Thursday, July 10, 2014

LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR 1977

In hindsight, it seems both ominous and prophetic that Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Saturday Night Fever were released within months of each another at the tail end of 1977 (October and December, respectively). These films brought a somber, reflective conclusion to a year which began with the release of George Lucas' escapist Star Wars.
Diane Keaton as Theresa Dunn
No one could have known it at the time, but Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Saturday Night Fever sounded the dissonant, disco-beat death-knell tolling the end of the '70s and the demise of the sexual revolution. The looming specter of AIDS only serving to make Looking for Mr. Goodbar's dispiriting linking of sex and death feel positively prescient.
Both of these films embodied attitudes which stood as barbed provocation to the 1970s in general, and the utopian promise of sexual liberation in particular. The hopeful promise that drugs, free love, sexual exploration, feminism, group therapy, hedonism, the new morality, and porno-chic were the self-fulfillment remedies for the restrictive repressiveness of the past. Meanwhile, on a somewhat minor, but no less catastrophic cultural scale cinematically-speaking, the blockbuster success of Star Wars signaled the waning days of major movie studios being interested in even making adult, challenging films like Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
When, in 1976, I saw Martin Scorsese’s trenchant urban nightmare Taxi Driver, I thought then that I had seen the most depressing film the '70s had to offer. Clearly I hadn’t reasoned on what 65-year-old writer/director Richard Brooks (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, In Cold Blood) had up his sleeve in bringing Judith Rossner’s controversial 1975 bestseller Looking for Mr. Goodbar to the screen. Without a doubt, the feel-bad movie of 1977.
Inspired by the gruesome 1973 real-life murder of New York schoolteacher/singles bar habitué, Roseann Quinn, Brooks’ Looking for Mr. Goodbar is part opaque character study, part sociosexual thriller. It chronicles (with provocative moral ambiguity), the confused emancipation / dissociation of Theresa Dunn (Diane Keaton): gifted teacher of deaf children by day, by night, pill-popping, singles bar-hopper salving her scars – literal and psychological – through submersion in the twilight world of detached, casual-sex encounters with anonymous, increasingly unsavory partners.
Theresa’s through-the-looking-glass (darkly) journey is largely a reactive one. Her romantic skepticism, a result of an over-idealized fling with an emotionally-abusive college professor (Alan Feinstein); her lack of desire for children, a dual response to her sister’s multiple abortions and her own fear of passing on congenital scoliosis. Her determined need for independence, most assuredly a backlash against the stifling life options proffered by her bellicose father (Richard Kiley), who would have Theresa settle down with a nice Catholic boy, cranking out one baby after another like her kid sister, Brigid (Laurie Prange).
That Theresa’s emancipation ultimately takes the form of a paradoxical dual existence ("Saint Theresa by day and swinging Terry by night.”), signals not only her unresolved inner conflicts, but underscore a point I think is germane to the appreciation of  Looking for Mr. Goodbar as something more complex and infinitely smarter than a simplistic moral cautionary tale about the dangers awaiting single women in the big, bad city.
It sheds light on the fact that the “New Morality” of the '70s did absolutely nothing to minimize or reconfigure the sexual double-standard. In spite of the newfound freedoms of the era, women were still viewed in terms of Madonna/whore. Their bodies and reproductive rights, open-forum landscapes for religious, politico-social debate; their very independence rendering them more vulnerable than ever as targets of male sexual aggression.
By way of example: most movie critics at the time blamed Theresa's fate on her reckless behavior. As though death were a foregone conclusion or patriarchal retribution for the sexually  promiscuous female. Many weighed in on how self-destructive the character was, or how she harbored a death wish, but I don't recall a single critic placing the blame where it belonged: on her violent, mentally unstable rapist/murderer. 
Teaser ad from The Hollywood Reporter - 1977
When I saw Looking for Mr. Goodbar at the Regency Theater in San Francisco the first weekend of its opening, I was just a sidelines observer to the sexual revolution. A 20-year-old virgin attending college in one of the most progressive cities in the world; I neither drank nor smoked, didn’t partake of drugs, and had yet to set foot in a disco. But the era was so alive and abuzz with change, excitement, and energy, even a Catholic-reared, late-bloomer like me walked around in a near-constant haze of sensual distraction. Honestly, San Francisco in the '70s was so stimulating an environment, you would have sworn the city's fog was at least 50% amyl nitrate.
Richard Gere as Tony Lo Porto
I think it was precisely my sidelines status which contributed to my taking note of signs of battle fatigue in the sexual revolution. What had started out as a cultural movement of joy and self-discovery had, by 1977, transmogrified into something quite different. The sexual revolution had become a commoditized, cynically co-opted wave of sex merchandising and lifestyle branding that exposed the unspoken lie behind the rhetoric of sexual freedom and liberation. The lie (or perhaps the naïve hope) being that sex was not intimacy, human physical contact bore no psychological or spiritual consequence, and that we as humans were not profoundly affected by its lack. What led me to this conclusion was the odd phenomenon of getting a good look at the faces of all the high-profile hedonists of my generation. John Holmes, Marilyn Chambers, Hugh Hefner, Linda Lovelace...they all looked like hell. Honestly, they all had the look of hollowed-out pod people.

