mills’ film is, at least in some ways, a far cry from the darkly comedic anti-bourgeois buffoonery of Withnail & I (1987), but then again there are many similarities between the character he played in Private Road and his somewhat autobiographical eponymous “I” character played by Paul McGann in his hit directorial debut. In fact, at various screenings, Platts-Mills has confessed that he believes Robinson was figuratively (and very possibly literally) taking notes for Withnail & I while working on Private Road, which was at a less than ideal time in his life where he was barely getting by and largely living off government social security checks. On the surface a seemingly conventional work of British ‘kitchen sink realism,’ Platts-Mills’ second feature is also a scathing indictment of the degenerate and largely foredoomed generation that bought into hippie hedonism and so-called sexual liberation, as well as a tragic romance about the impossibility of young love in the age of female emancipation, on-demand abortions, the Rolling Stones, hard drugs, and compensatory far-left-wing politics as indulged in by members of the young upper-middleclass. The ultimately rather melancholy and forlorn story of a young ‘offbeat’ writer who receives a book deal and falls madly in love with an ‘enterprising’ young blonde secretary who more or less uses him just so she can move out of her parents home and not have to work, only to have reality smack him in the face when his latest novel is rejected, his pregnant girlfriend decides to demonstrate her ‘female independence’ by dealing with her pregnancy in a most heinous self-centered way, and his comrades degenerate into junkies and humorless far-left revolutionaries who misguidedly think heroin and Trotsky will fill the void in their increasingly sterile and soulless lives, Private Road is a somewhat torturous but never dull depiction of a young and rather naive Mick Jagger look-alike’s soul being crushed in slow-motion by the realities of adulthood. Indeed, Platts-Mills' film is that rare sort of work that reminds the viewer why most white males in the western world forgo marriage and children nowadays.
Opening with a goofy longhaired hippie named Stephen (Michael Feast of The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007)) playing acoustic guitar and singing, “…always wanted to be a racing driver…but I never ever, ever liked the smell of cars,” Private Road initially seems like it will be some sort of horrendous hippie nightmare romanticizing the “bobo” (aka bourgeois bohemian) lifestyle, but luckily that is not the case, at least for long. The film then cuts to a scene of a pretty yet seemingly empty-headed and bitchy young blonde secretary named Ann Halpern (Susan Penhaligon of Paul Verhoeven Soldier of Orange (1977) and Richard Franklin’s Hitchcockian Ozploitation classic Patrick (1978)) fiddling with a piece of string while barely acknowledging the polite yet prosaic small talk of her publisher boss Erica Talbot (Patricia Cutts of William Castle’s The Tingler (1959) starring Vincent Price). Mrs. Talbot introduces Ann to “a very brilliant young writer” of the longhaired too-cool-for-school bohemian sort named Peter Morrissey (Bruce Robinson) whose short stories she plans to publish. Against his better judgement, Peter attends a small party with Ann where he demonstrates his posturing beatnikness by banally responding with “oh, anything” when a clean-cut chap who seems overly concerned with monetary success and social status asks him what he writes about. After the party, Peter asks Ann if she wants to go back to his place, but she seems to be intimidated by the slightly older and certainly more mature young man and blows him off. The next day, Peter calls Ann up and invites her to his hippie flat where he lives with his equally longhaired comrades Stephen (Michael Feast) and Henry (played by Hollywood composer George Fenton, who has composed music for everything from Gandhi (1982) to Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem (2013)). After hanging out with the beatnik boys and doing pretty much nothing like beatnik boys do, Peter takes Ann on a romantic all-night stroll around both the city and countryside which results in the two falling in love with one another, though the romance is clearly one-sided. When his friend Stephen later asks him if he has boned Ann, Peter acts discernibly offended and states that he is not interested in sex “because a relationship isn’t based on sex. It’s not a paltry love affair, the sort of thing that you’re used to. It’s a pure, spiritual love. It’s love. I love her.” Meanwhile, Anne’s father Mr. Halpern (Robert Brown of various James Bond films like Octopussy (1983))—a well to do businessman of the conspicuously old school conservative sort who is genuinely concerned about his daughter’s well being—rebukes his daughter for disappearing all night without notifying him and she responds like an irrational woman-child by screaming “oh, fuck off!” and throwing her covers over her head like a little girl that is made agitated because her parents did not buy her the baby doll she wanted. Deciding she wants to be a ‘big girl,’ Ann then plots to move-in with Peter, who has just received an advance for a projected novel from Mrs. Talbot and makes for the perfect guy for a young girl who wants her ‘independence’ to leech off of.
