FILMS

Wasted stars in a world of kinky sex

JOHN HOFSESS November 1 1973
FILMS

Wasted stars in a world of kinky sex

JOHN HOFSESS November 1 1973

Wasted stars in a world of kinky sex

FILMS

JOHN HOFSESS

The Pyx, directed by Harvey Hart from a novel by John Buell, is about black masses, child prostitutes, heroin addicts, kinky sex and ritual murders, set in Montreal. It’s the last that’s the real shocker.

Canadian films have often been boozy and horny (making them more melancholy than lively, however) but they have been slow to admit, and exploit, the latest fashions in vices. In The Pyx anything goes and almost everything goes too far. To other than avid readers of Flash, Tab and National Enquirer, people accustomed to peering at life’s flotsam through the grates of a clogged sewer, The Pyx won’t seem credibly set in Canada at all.

For all its giddy sensationalism, the film displays no knowledge of criminology. To director Hart, sin is purely cinematic. When Elizabeth Lucy, the most beautiful hooker and heroin addict you’ll ever see (portrayed by Karen Black) has a “hit,” she drifts off dreamily and conjures up an idyllic equestrian interlude — sweet music, soft-focus photography, as she and her lover race through the verdant countryside, in their spotless riding habits. (“So that’s why they call it horse,” you can be forgiven for thinking.) The film is not always so glamorously fake, but it is relentlessly facile. It is lightly likable as a boo-inthe-night horror story, providing a few good squirms and screams for the squeamish, but it cannot be respected.

Christopher Plummer (looking dapper, fit and surprisingly youthful) is pleasantly miscast as a police officer (he plays it like a statesman, a perfectly multilingual, elegant gentleman forbearing the sordidness of other people’s messy lives) while Donald Pilon, the husky star of many Québécois films, is Plummer’s workmate, wholly believable as a lowerclass roughneck. The Pyx is slick entertainment. It has moments that are first-rate and it makes you care about its characters, but then it settles too readily for shoot-em-up action instead of concentrating on psychological aspects. It has a nervous, flashy style, a needlessly complicated flashback structure and underneath the razzledazzle—nothing. The actors (whenever the script gives them a break) give the film whatever weight it has. René Verzier’s photography and Harry Freedman’s music (sounding spookily like his Act Of The Heart score played on a moog and electronically distorted) are great assets here, giving the film some subtle touches to keep it from being altogether insensitive. A fundamental error is that the production company didn’t make John Buell’s third novel The Shrewsdale Exit (1972) into a film (a far better and more timely story, and one affording Christopher Plummer a great chance to act). The Pyx was Buell’s first novel, published in 1959, and the film version now seems unoriginal.

John Hofsess is a Canadian film director and critic.

Technically the film is proficient, but what’s it fori

Slipstream is David Acomba’s first feature film. He’s the 29-year-old television producer who created the CBC specials Straight, Clean And Simple with Anne Murray, and Mariposa Folk Festival, among others. He has always had a superb visual sense, and Slipstream, photographed by Marc Champion, near Lethbridge, Alberta, has landscapes that are a knockout. No Canadian film maker, even after all the years of National Film Board laboring, has ever caught the poetry of the land so well. I would like to say to hell with the story, but there is a story that naggingly insists on being told. The screenplay is by Bill Fruet (who wrote and directed Wedding In White). It was written years ago and Fruet has had no contact with the production. Mike Mallard, a counter-culture disc jockey whose fans are legion, broadcasts from a remote farmhouse in Alberta, far from the world of kickbacks, bribes and corruption. Also, I gather, though the film doesn’t say so, far from the world of trendy rock stars, drugs and groupies. Mallard has a manager who looks like the prince of payola. He descends from time to time with a new batch of records, and they argue bitterly about integrity in the music industry. Mallard’s privacy has also been invaded by a girl named Kathy, who, among other things, wants to clean up his kitchen and put curtains on his windows. Some nights, when Mallard is moody, he doesn’t broadcast at all. One night in a crashing thunderstorm he does a Ben Franklin act, running about outside waving his microphone in the air, defying the thunderbolts. The acting by Luke Askew and Patti Oatman is good (the supporting cast, which we mercifully don’t see often, is dreadful); they, at least, find the problems inherent in starting a relationship of great import, whereas I found them touchingly, earnestly young and went

back to looking at the scenery, or listening to Brian Ahern’s great musical score. Slipstream, for all its faults, is the beginning of something big: David Acomba’s career as a film maker is going to be a joy to watch.

The American Film Theatre series, beginning October 29 and running through to May 7, 1974, in 23 major cities and towns throughout Canada, is likely to be one of the best buys of the upcoming season. There are eight films, sold by subscription ($28 for evening performances, $20 for matinees), which include: A Delicate Balance, starring Katharine Hepburn, Kate Reid, Paul Scofield; Rhinoceros, starring Karen Black, Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder; Three Sisters, starring Alan Bates, Laurence Olivier; Luther, with Stacy Keach and Hugh Griffith; The Homecoming, with Cyril Cusack and Michael Jayston; The Iceman Cometh, with Lee Marvin, Frederic March and the late Robert Ryan; Lost In The Stars with Brock Peters; and Butley with Alan Bates and Jessica Tandy. Each film is shown on a Monday or Tuesday, four performances only. Directors of the films include Harold Pinter, Laurence Olivier, Tony Richardson and John Frankenheimer.

RECOMMENDED THIS MONTH

STATE OF SIEGE: The best film of the year is here! French director Costa - Gavras (who directed Z and The Confession) surpasses his previous efforts with this nerve-snapping thriller.

BETWEEN FRIENDS: Don Shebib’s new film is even better than his prizewinning Going Down The Road.