This is particularly impressive considering that many critics now regard this as the third great era of American cinema. I think this is because it is a truly frank film that is difficult to pin down and compartmentalise, and also because, as I will discuss, it is a work both in and outside of the moment it outwardly purports to represent San Francisco, A particularly strong example of this is the extended first scene between Archie and his recently divorced wife, Polo Shirley Knight. The still simmering domestic tension between the couple finds an apt symbol in the tightly packed home-baked cookies that Polo brings as a peace offering and that Archie subsequently hurls at her back in a wonderful conclusion we see Archie nibble some crumbs when Polo departs the scene. Directors and Direction , New York: It provides a significant transition between classical narration, European art cinema and the emerging sensibility and spatio-temporal dynamics of New Hollywood.
Petulia is no exception to this patented anti-romanticism, but encounters this sensibility in a more direct fashion. Lester is himself very candid about the deficiencies of what he found: Petulia is a film that is both in and out of time, a product of a particular moment in history and also somewhat detached from it. For example, a promotional film made to frame and somewhat conceptualise the film, Petulia: It has lost its sense of magic and transformation. Petulia creates around her a frenzy of activity to escape something in her life. The Viking Press, , A particularly strong example of this is the extended first scene between Archie and his recently divorced wife, Polo Shirley Knight. Although Lester and his scriptwriters have stripped the novel of its expressed point-of-view — it is told, somewhat matter-of-factly through the perspective of Archie in the novel — this has not diminished the human qualities of the film, but rather spread them more equitably across it. Soderbergh is one of a number of filmmakers who have championed the work of Lester. Archie Bollen Scott and newly married socialite Petulia Danner Christie are both dissatisfied with their lives. This is best illustrated by the slightly vague sense of temporal disorientation when and where are we? With all this flower power on the surface, the cynicism underneath was so strong […] In a year, the Haight-Ashbury scene had gone rotten. However, that very combination of impulse and lack of resistance leads them to mutually reject their chance at a meaningful relationship. Directors and Direction , New York: But whereas the earlier films are preoccupied with rendering that culture, commemorating it, or are at least enmeshed within it, Petulia shows how such a scene — now dominant in many superficial accounts of this era — can be somewhat peripheral, just part of the fabric of its idealised moment. See, also, the effusive and thoughtful letter from David Lean reflecting on his viewing of Petulia included as an appendix in Sinyard. Although Petulia is often a slow-burn rather than a white-hot melodrama, this scene does foreground the theme of incipient, often domestic, violence that ranges across the film. This fraught sequence relies heavily on how each of the characters relate to the space and objects around them. And in the split, in the loss of connective tissue between man and woman, between one generation and another, they all lose the power to regenerate. This final deferral is either another cop-out or a weary acceptance of the true nature of things, as well as the shifting values and possibilities offered by both American cinema and society. Although these characters are no less positive than others found in the film, Lester deflates their importance and much-publicised idealism particularly within a scene set in a hour supermarket. In our minds, it had become totally false, and the innocence was being used. Lester manages to give a sense of both what the couple once saw in each other and of the elements that ultimately tore their relationship to shreds, in this intense but deflating scene. Although Lester claims he shifted locations due to the visual noisiness and dynamism he found in Los Angeles, his film is more attentive to and anchored by the specificities of place than the novel which is very spare and almost non-descript in this regard.
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