Saturday, December 11, 2010

Suzanne (1973)

          The popular arts of the late ’60s and early ’70s were filled with hippy-dippy freakouts made by plugged-in youths who perceived themselves as explorers charting the outer edges of human consciousness, often aided by mind-altering party favors. And that’s about the only way to contextualize the impenetrable drama Suzanne. Jared Martin plays an insufferably self-important movie director whose newest project has something to do with Christ mythology, and he finds inspiration when he meets a moon-eyed blonde named Suzanne (Sondra Locke). Inexplicably drawn to her pompous new suitor, Suzanne dumps artist Leo (Paul Sand), a fragile soul who’s clearly one angst-ridden episode away from a nervous breakdown. The main thread of the movie concerns the director’s preparations to impale Suzanne with real nails so his crucifixion scene has the desired impact, but the movie also follows Leo’s descent into madness, and the hapless efforts of an Establishment newspaper columnist (Gene Barry) to investigate what sorta vibes the counterculture kids are groovin’ to these days.
          If any of these particulars make Suzanne sound interesting, be warned that the “story” is presented in weird, disassociated vignettes punctuated by arty montages of things like people in clown makeup dancing around in trippy fisheye-lens shots. By the time this movie was released in 1973, more interesting filmmakers had been doing this sort of thing for several years, so Suzanne was already a relic with its narrative opacity and obnoxiously collegiate dialogue. (Sample Suzanne chatter: “You are beauty. I need to stay away from you. It’s not anything you did, it’s just I don’t know what I do with what you are.”) The movie gets points for seeing its pretentious premise all the way through to the gruesome conclusion, and Suzanne also provides a load of interesting Hollywood footnotes: It was inspired by the Leonard Cohen song “Suzanne,” which appears several times on the soundtrack; Shaft creator Ernest Tidyman was a script consultant (even though the script ain’t too tidy, man); Performance editor Frank Mazzola assembled the montages; and the cast includes Richard Dreyfuss and future Wayne’s World director Penelope Spheeris.
          In case you’re wondering how a movie this strange gets made, Suzanne writer-director Michael Barry’s dad is actor Gene Barry, who played TV’s Bat Masterson in the ’50s; Papa Berry executive-produced (read: financed) the flick in addition to costarring.

Suzanne: LAME

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