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Elizabeth Taylor reportedly said those words to her director Griffi when she came on the set the day after she left Burton for their first divorce. So with that mindset she went to work on one of her most unusual, daring and controversial films. From the moment 'The Diver's Seat' begins you know you are in a strange place. In Europe the movie was called 'Idendikit' so, with two names tagged to it thus making it schizophrenic from the first it easily falls into the realm of the ambiguous art film genre of the late 60's and early 70's. It's star, Elizabeth Taylor, appears here in one of her most remote and dangerous roles. She plays Lise a woman who is consumed by insanity and the desire to find the ultimate lover, the be all and end all of boyfriends you might say. As the film opens you are presented with a shattered view of a woman on the edge of something terrible. The camera moves past bald mannequins in a disjointed way. Is this Lise's view of others or is it a reflection of her ultimate fate? Upon being told to take a holiday from work after causing a scene in the office the film opens with her preparations to take flight to Rome. The film jump cuts from past to present as the police in Rome try to reconstruct her final fatal holiday in terrorist gripped Rome. Even Rome comes off as off kilter. This is not the Rome of Audrey Hepburn or Marcello Mastroianni but a city one hardly recognizes from the lack of typical filming locations one associates with 'Made In Rome!' movies. Director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi succeeds in presenting a uniquely Italian cinema verite film of the Muriel Spark novel. This is a unique film and very much of it's day. Its non-linear, experimental, almost documentary style will be hard to get into for any one not used to movies of this sort. But it is well worth the effort. So strange and challenging a film it is that it left the opening night audience at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival in stunned silence. The cast is well chosen and gives some oddly memorable performances. Ian Bannan as the macrobiotic sex-nut who tires to pick up Lise on the plane to Rome seems almost as mad as she is. It is a wickedly off kilter wild-eyed performance. The charming and always wonderful Mona Washbourne is sweetly touching as the woman who befriends the mad Lise and in doing so leads her to meet the man of her dreams. But the glue that holds it all together is provided by Miss Taylor who tops off her short list of insane characters from Susanna Drake to Catherine Holly with this daring and shocking portrait of Lise. She opens up as an actress that at the time would have been unthinkable to most of her contemporaries from the old M.G.M. days. That's one of the wonderful things about her film career. She came from an era in old Hollywood where she was trained and groomed to be glossy and perfect. But as times changed so did she and in doing so became much more than an MGM glamour girl, she became an actress with guts. In 'The Driver's Seat' she shows her chops as an actress and her willingness to accept challenges in her roles and in Lise she found a great one. One stunning image of her is when in her loud madwoman dress and raccoon painted eyes she challenges the airport security to frisk her. In that scene she seems totally there, totally gone, and totally in control as an actress.
I confess to being rather bemused by the Muriel Spark novel this was based
on, but the Giuseppe Patroni Griffi film is seductive indeed. It offers the
last significant role for that most iconic screen presence, Elizabeth
Taylor. As in her two late 60s films for Joseph Losey, Taylor in The
Driver's Seat is both the apotheosis and the wreck of the grand Hollywood
diva she once was. She plays - like Katharine Hepburn in Summertime or
Vivien Leigh in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone - a neurotic middle-aged
woman adrift in Italy. Only her goal here is not Sex but Death. She comes in
search of a man who will ritually tie her up, stab and kill
Cruel fun has been poked at the (admittedly) hideous wardrobe Taylor sports throughout this film. Proof, if any were needed, that film critics on the whole do not read books. Every detail of these garish clothes has been copied faithfully from the novel. Her vile dress sense is meant as an outward sign of Taylor's disintegrating psyche, and her desperate need to stand out form the drab and over-regimented world that she (like most of the film's viewers) is forced to inhabit.
The same is true of the often absurd dialogue. "When I diet, I diet - and when I orgasm, I orgasm!" That's how Taylor fends off an amorous businessman (Ian Bannen) who tries both to lure her into bed and to convert her to a macrobiotic diet. If you watch The Driver's Seat with your eyes open, it becomes clear that the whole film takes place inside a mind that has lost all reason. Realism was never the aim here, so it's poor logic to gripe when Realism is not the result.
Every shot, in fact, is stylised to the level of a dream. The opening - where Taylor prowls through a gallery of naked store mannequins. Her shopping trip with an elderly widow (Mona Washbourne) - which winds through a quasi-surreal labyrinth of mirrors and white walls. The final deadly 'climax' - in a phantom Villa Borghese, conjured out of mist and moonlight. The camerawork by Vittorio Storaro seems to drain all colour out of the landscape, until Taylor and her iridescent shawls are the last remaining sign of life.
