Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Catch My Soul (1974)

          Mixing folk songs, religious allegories, Shakespeare, and show tunes, the unique musical Catch My Soul is an interesting attempt at . . . something. Originally presented on the London stage by writer/producer Jack Good, Catch My Soul was billed as “the rock Othello.”  Once Good and producer Richard M. Rosenbloom set out to make a film version, they hired folksinger Richie Havens to play the leading role, while retaining Lance LeGault from the original stage cast to portray the scheming Iago. Film actors Season Hubley and Susan Tyrrell were added to the mix, along with singers Bonnie and Delaney Bramlett and Tony Joe White. Overseeing this eclectic cast was director Patrick McGoohan, better known as an actor in such projects as the 1960s TV series The Prisoner. This was his only feature as a director.
          Set in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the picture depicts the travails of an evangelist named Othello (Havens). While living with a commune alongside the demonic Iago, Othello falls in love with and marries the angelic Desdemona (Hubley). Iago, whom the film portrays as a manifestation of Lucifer, foments strife by making Othello believe that Desdemona has been unfaithful with Othello’s friend, Cassio (White). Betrayals, lies, recriminations, and tragedy ensue.
          Alternately titled Santa Fe Satan, this picture suffers from an overabundance of thematic ambition and a shortage of credibility. Jumping onto the ’60s/’70s bandwagon of meshing counterculture imagery with religious parables makes Catch My Soul feel heavy-handed from the first frame to the last, which neutralizes most of the subtleties of the underlying text. At the same time, the storytelling is fragmented, as if McGoohan was unable or unwilling to shoot scenes in proper continuity, and the acting is wildly uneven. Havens, appearing in his first dramatic role, has a quietly authoritative presence but seems awkward while delivering dialogue. Hubley and White barely register, and Tyrrell lends her signature eccentricity to a role that ultimately feels inconsequential. (In making room for tunes, the filmmakers gutted Shakespeare’s text.) The film’s standout performance comes from the man who acclimated to his role onstage. For those who only know LeGault from his villainous role in the ’80s TV series The A-Team, watching him in Catch My Soul is startling. Not only can he sing, with a voice as low and dark as an icy wind howling through a cavern, but he’s lithe and loose, and his sleepy eyelids give his visage an otherworldly quality.
          Whereas the film’s tunes are forgettable—though each hits roughly the correct note of menace or longing or wonderment—the picture’s visual component is not. Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, a three-time Oscar winner, shoots the hell out of Catch My Soul, whether he’s infusing desert scenes with scorching color or sculpting eerie nighttime images from creative juxtapositions of hot accent lights and ink-deep shadows. Although Catch My Soul doesn’t consistently command or reward the viewer’s attention, the virtues of certain elements ensure that every so often, something dynamic happens.

Catch My Soul: FUNKY


Richard said...

I've never managed to see this despite my decades-long interest in McGoohan's career and equal love of Richie Havens' music. It's interesting McGoohan got roped into a project like this given that a dozen years earlier, he played the Iago-surrogate character in a retelling of Othello set in the London jazz scene, All Night Long directed by Basil Dearden. That film was stunning; this one sounds like it might be at best an interesting curiosity for a fan like me.

Unknown said...

I thought this was a "lost" film. Been curious for years to see this. Where could one get a copy?

By Peter Hanson said...

Recently released on Blu-Ray, believe it or not:

John said...

I did read a comment from`McGoohan that after he had finished shooting the film the Producer got religion, shot a load of religious material and recut the film.
For years though some people have been erroneously using Catch My Soul as evidence that either McGoohan was very religious or that he somehow lost his mind during or after making The Prisoner.

Dale said...

I'd take it over Jesus Christ Superstar for what that's worth. The recent Blu Ray release looks stunning,the score ain't bad and how can you ignore such a strange film with the most improbable group of people ever assembled? For those with a taste for the bizarre and that is definitely me.