Thursday, June 30, 2011

Funny 'cuz it's true

Today I was invited to a free preview screening of Ryan Reynolds' The Change-Up. Yeah, seriously. I'll go, but only if they float his skeleton over the audience like William Castle's House on Haunted Hill.

Every review of Transformers 3 reads like the set-up of a joke that starts "HOW BAD WAS IT?" For full effect use Gilbert Gottfried's voice.

With Glenn Beck's show over, maybe now he'll go on Letterman to prove that he was Andy Kaufman the whole time by letting Jerry Lawler punch him in the face.

No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits — the same movie?
This year is bringing us two movies about attractive young friends — one male, one female — who don't want a relationship but want to have no-strings sex with each other; each movie starring a would-be ballerina from Black Swan. While I'm not planning to see either one, it appears that I don't have to.

Blind Film Critic via Popcorn & Prejudice

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Polish posters for classic movies

I bought one of these Chaplin prints and became so mesmerized by the rest of the striking, eyeball-yanking pieces available that I have to share a small sample here. I can easily imagine collecting these prints in a serious (and expensive) way. At Polish Posters Shop you can learn about the artists and buy all sorts of mind-noodling Polish posters. The site has an entire category dedicated to film art from various countries. Links to sales pages for individual titles are below.

Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, The Gold Rush, and The Kid
Designers: Joanna Górska, Jerzy Skakun
Also Polish Posters Shop (Dictator, Gold Rush, The Kid)
Related: "Chaplin" tagged posts

The General, Buster Keaton
Designed by Waldemar Swierzy

Rosemary's Baby, Roman Polanski
Designed by Wieslaw Walkuski

The Elephant Man, David Lynch
Designed by Leszek Zebrowski

The Time Machine, George Pal
Designed by Marian Stachurski

One Million Years B.C., Don Chaffey
Designed by Bohdan Butenko

Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg
Designed by Andrzej Krajewski

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Milos Forman
Designed by Leszek Zebrowski

Chinatown, Roman Polanski
Designed by Andrzej Krajewski

Cabaret, Bob Fosse
Designed by Wiktor Gorka

Alien, Ridley Scott
Designed by Jakub Erol

Aliens, James Cameron
Designed by: (unavailable)

Annie Hall, Woody Allen
Designed by Joanna Gorska, Jerzy Skakun

Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks
Designed by Jerzy Flisak

Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese
Designed by Leszek Zebrowski

Son of Godzilla, Jun Fukuda
Designed by Zuzanna Lipinska

Ran and The Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa
Designed by Andrzej Pagowski
Polish Posters Shop (Ran, Samurai)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Designed by Andrzej Pagowski
Found via Boing Boing

Also see:
A Gray Space Poster Gallery
Make Polish Movie Posters!

For your consideration — "Life of Graham" edition

/Film: The Coen Bros.' New Script is Based on the 60's NYC Folk Scene

Total Film: Jared Harris discusses Sherlock Holmes 2's villain Moriarty — "He doesn’t believe in heaven and hell."

The Hathor Legacy: Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test

Vanity Fair: Robert Smigel on His Unmade Script for a Green Lantern Comedy Starring Jack Black

Dangerous Minds: Director cameos in their own and others' films

Guardian: BBC to dramatise unholy row over Monty Python's Life of BrianHoly Flying Circus to focus on comedians' struggle with church, councils and critics in runup to release of controversial film.

Speaking of which ... BBC via Boing Boing: Monty Python members reunite for Graham Chapman film — The surviving members of Monty Python's Flying Circus have reunited to voice an animated adaptation of Graham Chapman's incredibly funny, very weird memoir A Liar's Autobiography. The film will include recordings of Chapman reading from the book as well. Regrettably, the movie will be in 3D, but with luck I'll be able to find a screen where it's showing without the need for dark, greasy, migraine-inducing prosthesis.

Jon Favreau found a nice variation on the EPK with these Cowboys & Aliens promotional interviews. He gives Harrison Ford (who notoriously hates the PR end of the film business) an amusing level of crap. (Hat tip: Mike Russell)

Augmented Reality Cinema is a conceptual iPhone app that would recognize your location, then play a scene from a movie that took place in that location.

Parallax View: 'Shrinking Man' reputation grows — As a fan of the film, I find this one personally gratifying.

Boing Boing: Lalo Schifrin and the Marquis de Sade  

According to The Telegraph, these are the five best Monty Python sketches.