It was all too much for critics and public back in 1974. Nowadays, the extreme alienation that oozes from every frame - and a socio-political background of blank-faced consumerism, terrorist attacks and rabid police and airport security - may well strike more of a cord. It's no accident that Andy Warhol turns up as a corrupt diplomat. The Driver's Seat is truly a film for the modern age.
I disagree with the reviewers here whom simply write this off as a bad movie. "Identikit", or as it is known on the deceptively retitled US videotape release, "Psychotic", is a film that requires the viewer to think about what is happening, studying the disjointed events which gradually come to an ambiguous conclusion (which slightly echoes "Blow-Up" I might add). It is obvious that every detail of this film is deliberate and well crafted. Liz Taylor fans used to her more mainstream movies may be a bit put-off. If you like offbeat dramas from this time period that require a little brainwork then you may dig it. If you like having everything spelled out for you then you may find it "bad". I dug it!
This obscure movie, which has been so unfairly panned by the critics of its time, actually manages to deliver what I believe was the intention, a disintegrating world of a psychotic woman. As viewers, we are somewhere in the middle of two layers of realities, the one being the compulsive psyche of the main character, Lise, portrayed by Liz Taylor, and the other one being the absurd and incoherent events in her surroundings. I quite like this film, I had expected a B-movie with second rate production values, but I was at least partly mistaken, the cinematography is effective in painting the psychotic state of mind, example; Lise turning to her right, framed in the left side of the screen, when addressing someone. Another scene, where Lise is attempting to get in touch with a woman she befriended just recently, who may be stuck in the lavatory from some illness, we see Lise at the same time completely absorbed by her own mirror image, disconnected from any real emotional concern over the lady that might be in peril. Maybe some think these are cheap means of making a weird and psychotic setting, still the movie makes the viewer access the process of disintegration of Lise. Furthermore, some scenes are chillingly before its time regarding terror events and crimes; terror do pop up everywhere these days, and maybe a modern day public can better identify themselves with a confused and disintegrating persona as Lise. We can barely understand our own feelings and our driving forces - how can we then understand the complexity of the human society in terms of terror and conflicts?
I have been watching and enjoying Elizabeth Taylor films all my life and this is one of her best. I think this film is one of the most underrated films of all time. It is flawless in every aspect...story, directing, set, music, clothes, and of course acting. The beautiful and talented actress Elizabeth Taylor does not walk through this one. She gives it her all, as well as does everyone else involved in this work of Art. This is not a spoon fed piece of sugar, rather a serious and artistic look at the psychology of a "person".
This strange little film has a small but devoted cult following, due to it's haunting atmosphere, obscure storyline, and a hypnotic performance by the Great Elizabeth Taylor. She stars as Lise, a spinster who makes a decision to go on a holiday, a trip that will be her last, to Rome. Dressed in a psychedelic outfit made up of every color in the rainbow, she is a peacock, using colors to attract a certain man. A man that will fulfill her darkest wish. The viewer must wait until the end of the film to find out just exactly what the crazed Lise is looking for. The ending is pretty gruesome, and not expected. But before we get there, Taylor, as Lise, gives us a guided tour of a very different looking Rome, as well as a tour of her own warped and desperate psyche. This film is what art-house cinema is all about. As far away from Hollywood as you can hope to get, there has never been a film quite like this one. Taylor exudes such an intense feeling of loneliness here, so much so, that some will find this to be a somewhat depressing film experience. But this is not a 'feel-good' film, although it is filled with some truly hilarious one-liners that you might find yourself repeating with friends who you watch this with. Some critics call this Taylors worst film, but that is utterly preposterous. It doesn't have the glossy, expensive look of her earlier Hollywood films, but then again this is a much darker and more serious film than say, "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof". Also she isn't as young and beautiful here, but if she were than the tale would not be so sad, and the desperation of this woman would make no sense. 'Identikit' is filled with familiar actors, all in totally memorable performances. Ian Bannon is hilarious as one of Lise's companions. Guido Mannari, a familiar presence in countless Italian exploitation movies is cast here as a lecherous mechanic who attempts to rape Taylor in a car. His performance is over-the-top sleazy. And veteran actress Mona Washbourne is priceless as the impromptu shopping companion of Lise, forever looking for the perfect gift for her nephew. Strangely, the shopping center sequence with Washbourne and Taylor, is one of my favorite scenes in all cinema. I don't know why, but I never get tired of listening to the strange conversation between the two eccentric characters as they wander around that modern-looking Rome shopping mall. And it is fitting that Andy Warhol has a cameo here, as both this film, and Warhol, are bizarre entities indeed. Also worth mentioning is the dark, moody background music, which compliments the feeling of the film perfectly. 'Identikit' is not for people who enjoy mainstream cinema. If 'Pretty Woman' is your idea of a good film, then you will most likely find this dark, murky film deplorable. But for fans of the precisely weird, i recommend this little-known gem. It is available as a 'cheapo' DVD. I paid around $5 dollars for it. Don't expect anamorphic widescreen here. In fact this looks like it was copied directly from a video tape. But for this film, it is somehow fitting. And I am grateful, and surprised that it is available at all. And incidentally... Do you have a gun?? Because if you did, you could shoot me...
