Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1976)

          A strange meditation on the nature of man adapted from a Yukio Mishima novel, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea earned a certain degree of notoriety during its original release because of rumors that costars Kris Kristofferson and Sarah Miles weren’t faking when they shot their love scenes. Setting aside the fact that the scenes in question are tame by modern standards, it’s a shame this dark drama is mostly known for risqué content—for while the love story between a lonely English widow (Miles) and a world-weary American sailor (Kristofferson) is intense, another thread of the story is much more interesting. The widow’s son, Jonathan (Jonathan Kahn), is a disturbed teenager who has fallen under the influence of an even more disturbed peer, known only as “Chief” (Earl Rhodes). Chief lords over a small clique of malicious youths, because he’s a sociopath who envisions himself the only child capable of seeing dark truths about the merciless adult world.
          Writer-director Lewis John Carlino—who scripted the equally offbeat films Seconds (1966) and Resurrection (1980)—helms this picture with a sure hand, using graceful camera moves, slow dissolves, and an intimate score to create a poetic mood. He’s especially strong at filling the scenes of Chief’s clique meeting in secret places with foreboding. Richly hued cinematography by Douglas Slocombe enlivens Carlino’s stark frames, and the two use magnificent coastal locations in Devon, England, to great effect.
          Kristofferson’s restrained acting style matches the movie’s cryptic vibe, and Sarah Miles’ tendency toward weirdly indistinct facial expressions suits the piece as well, indicating that her character is lost in a world of dreams and longing. However, two adolescent performers dominate the picture. Kahn’s haunted stares are worthy of a Kubrick movie, and Rhodes works a disturbing Aryan-youth groove that makes him compelling in a stomach-turning sort of way. In sum, the narrative road this movie travels is guaranteed to polarize viewers, but for those who accept the piece as a dark parable, Sailor is a provocative experience.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea: GROOVY

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