113 seldom seen Star Wars photos

Via The New Yorker

They say it's your birthday: Herrmann + Harryhausen =

Today is film composer Bernard Herrmann's 100th birthday. Eddie on Film has a two-part tribute. Among the news sites noting it are the Washington Post (Daring and original, Bernard Herrmann changed movie music), the WSJ ('Psycho' Maestro at 100), and CBS News. The Minnesota Opera's fine audio series, Bernard Herrmann: A Celebration of His Life and Music, is quite excellent. Don't forget to pay a visit to The Bernard Herrman Society.

Having his 91st birthday today is Ray Harryhausen, the movies' greatest special effects artist, for whom Herrmann scored The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Mysterious Island, and Jason and the Argonauts. Was Jason's stunning battle with the skeleton warriors the scene that first made me love movies as a kid? It might have been, yep. It was iconic then and still thrills now.

Herrmann + Harryhausen =

Oh, also, while I'm thinking of it: Here's a video compilation of every Ray Harryhausen animated creature in feature films, presented in chronological order.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Random thoughts on "Midnight in Paris"

It's good. I just like having a reason — finally, after how long? — to type that.

Midnight in Paris is not one of cinema's "greats," or even one of Woody Allen's ultimate postmortem Top 5 bests in my estimation. (In my book that Top 5 would be Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Love & Death, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, Sleeper, Radio Days, Stardust Memories, Bullets Over Broadway, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Shadows and Fog.... What, you really want only five?)

But Midnight in Paris, it is good, and that's enough for me at this point, my bar having been ratcheted down so far over the years. I'd call it his best since Bullets Over Broadway in '94. And for this life-long, card-carrying Woody Allen fan-devotee-acolyte-aficionado*, one bludgeoned to dispirited peevishness by more than a decade of one subpar Woody Allen movie after another — that it didn't outright piss me off is a blessed relief.

Midnight in Paris moves along with a jaunty rhythm and pace that feels as natural as filtered water in an artificial stream in an over-landscaped garden. Still, that's a welcome change after so many of Allen's prior films since the '90s that sputtered fitfully like the rusty flow from a clogged faucet.

Granted, Mighty Aphrodite ('95), Everyone Says I Love You ('96), Deconstructing Harry ('97), and Sweet and Lowdown ('99) are on my DVD shelves because I generally like them, albeit sometimes more for their parts than for the sums thereof. But Celebrity in '98 was that unforeseen, unspeakable thing I thought I'd never experience: an utterly unwatchable Woody Allen movie. Since then, so many of them have ranged from bland and unrewarding to Oh please no just stop!

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending, Melinda and Melinda.... Okay, generously, each had one or two good bits or moments, maybe, some fleeting wisp of the old Woody glitter that actually seemed to make the surrounding drudgery even worse. But even with strong casting they were instantly forgettable while you were watching them. The wretched Anything Else ('03) ruined Christina Ricci for me.

The widely praised "comeback" film Match Point (2005) was a big step back up toward the light. But while it struck me as a film engineered with watchmaker precision, it came off as just as coldly mechanical. Its follow-up, Scoop ('06), slid me right back to the exasperating ho-hummery. I didn't even bother with his next one, Cassandra's Dream.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona ('08) didn't outright wow me but it did give me hope. That is, until Whatever Works ('09) had me throwing up my hands and blowing out the votive candles in front of my framed Annie Hall one-sheet poster.

For the past several years I've despaired at the thought that the comic who said "On the plus side, death is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down" would discover whether or not that's true before proving that he had one more good movie left in him. Not a great one necessarily, not a crowning masterpiece, although wouldn't that be a fine way to go out? Just one more that didn't leave me summarizing my response with a shrug and a sour-apple frown and a non-ironic "Meh."

And now?

I nod to Dana Stevens at Slate who said it this way: "Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris ... is a trifle in both senses of the word: a feather-light, disposable thing, and a rich dessert appealingly layered with cake, jam, and cream. It's the first Woody Allen movie in a long time that feels good going down, even if it doesn't stay in your stomach for long afterward."