Surely, something beyond drug use accounted for the glazed, dead eyes staring out from the all those glossy sex magazines like Playboy, Viva, and Hustler. Was there a reason suburban swingers always looked so vacant and debauched? Why was it, whenever I passed by the doors of singles bars, nobody in them looked particularly happy? If the new morality was as joyous and life-affirming as pop culture and youth media kept assuring me, why did its practitioners look so cheerless?
Something told me that the enraptured lyrics (and moans) of all those disco songs weren't telling the whole story.
The '70s: the era of sexual revolution or sexual dehumanization?
Sex was more out in the open, but attitudes were still mired in sin, shame, and debasement 
Although I hadn’t yet read the book, I knew enough about Looking for Mr. Goodbar and the incident that inspired it to be excited by the prospect of a contemporary film attempting to capture a cultural climate teeming with contrasts and contradictions. 
Tuesday Weld snagged a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role as Katherine Dunn, a walking microcosm of '70s self-absorption and the unfocused quest for the ideal existence

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
One of my favorite things about the '70s is that it was such a self-reflective era in motion pictures. In fact, a frequent criticism leveled at American films at the time was that they, representative of the “Me Decade” in general, were in a rut of compulsive navel-gazing. Nearly always of the bleak, post-Watergate disillusionment sort. Looking for Mr. Goodbar was NOT the exception.

When the relatively hang-loose permissiveness of the late '60s evolved into the strategic hedonism of the mid-'70s, it wasn’t difficult to detect a hint of desperation behind disco music’s over-emphatic exuberance. The search for fulfillment through sensual expression ofttimes gave off the sense of a prowl or hunt, but for what? With all the rampant drug and alcohol abuse, had sexual liberation, once thought to be the gateway to honest and open human interaction, become just another means of escaping reality? To numb the pain of existence? To shelter our darker demons? To create a greater distance between people? 
Looking for Mr. Goodbar could have been subtitled: The Pleasure Paradox
The Pleasure Paradox is the belief that happiness, when pursued 
(that elusive Mr. Goodbar), remains ever beyond one's grasp 

