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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.
This film, as the previous reviewers have said, is a real gem, namely for
two reasons. First off, it is basically a character study of an individual
who has been consumed by the lifestyle which she has adopted for herself.
the part of this tortured person, Tuesday Weld gives an exceptional
performance. Her body language and facial expressions all convey the
of a person lost in this world that she has come to loathe. Anthony Perkins
is also excellent in his role of B.Z. and he, and Weld counteract with each
The other main reason why this film is so intriguing, is the way it is edited and pieced together. The viewer basically goes from one scene to the next without any serious concern for continuity. Because of this fractured, choppy approach to the storytelling, some really impressive sequences are pulled off simply, yet effectively. There is one particularly impressive sequence involving Weld's character driving down a freeway, while a camera above pulls back to show the twisted, snake-like formation of the southern California freeway system. There is also the final scene, with it's haunting final message, which is certain to linger in one's mind days after seeing the film. Indeed, a very unique and special piece.
This was a gut-wrenching book you could not imagine being filmed. Maria is a fractured character, and the narrative is fractured to reflect her disintegration. Tuesday Weld gives the performance of her career, and Anthony Perkins achieves fully realized despair as BZ with his bottle of Seconal ever at the ready. With the dislocating changes of scene, Maria driving down the highway shooting at road signs, the back-room abortion with a chilling Chuck McCann, this is a hard film to take in at one sitting, as the book demanded more than one reading.
The movie Play It as It Lays is, admittedly, not everyone's cup of tea. Even the book--as much as I liked it--was a hard sell to friends and family; most, especially those living outside the Southern California forcefield, simply could not grasp the essential Los Angeles flavor of Didion's dry economical language. The language of the Industry is spot-on (for a change) as are the depictions of the unusual alliances and estrangements of the characters in the film. One person I know who hated the film complained that it was too "faggy" and not like the real Hollywood at all (this person lives in Tucson); the B.Z. and Maria relationship at the heart of this movie may seem bizarre and pointless to auslanders, but it certainly reminded me of real life in LA circa 1972. Also of note is Tammy Grimes' performance as B.Z.'s wife--she got so many of the good lines ("Oh God my face--I can really see a difference"; "in what?"; "skipping my Lazslo for one day.") This movie should be available in VHS/DVD; does anyone know why it's been ignored? I'd love to know.
After having seen this film on Sundance several times, I will now have
to read the book. This film is an excellent portrayal of a
career/mid-life crisis, in its most existential form.
Not to be morbid, but if you ever read in the headlines about someone who "has it all" and just committed suicide,(and you are still mystified by this) you should watch this film. It is a version of "The Bell Jar" as experienced in Hollywood. Tuesday Weld and Tony Perkins are perfectly cast as two disaffected souls; tired of work, film, travel, meaningless trips to Vegas.
The photography is erratic and juxtaposed upon different layers of Weld's confused life. She goes to get an abortion, and the friend driving her starts talking about what sports car he should buy.
There are some beautiful scenes in the desert where her ex-husband is filming. The starkness, and randomness of life there are palpable. The relationship with her ex is a bit jumbled- but then, so is real life; nothing is clearly delineated; the dialogue is evasive and ominous.
The scene with Perkins and Weld alone are worth watching. She lulls him to sleep, talking about making preserves and relish, as he finally succumbs to the Seconal he carries around. The film, however, is not over-the-top; it is a believable account of people's lives- they just happen to be living in Hollywood, their lives are insular, but still not protected from despair. 9/10
I was 18 when I saw Frank Perry's Play It As It Lays during its brief
opening run. It affected me powerfully. Blew me out like very few films
ever have, actually. Completely intoxicating. I stumbled out into the
afternoon sunlight afterwards rapt and bewildered, stunned and
delighted, thoroughly alive. But in the years since I've never once met
a single person who's even seen it, and the whole experience has become
dreamlike and lost, a memory I'm no longer sure of.
However I did pounce on Joan Didion's blistering short novel when I found it. What a fine book! No wonder the effect of the film was so profound, telling that cruel, utterly remorseless story. (And of course I fell in love, fanboy-style, with Tuesday Weld, or perhaps more truly with Maria Wyeth, the doomed and heart-breakingly aware character she inhabited.)
But rather than attempt to analyse a film that plunged me in way out of my depth when I saw it 34 years ago, I simply want to add my voice to those of earlier and more capable reviewers calling for its release on DVD. It's exactly the sort of madly brilliant one-off that cries out for Criterion treatment. Well, mutters grumpily for it anyway.