Right from the beginning Midnight in Paris mines past Woody Allen films: obviously Manhattan in its opening montage and Frommer's Travel Guide settings, and the superior The Purple Rose of Cairo in this story's origami fold of that film's core fantasies. Also familiar are Midnight's themes (celebrity worship, inspired art vs. commercialism, mismatched romance, infidelity), its narrative set-up and structure, his characters (no, not characters, really: single-stroke character sketches), their relationships and interactions, their dialogue, even line readings.... There may be nothing here that you can't find several close analogs for in his previous work.

The key, though, is that he recycles good stuff from his peak years, c. 1977-90. If you've seen two or three or four of his films from those years, then went into Midnight in Paris with no clue whatsoever who'd made it, arriving late enough to just miss the opening credits, within five minutes — ten, tops — you'd recognize it as a Woody Allen film. But hey, if someone's going to do a loving pastiche of Golden Age Woody Allen films, it might as well be Woody Allen.

The core of Midnight in Paris has apparently been percolating within Allen for nearly 50 years. During his early career as a standup comic in the 1960s, his great "Lost Generation" bit gives us Allen reminiscing about his time in Europe hanging with Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway punching him in the mouth. (Its audio is YouTubed here.)

Then in a 1977 New Yorker story, "The Kugelmass Episode", an unhappy humanities professor learns to transport himself at will into works of fiction and interact with his revered literary characters. A few years ago one of my own stories was anthologized alongside it in a university literature textbook.

In a movie career shot through with images and themes of nostalgia and romanticized Golden Ages, is this an expression of Allen's nostalgia for his own personal Golden Age? "The past is never dead. It's not even past," said Faulkner, who in the movie gets name-checked as a just-off-screen presence.

Then again, by the end of Midnight in Paris Allen upends that notion by revealing the folly of nostalgia and saying, essentially, "Fuck that." At last, here's his wistful sigh accompanying an acceptance that the past, personal as well as historical, is another country best viewed from a safe distance. Perhaps our Golden Age really is always right now.

Owen Wilson: Always likeable and reliable. Here he's the expected Allen proxy, yet he manages to wrest the role out of the shadow of past Allen-alikes and make it all his own. It's "the Woody Allen role" played with commitment by Wilson, not by Wilson "doing" Allen. Gil's Paris-in-the-1920s fantasies are an extension of the Allen we've known for decades in films and comic prose, and Wilson's performance lets us experience those fantasies with blithe acceptance of the make-believe.

All the same, Gil's not much of a character. Like everyone else in the film he's written with the depth of a business card, and it's a credit to Wilson, not Allen, that Gil isn't unlikeable on that point alone. Gil's personal "journey" is practically defined by its low stakes and its brazenly painless wish-fulfillment resolution, complete with luminous Léa Seydoux inevitably positioned just so for him at the fade-out.

Rachel McAdams: I've liked her ever since Slings & Arrows and it's fine to see her breaking out to A(ish)-list status. Too bad her strident Inez, Gil's shrewish fiancée, is written to be more Plot Device than a fully realized human being. Whatever does Gil see in her to the point of being engaged to marry her (moreover, gaining her horrid Tea Party Republican parents as in-laws)? What does she see in him, frankly, given who she is and what she wants? We come away without a clue because both Inez and Gil are drawn so superficially.

I have to wonder: after seeing McAdams take a lead in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes and now in Midnight in Paris: Did her agent maneuver a contract clause requiring directors to frame glamor shots of her ass? Not that that's a bad thing. But once again it's as noticeable as a Pepsi logo product placement ad.

Corey Stoll doesn't play Hemingway. He plays Kevin Kline 20 years ago playing Hemingway. And he's terrific at it. He speaks only in the distilled parodic, two-fisted Hemingwayese we might imagine (rather, that Gil imagines) was "Papa's" honed conversational style, and it cracks me up just sitting here remembering it. But not for a minute did I believe that was actually Hemingway.

Meanwhile, Kurt Fuller as John, Inez's father, channels Alan Alda from Crimes and Misdemeanors and Everyone Says I Love You.

Adrien Brody: "Dah-LI!" Heh.

Michael Sheen as Paul, the pedantic prick — "If I'm not mistaken," I've known this guy in numerous forms over the years. I confess there were times when I've been this guy. His position, however, as the other half of the Inez Plot Device exists only to hand Gil a gold-laminated Get Out of Jail Free Card. Inez's affair with him exists simply to, lickety-split, absolve Gil and end his relationship with her. What should be a powerful scene in the film instead simply grates with its lazy utility.

Marion Cotillard as Adriana — Yes, please.