Elizabeth Taylor gives a stunning performance as a disturbed spinster who is looking for a man, but not for the reasons you may think. It's a bizarre movie, but also a very good one thanks to Taylor's excellent portrayal of a troubled woman about to go over the edge. Based on a novel by Muriel Spark.
Elizabeth Taylor stars as a beautiful, but disturbed woman who arrives in Rome to find a lover who will agree to murder her. Based on the novel by Muriel Spark, THE DRIVER'S SEAT is generally considered to be Taylor's all-time worst film, but I disagree, and not just because I'm a huge Elizabeth Taylor fan(which I am), but because this film really has something to say about the hypocrisy, corruption, and violence that exists in our society today. I'm not saying that it isn't exploitative or played for the sensational, because it is and it bites off a little bit more than it can chew, but this movie has some depth and meaning. Taylor really works at her role, and as usual she pulls it off. It's not great, classic cinema, but you could do much worse.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have yet to understand why this movie would be called "Driver's Seat" or
"Identikit." It didn't seem to have anything to do with either of those,
but Elizabeth Taylor certainly was "Psychotic." That's what I'll call the
film. Or maybe "Rather Disturbing."
That's what I though this movie was. At first viewing one wants to hate it, perhaps because it's difficult to understand. I hated "Terminator 3" because I couldn't comprehend all the senseless violence. I also couldn't comprehend why the people in front of me let their young children stay, even though they were terrified, and why the guy behind me felt he could have a cell phone conversation during the whole film. Maybe I'm prejudiced. Anyway, I watched "Psychotic" and couldn't figure out why the things that happened did. I supposed that Elizabeth Taylor was so starved for some sort of attention that she felt she had to go to desperate lengths. She also had to rat her hair up enormously high and dress like some sort of psychedelic Muppet. I could get past that--she's trying to be noticed, and it works. Everyone makes comments about how bizarre she looks, and she makes such an ass of herself that everyone remembers her plainly. That certainly helps the police in this movie. Then there is the sex angle. Everyone wants to have sex with her, even the security woman at the airport gets grabby. (Of course, we're treated to a close up of Elizabeth's chest, with the security woman sensuously untying her scarf, etc. etc. etc.) For some reason, Elizabeth Taylor refuses to let anyone actually get anywhere. As she tells Ian Bannen, "When I diet, I diet. When I orgasm, I orgasm." He's speechless, as who wouldn't be. Then there's the disturbing scene where the garage attendant tries to get his paws on her, only to have her run down the road screaming hysterically.
It seems that she has to find the right person--when she sees him, she'll know. She sees him at the beginning of the film, but doesn't meet him until the very end. (He sees her and runs away. Literally. She has that effect on some people.) Telling what happens would be considered a spoiler, so I don't guess I'll elaborate on that. I just thought it was somewhat sickening, in a compulsively watchable way.
There were also several little things that made no sense, such as Andy Warhol giving Elizabeth a book, and then refusing to speak to her later. He does say that he must see the sheik. Okay--who are you and why do you need so see him? We'll never know, and I don't think Andy did either. The old lady that becomes friends with Elizabeth, only to vanish completely is another curiosity.
To summarize--I watched it, I may watch it again, but I don't know why.
Elizabeth Taylor is one of the most beautiful and exciting actresses ever
grace the screen. In this film she exemplifies these qualities, along with
her talent for portraying a woman of wild abandon and audaciousness. Her
work in this film will remain with the viewer long after the credits roll.
The film is almost impossible to describe. I saw it not long after seeing Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie...and I must say that I sensed some similarities between the two. While Bunuel allows mundane situations to evolve into surreal jokes and absurdities, and injects social commentary, The Driver's Seat portrays surrealism literally, in the form of a psychotic character who appears ridiculous and unintelligible, but in fact mirrors the chaos and violence of the society in which she lives.
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