And I'd most certainly like to recommend that if you ever do get the chance to see it, make sure you do. It might have vanished, but it always was an exceptionally interesting film, one of the very great "small" ones. Perhaps the best film Robert Altman never made.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Play It As It Lays was made during the ambivalent post 60s culture
revolution and reflects that era with characters who don't seem to know
what to do with their successful and frivolous lives of blank meaning.
Indulgent and indulged, Tuesday Weld as Maria, is an angle face star
whose marriage to a celebrated edgy director, Carter Lang (Adam Roarke)
is over, but she is unable to cut to cord and move on. Her relationship
with in the closet gay friend, BZ (Tony Perkins) is made all the more
pathetic because he is a eunuch to her needy selfishness and his own
kept situation in a sham marriage. He eventually commits suicide by an
overdose of Seconol on her bed, while she watches and cradles his head
on a pillow as he succumbs. Maria wanders from the set of her husband's
film, to the motel where the cast is quartered, to Las Vegas casino
high roller suites, to tennis courts of Hollywood, never finding a
wherefore or why. She is a lost little girl in the reality of the film
making business. Her nothing existence is a challenge to the distracted
woman whose only response to life is "why not?" Maria is the supreme
victim to her own situations, e.g., failed marriage to genius film
director, young daughter in mental institution on shock treatments, and
parents who didn't love her, all of which she is more than aware that
she created and perhaps knowingly instigated their failure. The game is
just to play whatever hand is dealt. Maria's questioning of the game
only lead to her detachment in flashback bits which are meant to convey
a European style of film making that is now taken for granted. With
voice overs between Maria and various characters, as if interviews were
taking place with her, some of the existential angst and pointlessness
of her life are revealed.
Weld is one of the most underrated actresses of the era. The strength of this performance is in the understated quietness in her movement and in the flawless, cuteness of her face most often without makeup. Weld was one of the few actresses able to carry off the natural look as well. Best however is her partnership with Tony Perkins in a wonderful give and take performance between two colliding neurotics, one sublime, the other Gothic. They ying and yang with a tempo that is pleasure to watch. Perhaps the film is too subtle for contemporary audiences to fully appreciate today, but in hindsight of older audiences, this film becomes a marker of the lost notion of 60s freedom, youthful ideals grown up and onward, and the disillusionment with the post-flower power commercialism that ruled society of the volatile peace and love generation. With a great supporting cast performances by Tammy Grimes rounds out a film rarely seen, but when viewed, is worthy of all attention.
Life in Hollwood in the early 1970s--an actress, any actress, rich and
famous or not, is exemplified in existential angst in 'play it as it
lays.' A compelling character study, Tuesday Weld plays Maria
(pronounced Mar EYE'a) Wyeth, an actress much like herself. It is
difficult to see where the actress and character begin and end, she is
that good in this film. Maria drives her yellow Stingray from one Los
Angeles freeway into another only to kill time because she can't kill
Her film industry friends are LA's idle rich who have little else but money. Only a gay friend, played by Tony Perkins, truly cares about her. Maria searches relentlessly for meaning in a place that has none, although it resembles a utopia. The sun is always shining, everyone drives a German car and sips cocktails at their pool or Malibu beach home.
If Albert Camus, the French existentialist of the absurd, had lived in Hollywood, he would have written her story.
Back in my college days I remember buying musician Matthew Sweet's
classic rock album, "Girlfriend". Who graces this rock testament of
unrequited love and heartbreak? Actress Tuesday Weld, wrapped in a fur
jacket, beautifully shot at a California canyon location. I had never
heard of her, although i was quite enamored of her beauty. Then, a
month later I saw Weld in action in the film, "Looking for Mr.Goodbar".
She played Diane Keaton's train wreck sister. She was incredible. A
month ago, I saw Tuesday Weld in another incredible performance. The
movie is called, "Play it as it Lays".
The opening sequence is stunning. Weld circles the outside garden of a mental institution, thinking of how she got there in the first place. No music, no histrionics, no special effects. Just the image of this beautiful, surprisingly small woman contemplating her life. Images of Maria, Weld's character, driving down a California freeway, shooting a gun at various street signs in an act of defiance. It is clear that Maria is no ordinary Beach Boy image of the Califronia Girl. Maria is very much her own person. A rebel. An angry young woman. It is not only an image of a woman losing her grip but one of a woman claiming her right for independence and for some kind of freedom. Clearly, this part was made for Tuesday Weld. The actress that playwright/actor Sam Sheperd called, "The Female Brando".