It's nice to see Quai de la Tournelle on the Left Bank, under the arches of Notre-Dame, used again as a setting. It's where Goldie Hawn danced on air in Everyone Says I Love You, and here it's the spot where Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill, inspired) stages what's probably only the latest in a series of public freak-outs.

Speaking of seeing, the striking cinematography (an Allen hallmark) by Johanne Debas and Darius Khondji, coupled with Anne Seibel's production design and art direction, provides a high percentage of the film's appeal, and it's interesting to watch in particular how they give Gil's timeslipped period encounters a rich, dreamlike luster.

Shakespeare and Company — Ah, of course.

For whatever reasons of his own, this time Allen chose to concentrate his energies on crafting a light meringue, all air and sugar, not a main course weighted down with the usual meats and fats of Dysfunctional Human Dynamics and the Angsts of Existence. (Those are here too, but in eyedropper doses.)

Does Midnight in Paris work better because it is so lightweight, such candied ginger? I'll take the layers and nuances of an Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, or Stardust Memories any day, but, given Allen's output so far this century, he seems far more at home and assured with the ginger. It's an unexpected shift, but apparently a wise (or at least creatively strategic) one.

Also gone is the bitter anise that has for years been his films' dominant aftertaste. I still want to shake Allen by the shoulders and shout, "Yes, mortality sucks! Learn to cope with it!" At least this time he does in fact seem to be coping with it, or taking steps toward getting there, in his singular way. So now after the shoulder-shake I'd then take him to a club for Louis Armstrong's "Potato Head Blues" and propose a toast to having made it this far.

Its climax (such as it is) arrives when Gil announces his moment of clarity, and a facile Author's Message, by uttering "I'm having an epiphany. It's a minor one, but still." The moment struck me as Allen poking through the screen to acknowledge the wafer-thin mint he has whipped up here. If so, I'll take it over the gassy, charmless pork dishes he's offered over the past ten, twelve years.

I'll watch Midnight in Paris again, and my adding the eventual Blu-ray disc to the span of shelf space devoted to Allen movies is certain. That's a sentence I haven't been able to write in a long while, and it feels good to finally do so now. If it's the last time, ever ... yeah, I can accept that as a pleasant little dessert to go out on.

All the same, it feels good to actually look forward to his next film, The Bop Decameron, now shooting in Rome with Penélope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig, Jesse Eisenberg, and Roberto Benigni.

Gives me hope, it does. Maybe he'll go out with another masterpiece yet.

Via FilmDrunkDotCom on Vimeo and /Film.

* Nobody can do Woody's "Moose" bit as well as Jason Alexander, but mine would give him stiff competition.

Eastwood & Aliens

The good, the bad, and the extraterrestrial. Via College Humor.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Stewart Stern, "The Rack," and words to regain consciousness to

Over at Movies on Demand (Chicago Sun-Times), Jeff Shannon profiles venerable screenwriter Stewart Stern (Rebel Without a Cause for starters) on the occasion of Stern's 1956 Korean P.O.W. courtroom drama The Rack, starring Paul Newman, finally hitting DVD.

This one has personal resonances for me: I met Stewart when he was one of my instructors at TheFilmSchool. In 2009, after I came to in the ICU after weeks in a coma (following heart surgery gone cascading kablooey), I discovered that he had delivered to my room an inscribed copy of his screenplay to Rebel Without a Cause. He's a lovely man, a Yoda without the speech impediment and a wellspring of stories about Hollywood That Was.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Petulia (1968) — Uncommon

In this Mostly Movies blog titled Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL, it may be odd that I haven't actually written a post about 2001: A Space Odyssey. Chances are that I won't as I've done so elsewhere and, really, I can't improve on what's already been said by deeper thinkers about it over the past 43 years.

But I do occasionally use it as a reference point when talking about other films, and I'm about to do so again with another title from 1968 (my fourth after The Lion in Winter, The Party, and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas). Because if he hadn't been making 2001 at the time, you might reasonably wonder if Petulia had come from the hand and head of Stanley Kubrick. Possibly in collaboration with Kurt Vonnegut.

I mean, you can't miss Petulia's chilly dissection of relationships in the dehumanized final third of the 20th century. Or its acidly comedic observations on the ubiquity of mechanization, violence, and the sterility of our environments. Or its dreamlike probing of the inability of human beings — even husbands, wives and lovers — to connect through physical, social, or emotional walls. Or the technical virtuosity of its striking cinematography and editing. Hell, Petulia does a better job of being Eyes Wide Shut than Eyes Wide Shut did.

