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Howard Da Silva
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Maria Wyeth, an ex-model and B-movie actress, strolls on the grounds of a mental hospital, recalling the traumatic events which led to her breakdown. She is married to an unfaithful, self-engrossed director, Carter Lane. Neglected by her husband, Maria is engaged in a series of one-night stands and becomes pregnant. Her husband divorces her, and she has an illegal abortion. Maria's only friend is B.Z., a homosexual movie producer. World weary, he tells Maria that he has discovered the meaning of life is nothing. He invites her to commit suicide with him. Written by
For a short while, in the days when it was still possible; director Frank Perry valiantly attempted the making of an American art film depicting existential despair in the European tradition of Bergman and Antonioni. "The Swimmer" and "Play It As It Lays" remain fine examples of his work but both found little support within the industry and unsurprisingly failed to reach audiences. While "The Swimmer" is available on video and DVD owing to the clout of Burt Lancaster, the superior "Play It As It Lays" has vanished without a trace. Occasionally copies do surface but always of poor quality.
In "Pretty Poison" the curious but clearly evident chemistry between Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins did not go unnoticed. In "Play It As It Lays" this odd affinity is elevated to the level where by merely looking at each other, the total understanding and empathy these characters possess is revealed. The relationship is extremely tender, while asexual. These are soul mates sharing a common despair, which each will deal with in different ways.
One can only surmise as to the source of this truly rare chemistry. Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins had both been attractive young performers who were being groomed for a Hollywood stardom that had little, if not nothing, to do with the interesting, somewhat different personalities behind the image. Weld was put through such vehicles as "Rock Rock Rock" and "Sex Kittens Go to College" while an uncomfortable looking Perkins did "Green Mansions" and "Tall Story". The astute Hitchcock, a master at utilizing actor's personalities would stamp Perkins career until the end by casting him in "Pyscho". Weld and Perkins would always be outsiders in a system which largely misunderstood them.
"Play It As It Lays" is one of the few films in which both Weld and Perkins seem totally comfortable in their roles. They play their parts with great ease and utter conviction. It's as if they are not acting at all; they simply are Maria Wyeth and B.Z.. Surely there's no higher praise for actors. Their final scene together is unparalleled.
Adam Roarke too, reveals a power and intelligence missing in his previous films amongst which had been biker movies much like "Angel Beach" which his character directs. It's as if director Frank Perry is consciously affording the actors a chance to do something they really want to do, in contrast to many of their previous roles. They respond with performances containing a core of truth making "Play It As It Lays" a fascinating film.
Joan Didion's novel has been faithfully adapted. The emptiness of affluent America, or more precisely California, finds expression in the jarringly edited, puzzle like assembled work. By setting this piece in the world of filmmaking Didion not only sheds light on the void in the individual's life, but on the barrenness of the American film making process itself; something that all connected with "Play It As It Lays" would have close knowledge of, and clearly suffered from.
If ever a movie needed to be resurrected and reappraised it's this genuine rarity.
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