Primarily a colorization and restoration house, Legend Films has been issuing a hodgepodge of major studio pictures on DVD, three of which I hadn’t seen since their original theatrical release. Bereft of extras, they appear to be struck from original prints (ironically not restored, of wavering optical and audio quality) at sell-through prices. Of the new titles, it was good to see Jacques Demy’s The Pied Piper (1972) rescued from limbo. Made directly after Donkey Skin (1970), it continues in his medieval fairy tale mode albeit without the grandeur and elegance of the earlier work. (Seeing it back in ‘72 at the age of fourteen, I was unimpressed and bored: released a year after Willard, I was hoping for less sociopolitical allegory and more rats.) 1960s pop star Donovan plays the countercultural title muse, but his pivotal character is overshadowed by a corrupt government presided over by Donald Pleasance, Roy Kinnear and John Hurt, whose personal greed, religious posturing and vanity override the needs of an overtaxed and restless people. Released at the height of the anti-Establishment movement, it served the mindset of its generation as much as it mirrors sundry current events and ills.
Set in the trendy inner sanctum of late 1970s encounter groups where narcissism overtakes self awareness, Bill Persky’s Serial (1980) is as safe as an episode of Love, American Style peppered with four-letter words, Sally Kellerman’s boobs and Lalo Shifrin’s quaint muzak score. (With some embarrassment, I confess the theme, “A Changing World,” rattled around in my head for days after.) It’s a quietly amusing time capsule of Marin County after the fall of The Sixties, where middle age and middle class values are perpetually analyzed by quack psychologists and individuals fearful of commitment. An intriguing companion piece to Phil Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1979), this slice of Left Coast lunacy includes Tuesday Weld, Martin Mull, Bill Macy, a coked-out therapist played by Peter Bonerz, the woefully undervalued Barbara Rhodes, and Christopher Lee — Christopher Lee! — as a gay biker named ‘Skull.’
Released a year before The Exorcist, Waris Hussein’s The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972) uses spare genre trappings to explore the deterioration of middle-class/white American credibility and values during Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement. Joel (Perry King) distances himself from sister Shirley MacLaine’s lofty Upper East Side world, opting for Manhattan’s low-income Puerto Rican neighborhoods and the powerful influence of a young Hispanic and suspected murderer. Tighter direction and a better script are sorely needed here, as the picture seems hesitant to embrace its own hefty themes of xenophobia and shifting cultures. Still it’s worth a look, because even in those weak moments there’s enough percolating between the lines to hold one’s attention.
Labels: Capsule reviews, Jacques Demy