Instead, this stabbingly fractured, moodily pitched romantic tragedy about two would-be lovers (Julie Christie and George C. Scott) is from British new-waver Richard Lester. It's his best besides A Hard Day's Night, although the two could not be more different in content, tone, style, and pop purpose. It's arguably his most artful film. That may be because Petulia looks like an even three-way collaboration between Lester, his cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, and editor Antony Gibbs, all three pushing the boundaries of their craft to make Petulia distinctively, almost aggressively other.

It's also a film that's been alarmingly lost in our overflowing late-'60s cultural closet. Petulia is one of the key era-defining films of '68, a DNA-sequencing of the local zeitgeist that can stand tall alongside not only 2001 but also Faces, If..., Once Upon a Time in the West, Rosemary's Baby, The ProducersBullitt, The Lion in Winter, Planet of the Apes, and Yellow Submarine (with which it would make an interesting push-me/pull-you double feature). In 1978 a Take One magazine poll of 20 film critics — including Vincent Canby, Richard Corliss, Stanley Kauffman, Janet Maslin, Frank Rich, Andrew Sarris, Richard Schickel, David Thomson, and François Truffaut — ranked Petulia among the best American films of the previous decade, taking third place after The Godfather (I and II) and Nashville, and ahead of Annie Hall, Mean Streets and 2001.

And yet, while it hasn't fully dropped down the memory hole, you can just see its manicured fingers clinging to the rim. Petulia had been scheduled to compete at the 1968 Cannes festival, where it undoubtedly would have received high-profile marquee attention. But that May's historic mass riots and wildcat strikes in Paris forced the festival's cancellation. We can only guess how film history would have treated this underappreciated entry had it received the full Cannes exposure treatment.

Petulia is a cutting and conspicuously non-sentimental portrait of its era. It's an anti-The Graduate that provokes by not buying into the American myths we hold about ourselves or (almost uniquely) by not playing to trite sentiments of the time. It's an essential film from and about America in the dying days of "the Sixties," yet the modernism of its style and ambitions makes Petulia impressively ahead of its time.

With this jaded satire of our shifting social values set against the psychedelic Summer of Love scene in San Francisco (locations), with Vietnam battlefield newscasts providing televised wallpaper that everyone chooses to ignore, the film crystallized Lester's growing misanthropic view of a society cracked by its neuroses and alienation.

At the same time, Petulia's recognizably Roegian imagery, shattered-time narrative, and themes of despair and casual brutality anticipate Roeg's later celebrated work such as Don't Look Now (with Christie) and Bad Timing.

If you lay out Petulia's non-linear plot in a straight line, you get a conventional melodrama about middle-aged, almost-maybe-divorced surgeon Archie Bollen (Scott in one of his great performances) embarking on an affair with the beautiful self-proclaimed "kook" Petulia (Christie, ditto and looking fab doing it). The consequences arise when her wealthy and hair-trigger abusive prettyboy husband (Richard Chamberlain in a rare bad-guy role) finds out about it.

Simple enough. But the film takes that story and smashes it with a hammer.

As the trailer's portentous narration points out, Petulia's kaleidoscopic story "starts in the middle," then it "moves towards its end and its beginning at the same time." It does so via flashbacks and flash-forwards, some as quick and sharp as slivers of glass.

At its start we meet Archie and Petulia encountering each other for the first time (or is it?) at a charity dance, "Shake for Highway Safety." The dance band for all those pearled matrons and tuxedoed swells is Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, backed by psychedelic projected oil light shows. (The Grateful Dead also appear in the film, both musically and as cameo hippies.) The contrast is startling and wryly funny. It's the first of many contrasts Lester sets up to illustrate, as Dave Kehr put it, "a world fatally fragmented into rich and poor, past and present, compassion and indifference."

Lester's funny-sad, Vonnegut-like touches depict an America so at odds with itself that two people can't drive to a hotel for an affair without encountering roboticized, automatic "service" at every step. (If Lester were making the movie today, there'd be scenes underscoring with cold-steel irony our generation's search for personal connections via laptop screens and Facebook and Twitter.)

