Friday, 25 November 2011

Friday Night Film: The Loved One

It's hard work being the dominant commercial force in an artform, you know. Hollywood might always have a great white fake smile plastered on its perfect features, but its history is a series of desperate fights to stay on top, whether it's against censorship, anti monopoly commissions, television, the internet, illegal downloads, etc, etc.

In the sixties, however, Hollywood were up against the counter culture - the youth explosion that made them seem irrelevant and out of touch and threatened one of their most lucrative demographics. To try and get back in the game, they did what Hollywood does best - they threw money at the problem. So, they hired hip directors (Tony Richardson), challenging writers (Terry Southern), covered odd and offbeat source material (Evelyn Waugh), got in stars who were prepared to get a Beatle cut and send themselves up (Roddy McDowall), and made multi million dollar flops('The Loved One').

Based on an already satirical novella by cantankerous genius Waugh, 'The Loved One' billed itself as 'the movie with something to offend everyone'. It's subject, loosely, is the American way of death - the funeral industry characterised by incredible, ingenious, tasteless casino / theme park LA cemeteries like Forest Lawn and its fictional equivalent, Whispering Glades.

The plot is too involved (and inconsequential) to get too hung up about, especially as the film is really a series of vignettes satirising Hollywood, agony aunts, science, big business, organised religion, advertising and other examples of everyday U.S pop culture needing a bit of a boot up the flabby arse. Ironically, in its scattershot approach to rather smugly satirising everything the film becomes an example of the sort of thing its seemingly against - expensive, garish, pushy, self-satisfied, crammed with stars and content, but with very little meaning. It's a fascinating ride, though, with some jaw dropping moments, most of which feature Rod Steiger, who takes his usual intensity to some very odd places indeed.

Aside from Steiger, the film has roles for John Gielgud, Roddy McDowall, Robert Morse, Robert Morley, Jonathan Winters (two roles, in fact), James Coburn, Paul Williams, Lionel Stander, Barbara Nicholls, Dana Andrews, Liberace and Anjanette Comer, a rather good actress whose 'interesting' love life apparently kept her from making it big. Happily, Hollywood has now removed the morality proviso from their star's contracts...

Here's an extract. It will horrify, then annoy, then disgust you. You have been warned.

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