Thursday Editor’s Pick: Pretty Poison (1968)

by on February 3, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Fri Feb 3 thru Thurs Feb 9 at 1:00, 2:50, 4:40, 6:30, 8:20, 10:10 at Film Forum [Program & Tix]
*No 8:20 show on Mon, Feb 6


We here at Alt Screen are Tuesday Weld super-fans. Last year’s Weld retrospective at FSLC gave us a chance to revel in that love, and to publish Dan Callahan‘s paean to the eternal gloriousness of Tuesday.

Dan thinks Pretty Poison is Weld’s best film. Says David Thomson, “Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld were more subversive in Pretty Poison, and more disconcertingly confident, than Bonnie and Clyde.” And Jonathan Rosenbaum obliquely notes, “Noel Black’s odd, creepy thriller came out of nowhere in 1968…”

David Cairns advises that if anyone gets in the way of seeing this cult favorite, to “BRUSH THEM ASIDE LIKE INSECTS.”

Charles Taylor labels it an “American classic,” for the New York Times:

Dumped into theaters as an exploitation cheapie in 1968, this lyrical thriller is a minor American classic. As Dennis, a young man trying to get his feet on the ground after being released from a reformatory, Anthony Perkins, right, gives perhaps his richest performance, certainly his most touching. Just as Perkins was trying to leave behind the juvenile roles that had typecast him, Dennis, a basically decent fellow, is trying to become an adult. But even when he succeeds in hiding his past, he can’t resist playing the smart aleck or slipping into a world of make-believe. Dennis persuades the town golden girl Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld) to slip into that world with him. The twist is that she’s every bit the psychopath people assume Dennis is.


Sensitive and unsettling, ”Pretty Poison” at times suggests a smaller-scale version of ”Splendor in the Grass,” without the Freudian gush. And when violence breaks out in the suburban setting, Mr. Black plays it straight, not for cheap irony. A large part of what makes ”Pretty Poison” chilling is Ms. Weld’s amazing performance. It is no stretch to cast her as the prettiest girl in town, but resisting the urge to telegraph a character’s craziness takes real discipline. Ms. Weld pulls off the neat trick of making Sue Ann seem even more like a normal, carefree teenager after she kills. Pointing a gun, as she’s preparing to commit a murder she has long dreamed of, Ms. Weld’s smile has never been sweeter.

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Tuesday Weld at Film Society (Sep 21-25)

by on September 21, 2011Posted in: Essay

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Saturday Editor’s Pick: Lord Love a Duck (1966)

by on September 17, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Sat Sept 24 at 4:00 at Film Society of Lincoln Center [Program & Tix]


Shame on the Film Society for sticking this underseen curio in a single afternoon slot in their series “American Girl: Tuesday Weld.” It really has to be seen to be believed, particularly the scene where Weld takes her father on a cashmere sweater shopping excursion that is downright orgasmic. More on those shenanigans later, when Dan Callahan profiles Weld for Alt Screen. Stay tuned.


In the meantime, Andrew Sarris for The Village Voice:

Lord Love A Duck marks the directorial debut of George Axelrod with a bang rather than a whimper. Not only does Axelrod turn out to be his own best director but his script for Lord Love A Duck is by far the best thing he has ever done. Tuesday Weld, Roddy McDowall, et al and a bevy of blank bikini belles make up the funniest comic ensemble since the palmiest days of Preston Sturges. Comparisons have been made with Dr. Strangelove and Lolita and What’s New Pussycat? and The Loved One, but Lord Love a Duck has them all beat by miles on the laugh meter. In fact, the cavernous guffaws tend to tear apart the flimsy fabric of Axelrod’s satiric conception of sun-kissed Southern California, where even God has been converted to a drive-in. The characters and their jokes tend to transcend even their contexts. For example, spoofs of psychoanalysis would seem to be automatically mirthless at this late date. Nevertheless Axelrod disproves Seneca’s aphorism about there being nothing new under the couch by counterpointing a surly lady psychologist with Roddy McDowall’s impishly innocent Rorschach reactor. From then on, Axelrod consistently hits higher notes of hilarity than Kubrick-Nabokov, Kubrick-Sothern, Donner-Allen, Richardson-Sothern-Waugh, etc.


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Wednesday Editor’s Pick: Play It As It Lays (1972)

by on September 15, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Wed Sept 21 at 8:30 & Sat Sept 24 at 6:15 at Film Society of Lincoln Center [Program & Tix]


The Film Society pays long overdue tribute to the incomparable Tuesday Weld, from Sept 21 to 25. Stay tuned for Dan Callahan’s feature for Alt Screen, and consider catching some of the series- most notably George Axelrod’s “undefinable masterpiece” Lord Love a Duck, and cult fave Pretty Poison, starring Weld and Anthony Perkins.


The most difficult of the lot to actually see, Joan Didion’s adaptation (along with husband John Gregory Dunne) of her novel Play It As It Lays recapitalizes on Weld and Perkins’ unique chemistry. Wildly divisive at the time (panned by Pauline Kael, but pronounced by novelist Ann Birstein as “one of the best movies I’ve ever seen” in the Times), Play is a haunting modernist work by the eclectic and increasingly fascinating Frank Perry (The Swimmer, Mommie Dearest). It is also an invaluable showcase for Weld’s expressive face. (Fun fact: Joel Schumacher got his Hollywood start as the film’s costume designer!)


Most commendable champion of the film Melissa Anderson, for Film Comment:

If you were to imagine a celluloid ancestor to Mulholland Drive‘s Diane Selwyn, she’d probably look a lot like Maria Wyeth, the heroine of Frank Perry’s acerbic Play It As It Lays, a 1972 film based on Joan Didion’s merciless second novel, published two years earlier. Brilliantly played by Tuesday Weld, Maria is rapidly unraveling, as is her marriage to her director husband, Carter Lang (Adam Roarke). Carter has previously directed her in both a vérité short, barking bullying off-camera questions (“Did you ever want to ball your father?”), and an acid-rock biker movie called Angel Beach. As Carter prepares to shoot his next movie in the desert, Maria drifts through a succession of ghoulish Hollywood parties and hotel-room with producers from the East Coast, always returning to the driver’s seat of her banana-yellow Corvette. Speeding along the freeway provides Maria with her only moments of pleasure. She hasn’t worked for at least a year.


In interviews, Joan Didion has remarked that one profession that’s always interested her is the film editor, or, to use her preferred term, “cutter.” Cuts play a major part in both the film Play It As It Lays and its source novel. Didion wrote the screenplay with her husband, John Gregory Dunne; it was their second script collaboration, after 1971’s The Panic in Needle Park. Didion’s book is extremely fragmented, with some chapters no longer than a paragraph and the point of view shifting abruptly between the third and first person. Perry’s film, edited by Sidney Katz, expertly translates this disjointed sense of time. Some shots last only a second; chronological sequences aren’t always clear; sound and image are jarringly juxtaposed. Nowhere are these cuts more horrifically displayed dian at the film’s literal moment of incision: Maria’s visit to an illegal abortionist (Roe v. Wade would be decided the year after the film’s release). The doctor’s “slicing” is chillingly conveyed as a rapid series of images: a hand encased in a surgical glove switching on an air conditioner, something tossed into a waste can, blood washed down a sink drain. This short sharp shock of a montage will haunt Maria throughout the film-as it will the viewer.


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