Petulia surprises Archie by installing a portable greenhouse in his San Francisco apartment, "a little bit of life in all this steel and glass." We're the only ones who notice that the greenhouse is itself a stronghold of steel and glass. Although 40ish Archie is beguiled by 20-something Petulia's behavior, he makes a show of brushing it off with a shrug and a quip, "It's the Pepsi generation," defining her character with a TV commercial jingle.

At one point Archie confesses to a friend, "What do I want? To feel something." It's such moments that should make me wince at the film's tendency toward thesis-statement screenwriting and its characters' expository self-awareness, but they fit the film's pitch and tone so well that it doesn't bother me here.

Meanwhile, Petulia wants to be Holly Golightly in all her flip rebelliousness, but she's too bruised by her own melancholy and twisted hell of a marriage to make going lightly anything more than a mod affectation. Her "kookiness" — as Archie puts it, "All this I Love Lucy jazz, it's only cute for a while" — is hardly even that, just a few pranks (the tuba being the most outlandish) and a cheeky attitude that appear put on like her diamond earrings rather than a natural impudent expressiveness. Her facade as Archie's Manic Pixie Dream Girl is another mask and pretense in a world where masks and pretenses, screens and barriers are everywhere and everyone. Scratch her surface and Petulia is a wrenchingly heartbreaking character, a woman aching to be rescued but unable to grasp a lifeline even if one's offered to her.

Lester makes it clear that even when the opportunity presents itself, feeling something is too hard or uncertain a path for most of us to take. Freedom may be just another word for nothing left to lose, but Lester shows via Archie's trip with his sons to a heavily allegorized Alcatraz — then again with Petulia in the film's final, devastating moments — that for some lost souls freedom means the single choice of remaining in the prison we've made for ourselves.

Although set in the Haight-Ashbury scene, its point of view doesn't cut the hippies any more slack than anyone else. Here they're as self-absorbed as the materialist society they have nominally dropped out of.

None of which is to say that Petulia is only a pessimistic drag. It's alluring and seductive, from the smart screenplay (by Barbara Turner and Lawrence B. Marcus, from a novel by John Haase) to Nic Roeg's visuals to John Barry's doleful sax-heavy score, to the on-target performances from its leads, especially the subdued dynamics between magnetic Christie and tightly bound Scott.

Also splendid here are Shirley Knight as Scott's ex-wife, Arthur Hill as Archie's friend Barney, and Joseph Cotten as Chamberlain's enabling, banally despicable father. Look for Rene Auberjonois and, uncredited, Howard Hesseman and Austin Pendleton.

Petulia defies simplistic categorization, and is such a rich and stratified experience, with so much of its substance tucked between the lines, that it deserves and benefits from repeat viewings. Its characters and their motives are open to interpretation and re-interpretation.

So there's no question Petulia is a conversation-starter.

You get a sense of that by reading the reviews from the period. To Time magazine's Richard Schickel, this "terrific movie" is "at once a sad and savage comment on the ways we waste our time, our money and ourselves in upper-middle-class America. It is a subject much trifled with in movies these days, but rarely — if ever — has it been tackled with the ferocious and ultimately purifying energy displayed in this highly moral, yet unmoralistic film." On the other hand, Pauline Kael, in her famous lengthy essay Trash, Art, and the Movies, utterly loathed it. "I have rarely seen a more disagreeable, a more dislikable (or a bloodier) movie than Petulia," she says before going into considerable length explaining why. This movie about our dearth of passion sure does inspire it in others.

More recently, Steven Soderbergh names Petulia as a seminal influence on his work.

If you choose to taste Petulia on DVD, Warner Home Video's 2006 disc offers a few extras that provide some useful background and context. The two "making of" pieces don't tell us more than surface-level insights, but they're worth a look. The newer one is "The Uncommon Making of Petulia" (14 min.), a thin production retrospective with producer Raymond Wagner and Richard Chamberlain. That's where we discover that George C. Scott couldn't get a handle on what the film was about, but he trusted Lester with it.

Next is the vintage piece shot on-set, "Petulia: The Uncommon Movie" (12 min.) that tries too hard to sell the film to the hip set — "If you're like most and get 'with it' pretty quickly, you will have a lot to talk about afterwards" — but it's worthwhile for the behind-the-scenes footage and input from Lester and Scott. Also here is that pompous, overreaching original theatrical trailer that again makes it clear Warner Bros. didn't know what to do with such an "uncommon movie."

Near at hand: Shadows on the Globe, opening scene experiment