Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Driver’s Seat (1974)



          This oddball Italian production stars Elizabeth Taylor as a demented woman searching Europe for the right man to murder her during sex. Yes, La Liz zooms way past the extremes of Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), playing one of the most unhinged characters of her long career. Alas, the underlying material is so artificial that Taylor can’t fully exploit her powerful commitment to investigating dark corners of the human psyche; instead of incarnating a believably sick person, she ends up presenting a caricature of sociopathic behavior. For instance, at one point Taylor berates a store clerk in the following nonsensical fashion: “Who asked you for a stain-resistant dress? Don’t just stand there looking like a chicken with one eye! Help me!” Later, she sholds a would-be suitor who claims he needs to ejaculate daily as part of his macrobiotic diet. (Yes, you read that right.) Taylor’s reply: “When I diet, I diet, and when I orgasm, I orgasm! I don’t believe in mixing the two cultures!” While there’s always camp value in watching Taylor ride the train to Freakytown, The Driver’s Seat is so humorless, repetitive, and sluggish that watching the movie is a chore.
          Based on a novel by Muriel Spark, the picture tracks the adventures of Lise (Taylor), a European woman who embarks on a meandering quest that takes her through several cities and several lovers. Lise is full of contradictions—even though she periodically indicates that she’s on an urgent mission, she also makes time for shopping excursions. Similarly, Lise courts various men, only to repel their physical advances once she determines they’re not right for her purposes. Lise is a mess, but not a credible or interesting mess. Periodically, the filmmakers cut from Lise to interrogation scenes featuring one of her former suitors. This element doesn’t work, either, partially because the temporal relationship between the two narrative threads is murky, and partially because the man being interrogated seems as bizarre as Lise. Since the filmmakers forgot to provide pockets of normalcy amid the pain-freak stuff, there’s nothing for rational viewers to grasp. Adding to the weirdness is the presence of NYC art icon Andy Warhol in a supporting role, though his speaking voice was jarringly replaced with that of an Englishman. So, even though Taylor devours her role—and even though cinematographer Vittorio Storaro gives nearly every scene some level of visual dynamism—The Driver’s Seat ultimately becomes a heap of gruesome nonsense.

The Driver’s Seat: LAME

4 comments:

AndyHunt said...

Thank you so much. I have never heard of this movie, but thanks to your review I have just got to see it.
I am slightly concerned though...with this, The Visitor, and Bugsy Malone in such a short space of time, I fear for your sanity. What next, The Holy Mountain, Lucifer rising?

William Blake Hall said...

Andy, take a good look around, I've been fearing for his sanity for a long while now. (And you've yet to see suggestions I've been making.) But luckily a Save the Tiger or a The Way We Were or a Fiddler on the Roof have a tendency to pop up from time to time.

By Peter Hanson said...

Deep-immersion 70s cinema. Not for the meek. (I just wish there was a Facebook-style "like" button for both of these comments.)

Joe Martino said...

youtube has a great eight minute video of the more "weirder" moments...worth a look...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKMd_Te3nj8