Weld is not the only great talent in this film. Director Frank Perry challenges the viewer with a film that provides no easy answers. Perry shows Los Angeles for what it can really be at times. Dense, loud, claustriphobic. Showing the smog and cloudiness that sometimes covers the sunny atmosphere and that often overcomes the land itself. Many critics panned the film for its quick cutting and fast paced direction, but this is important theme to the movie itself. It clearly shows what Maria is seeing of LA and how her life jumps from one incident to another. It shows Maria on her journey, even though it has no clear beginning or end. It is one drama quickly jumping to the other. Perry does this beautifully and with a clear intention for the story.
Maria is a person who is trying to question why things are so wrong with her life and the way she lives it. The other characters, during the film, at times mock Maria's quest for self investigation, for even thinking that she will find and understand her journey for truth. Perry is trying to show the importance of a person going on a journey for self discovery. He tries to show how the people surrounding us sometimes judge in order to justify their own empty lives. Maria may survive this journey, but there may be a price to pay.
Weld gives a performance of such depth, subtlety and nuance it is impossible to stop watching. I keep remembering Weld lying in bed as she discusses her pregnancy with her husband,and the possibility of an abortion. Weld doesn't cry, yell, she doesn't move at all, as she lies there almost perfectly still. But i remember the sadness on her face as she desperately tries to find reason, some kind of solution to the problem. As her husband beats her down emotionally, threatening her almost that he will take her daughter from her, we see how she is left heartbroken at her failed attempt at a resoulution. The vision of Weld, lying in bed, being so helpless but TRYING to resolve the situation is beautiful but ultimately very sad.
Simply put, Tuesday Weld's performance is a stunner. It never stops from film's beginning to end. Perry films her as a modern day female James Dean. Her blonde hair whipping in the air, as she speeds through LA on her defiant journey. Once again, comparisons of Dean and Brando abound. One scene has her pulling out a loaded gun, shooting at empty cans on her husband's film set. It is an image of freedom and of rage that is exciting to watch.
I know that the Sundance Channel has showed the movie a few times. This is no excuse that the movie is not on DVD yet. Well, after all, the movie was never released on VHS. It is definitely worthy of a Criterion Collection edition. It would be wonderful to get a behind the scenes look at the film, which is wishful thinking. And i think it would be incredible to get an interview with Tuesday Weld, although she doesn't strike me as someone to talk about her past on film. There are countless websites about the film, all over the internet. Most of these posing the same question as to why the movie is not available on DVD. These people are quite frustrated, as am i, that such an important film is not given its due. Perhaps after, what, thirty years, it is still hard to take for some viewers.
So, this leads me back to where i began, i suppose. Maybe seeing her on album covers, right? I don't want anyone to underestimate this incredible actress. It is clear that she has been an influence on many actresses, from Jessica Lange to Winona Ryder. Her acting brings a uniqueness to the craft, much in the way Jane Fonda and Faye Dunaway did in the early 70s. It is clear that Tuesday Weld rightfully deserves the same recognition as these actresses did in their day. We need the DVD release of Play it as it Lays and other Tuesday Weld films, so that she does receive this recognition. Others may not remember, but i for one, will never forget her.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Play It as It Lays" impressed me at first viewing. For a decade, I
waited to read a thumbnail review of it in "Sight and Sound." When I
finally read one, the review disparaged the movie I most want to have
on a DVD. Too bad.
Frank Perry directed several terrific films, including "Monsignor", "Diary of a Mad Housewife", and "The Swimmer." This is a movie I want to study in detail. I think it might belong on my top ten list; it is a faultless film version with a screen play by Joan Didion of her outstanding minimalist novel. The attention to nuance and detail reflects the same attention in the novel.
Every actor brings a subtle touch to his or her role. The editing is faultless. The cinematography by Jordan Croneweth is as matchless as his work in "Blade Runner" and "Handle with Care". Some think that Tuesday Weld merely played herself, but she has told us she is not the nihilist Maria is.
I recall with immense gratitude performances by Tammy Grimes, Adam Roarke, and Anthony Perkins, but everyone in this film is top notch I think this is the classic film about the moral and existential corruption of much American life. I will write more when I get to watch the film again. That final scream haunts me.
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