Films

Steppe in the wrong direction

MARNI JACKSON May 31 1976
Films

Steppe in the wrong direction

MARNI JACKSON May 31 1976

Steppe in the wrong direction

THE BLUEBIRD Directed by George Cukor The Bluebird marks the first time that America and the Soviet Union have collaborated on a major movie project. After a drawn-out. troubled production, much of it spent in cultural collision on location in Russia, the result is a film that is a hybrid through and through and looney as a digital cuckoo clock. The film brings together a 19-jewel cast and two venerable classics, the 76-year-old director George Cukor (of My Fair Lady fame) and Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1909 fantasy-drama about a pair of children who pursue the bluebird of happiness in order to give the gift of a smile to a small, sick girl. Along the way, on a journey through various terrible and enchanting allegorical kingdoms, they are accompanied by the comforting presence of Light (played by Elizabeth Taylor, looking like a décolleté chandelier) and such friendly figures as Bread, Dog, Sugar (who sees good in every man) and Fire; all clad

in jumpsuits and vinyl capes. Their fantastic route takes them to see their dead grandparents, through the terrifying land of Night and into the glittering world of Luxury; finally to return home and find the Bluebird in their own backyard.

Some magic does muscle its way through, because Maeterlinck’s story has some wild enchanting elements and the children in the film (Patsy Kensit and

Todd Lookinland) are wonderful performers. But like the featherless chicken that America has just invented, the Bluebird is a strange ungamey bird. It’s a vision gone sublimely askew—the Grail Quest staged as an Ice Capades show. The film scuttles a bulging cargo of Russian and American talent: dancers from the Kirov Ballet Company, Will Geer from The Waltons playing the grandfather, Ava Gardner in the role of Luxury, Cicely Tyson as Cat and Jane Fonda as Night, in a getup that suggests a laminated oreo cookie. Some of the actors (Fonda is one) tried to make their roles believable but were defeated by, among other things, the children’s entourage of animal spirits and friendly objects which looks like a backup band for David Bowie, airlifted to a Baltic meadow and abandoned there. Even the Russian dancers are tripped up by a combination of hysterical makeup and prosaic lighting. And the costumes! The figure playing Sugar is garbed like a lacy intern, Milk like a sedated chorine and the Bluebirds like pigeons with streaky blue-dye jobs. When Father Time starts singing “You’re in the hands of fate” to a sea of babies in blue togas (playing unborn children), it’s like Monty Python, Tommy, and Myra Breckinridge all writhing together in That’s Entertainment, Part III.

Fairy tales ought to grant everyone an hour or so of honorary childhood—not this grown-up absurdity. MARNI JACKSON