A calculating lady who, like any sensible young woman looking to start a ‘career’ for herself, uses her body as currency, Ann officiates their first night living together with her new boyfriend and the seriousness of their relationship in general by symbolically stripping her clothes off without any foreplay and somewhat freaks out Peter by coldly and calculatingly giving herself to him in a less than romantic way in what is ultimately their first time having sex with one another. From then on, Ann wants to have sex all the time, even outside in a public square, thus inspiring her boyfriend to jokingly call her a “nymphomaniac.” Meanwhile, Peter is warned by a fellow writer named Alex Marvel (Trevor Adams) to not sell one of his stories to a mainstream Munich-based publishing company called Titan because, as he states, “I thought that story was really very good. And I don’t think you should sell it to Titan of Munich. I’ll tell you why…Because Titan of Munich or any other company like that will just ruin anything. And that story had something. And that story should be kept as it is.” Of course, Peter will soon learn that he will be a loser in life if he stays true to himself and his artistic vision, as writing for an “esoteric audience” does not pay the bills, nor does it meet the demands of a young girlfriend who wants to live a life of leisure. When Ann’s father keeps randomly dropping by their flat and annoying them with his somewhat creepy behavior, Peter offers to move her anywhere she wants, even Greenland where he jokes that she will get “icicles on the end of your titties.” Ultimately, the they opt to move to a remote cabin in the idyllic Scottish highlands where everything seems perfect, at least for Peter who finds solace in roaming the hillsides hunting rabbits while taking a break from writing, but spoiled brat Ann cannot tolerate having to do dreaded old fashioned things that females use to do like peel potatoes and she even suffers a hysterical freakout after he beloved brings back the corpse of a cute little bunny that he has shot that he wants her to skin for a stew. Of course, dainty dingbat Ann refuses to skin the rabbit and demonstrates that she would make rather pathetic wifey material. After acting increasingly frigid and humorless, Ann finally demands that they move back to the city the next day and that her boyfriend better start making more money on his writing, thus destroying Peter’s dream of an idyllic future of simple and serene pastoral living.
While Peter is somewhat happy to discover that Ann is pregnant upon arriving back in the city, pretty much everything else in the protagonist’s life falls apart from there. Among other things, Peter’s girlfriend has been incessantly bitching at him about writing more stories so that he can bring in more money, so when Mrs. Talbot rejects a novel that he has been working on for over a year because she thinks it is “undisciplined and a little old-fashioned” and needs some “pruning, cutting, shaping, discipline,” he is forced to take a lowly creativity-stunting job as a copywriter at an advertising firm that was given to him by his friend Henry, who is now a sort of self-stylized poser far-left revolutionary that has been cuckolded by his frigid uptight feminist girlfriend and who ironically uses the equipment at his corporate capitalist job to make commie posters. On top of that, Peter’s best friend Stephen is now a full-blown heroin addict who predictably causes Ann to suffer a panic attack after she walks in on him shooting up junk in the bathroom. In fact, Stephen is such a desperate junky that he later breaks into Peter and Ann’s apartment when they are not home, writes the word “shit” on their wall as if to express his disgust with their bourgeois lifestyle, and steals everything they own except the bed and a couple of worthless books. Of course, Peter panics when he comes home one day from a long hard day at work to discover that Ann, who recently turned down his proposal of marriage, is gone and has taken all of her possessions with her, so he runs to her parents’ home and more or less forces himself inside after his sneaky girlfriend’s equally sneaky mother attempts to shoo him away in the most phony stereotypically bourgeois sort of way. After barging into the house, Stephen is physically assaulted by Ann’s father, who subsequently tells him, “Anne has lost her baby. She came here for help and she got it. I begged you to be careful but you took no notice. You went on your own sweet way.”
