Thursday, March 3, 2016

Some Call It Loving (1973)

          Some Call It Loving: the movie that dares to show what happens when a beautiful young woman awakens from years of slumber to discover the crass realities of the early ’70s. Some Call It Loving: the movie that dares to explore the life of a fabulously rich (and fabulously narcissistic) jazz musician who uses his mansion as the stage for a life lived as a kind of avant-garde performance art with an erotic edge. Some Call It Loving: the movie that dares to ask the question, “Will I always be your jellybean?” If all of this sounds bewildering, there’s a good reason why—the deeply strange Some Call It Loving is best described as an arthouse treatment of a B-movie concept.
          Meticulously crafted and yet at the same time quite inept—much in the same way the film is both pretentious and sincere—this movie commits wholeheartedly to characters and events that exist far outside the spectrum of recognizable human behavior. However, it’s not as if Some Call It Loving provides an ingenious metaphor representing some foible of the species. Quite to the contrary, the picture unfolds like an anthropological study of people who are so odd that they might as well be aliens from outer space. Compounding the weirdness, Some Call It Loving is made with the leisurely pacing and pictorial beauty of a European auteur piece.
          Giving an alternately somnambulistic and whiny leading performance, Zalman King plays Robert, a gentleman of leisure who wanders through a carnival until he encounters an exhibit promising a real-life “Sleeping Beauty.” She's Jennifer (Tisa Farrow), a lovely young woman who, according to her keepers, has been unconscious for years. Bewitched, Robert pays the keepers $20,000 for Jennifer, bringing her to his mansion. Instructed that she will wake if not consistently sedated with drugs, Robert cuts off her supply. Upon regaining consciousness, Jennifer accepts her new surroundings as if they’re normal, whereas the reaction one might expect is utter horror at being turned into chattel. Robert woos Jennifer with weird rituals, often involving his live-in companion Scarlett (Carol White), hence myriad scenes of role-playing and theatricality. (In one bit, Robert actually controls a curtain behind which two women perform a sapphic dance.)
          The film’s dialogue is as absurd as the accompanying dramatic events. Consider this riff from Scarlett: “Yes, I can understand. I’ve always understood. I’ve always understood because I love you. And when a woman loves a man, there’s no limit to her understanding.” The punch line? Two minutes later, Scarlett concludes the scene by saying, “Then maybe I don’t understand.” (That’s okay, honey—viewers are just as confused.) Woven into this bizarre narrative, which one fears was conceived as an offbeat romance, are pointless scenes featuring Richard Pryor as Robert’s drug-addicted best friend. Although Pryor’s appearances are high points because his acting is full of believable pathos, his scenes feel like they belong in a different movie.
          Directed by James B. Harris, whose sporadic output includes a number of gritty genre pictures, Some Call It Loving benefits from gorgeous cinematography. Italian DP Mario Tosi shoots the whole movie with gauzy frames, languid camera movies, and vividly colorful lighting patterns. Accordingly, it's tempting to peer deep into the movie’s mysteries and search for something resonant. Good luck with that.

Some Call It Loving: FREAKY

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