Indeed, Ann went behind Peter’s back and sought sanctuary in daddy dearest, who gladly paid for the abortion of his unborn grandchild, as he knows that his superlatively spoiled, self-centered, and less than sophisticated daughter cannot even take care of herself, let alone a newborn child. At first, Peter seems in denial about the abortion and naively proclaims that Ann, who he has an unnervingly annoying romanticized view of as a young man that clearly still does not understand the way of women, would never do such a thing because she wanted the baby, but Mr. Halpern sets him straight by stating, “She didn’t. She would never have been able to cope with the child.” Of course, Mr. Halpern is right, as his daughter is nothing but a spoiled little woman-child who would probably be jealous of the baby stealing attention away from her. When Peter visits Ann in the hospital, she is totally ruthlessly remorseless about her sinisterly sneaky and dastardly deed, hatefully stating to her boy toy, “Look, I didn’t want the baby. Can you understand that?,” thus revealing that Mr. Halpern was right after all. Instead of dumping her and never speaking to her again for going behind his back and aborting their unborn child, Peter becomes a sort of spiritually castrated cuckold who completely gives up on his writing, puts all his energy into working a job he hates, and molds his behavior to the banal bourgeois manners and customs of Daddy Halpern, who is so pleased with the drastic change in his daughter's relationship that he tells her that he is going to buy her and her beloved a house when they get married. In the end, Stephen visits Peter and reveals that he has gotten off of heroin, though he clearly will never completely grow up and live a conventional middleclass life. When Peter reveals that Ann got an abortion and that he quit writing, perennial bohemian Stephen is so bummed out that he steals his friend a typewriter the next day so that he can continue writing. As for Peter and Anna, their future together seems dubious at best. Luckily, the real-life Peter, Bruce Robinson, would go on to do something with his writing and become famous doing it.
Unquestionably, Private Road is one of those films that you probably do not want to watch a second time, though not because it is bad and unmemorable, but because it is a total all-around bummer of a melancholy movie that portrays life as a progressive curse plagued by a perennial series of oftentimes unpredictable and uncontrollable disappointments and tragedies that make antinatalism seem like the only rational and sensible life philosophy for any young person living in the post-WWII West to adopt, thus it should be no surprise that auteur Barney Platts-Mills would have to rent out a theater himself just so the film could be publicly screened upon its initial release, only for the work to languish in obscurity for about 40 years until it was rightfully resurrected by BFI Flipside. Not surprisingly, it would be over a decade before Platts-Mills made another film—the medieval sorcery and witchcraft costume piece Hero (1982)—which, although the first film in Scots Gaelic, was an abject failure of the first order that was ridiculed in Time Out film magazine as a “clumping village pageant” and ultimately guaranteed the director would not make another film for about about two more decades until he released the unfortunately underwhelming work Zohra: A Moroccan Fairy Tale (2010). While his debut feature Bronco Bullfrog (1969) is probably equally important in the context of British film history, Private Road is unequivocally Platts-Mills' most immaculate, accomplished, and nuanced work, as a film that captures the dispiriting spirit of an entire generation, or at least a certain segment of it, namely the unsurprisingly increasingly dwindling upper-middleclass, which bought into the bullshit false freedom of the counterculture movement and paid the ultimate price as a result. Indeed, it is refreshing to see a work of British social realism that does not dubiously wallow in poverty porn like some of the works of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach and instead focuses on the certainly different but no less critical problems that plagued the dying bourgeoisie then and still continue to plague it in all the more debasing ways today. After all, unlike the protagonist of Private Road, there is not much pressure on lumpenproles when it comes to maintaining a certain standard in terms of wealth, profession, and overall social prestige. I certainly would not want to have to deal with a pretty yet vacant posh princess like the one in Platts-Mills film who excepts everything from her man but gives nothing in return aside from abortions, headaches, and cold and soulless sex. Indeed, one can only guess the sort of alimony and child support that the protagonist of Private Road would have had to pay if he actually ended up marrying, having children with, and inevitably divorcing his blonde bimbo beloved. In that sense, the film should be mandatory viewing for any middleclass male who is seriously considering getting married and/or having children because otherwise they might end up like the fat deranged slob of Christopher Monger's criminally underrated classic British cult flick Voice Over (1983).
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 8:31 PM
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