Behind Looking for Mr. Goodbar's sexual frankness and incendiary commingling of sex, guilt, and religion which so distracted critics at the time, the film is both artful and honest in its attempt to address many of the above-stated issues. More so than any film I've yet to see. Looking for Mr. Goodbar explores the fissures that began to show in the “If it feels good, do it” façade of the new morality. Tackling, while it’s at it: feminism, religious hypocrisy, the sexual double-standard, and America’s intractable linking of sex and violence.
When I first saw Looking for Mr. Goodbar, I knew right away it was something special. From the first saxophone strains initiating that gloriously unsettling title sequence, I was hooked. (The title sequence is like a short film in and of itself. It's a flowing montage of gritty black and white still shots capturing the vaguely dangerous allure of singles bars.)
The entire cast, Diane Keaton especially, make something poignant and frighteningly real out of a story begging for sensationalism. Director Richard Brooks keeps to a palette motif of lights and darks, contrasting and paralleling scenes at the Dunn household (pitched to operatic levels) with the emotional violence lurking on the sidelines of Theresa's solitary, but not lonely, independent life.
Richard Kiley as Theresa's no-patience-for-imperfections father
The jarring use of sound and William Fraker's dark, dark, dark cinematography (I initially thought it was shot by Gordon Willis) contribute to making Looking for Mr. Goodbar one of the most powerful movies of the '70s. And make no mistake about it, this movie scared the bejesus out of me. The book was so popular, even if you hadn't read it you knew how it was going to end; but knowing is not the same as being prepared. The harrowing, near-unwatchable concluding moments of Looking for Mr. Goodbar left me feeling shell-shocked. I still believe I stayed to watch it a second time simply because I was too stunned to move out of my seat.

Not everyone’s cup of tea for any number of reasons, Looking for Mr. Goodbar (dubbed Mr. Goodbarf by many left queasy by the film's violence) is for me an example of American self-reflective cinema at its best. Not the least because it’s an adult film that takes the risk of allowing itself to be misunderstood. I like that it doesn’t spell everything out and tell you how you should feel or react. It has a point of view and even an agenda, but it doesn't invite you to agree with it so much as it encourages you to just think about it. Some people dismiss the film as simplistic, others find it to be moralizing and misogynistic, and some just don't care for it because the topic is too depressing and sordid. No matter what people think, few find it to be forgettable. 
William Atherton as James (here washing the very knife that will play a role in the film's hellish denouement), the slightly creepy "nice guy" whose resentful response to being moved into the friendzone is to behave in an aggressive,  possessively entitled manner every bit as unstable as the woman-hating "bad boys" he thinks he's better than.
 Sound familiar?

PERFORMANCES
Because there were so many interesting actresses around in the '70s, it’s easy for me to forget that the decade was largely a boys’ club devoted to buddy movies and misunderstood anti-heroes. (Tellingly, when the time came to adapt Rossner’s woman-centric bestseller to the screen, only male directors were considered: Bernardo Bertolucci, Bob Fosse [I shudder at the thought], Mike Nichols, Sydney Pollack, and Roman Polanski.)
LeVar Burton as Cap Jackson
Looking for Mr. Goodbar marked the feature film debut of Burton, who became an overnight household name when the landmark miniseries, Roots aired earlier in the year
Closer to the truth is that on those rare occasions when an actress was called upon to be something other than a girlfriend or male support-system (to get Goodbar, Keaton turned down the largely thankless Julie Christie role in Heaven Can Wait), the characters were so well-written (Katherine Ross – The Stepford Wives) and performances so superb (Jane Fonda – Klute), their prominence in my memory contradicts their actual paucity. 

Looking for Mr. Goodbar is unequivocally my all-time favorite Diane Keaton movie. I actually think it’s the best work of her career. But, apropos of the dark/light contrasts of the Theresa Dunn character herself, I don’t think I would have fully appreciated her work here were it not for my having previously seen her in Annie Hall (released the same year). Onscreen almost constantly, Keaton's performance here is astonishingly raw. The range and depth of her characterization appears simultaneously natural and going-for-broke risk-taking. As screen heroines go (anti-heroine?)Keaton's Theresa Dunn is a true original; I've never seen a character like her in a film before or since. For my money Keaton is simply staggering and was a very inspired choice for the part. It really makes you wish the actress had pursued more dramatic roles.
Alan Feinstein as Professor Martin Engle
As for the character itself, I've always considered Theresa Dunn to be 70s cinema’s first anti-heroine: a female sexual outlaw and cultural nonconformist. And, like all rebels, she’s not always likable, smart, or rational – just a complex, vulnerable human being struggling to make sense of the contradictions of her nature, deciding for herself what she wants to be, and accepting the risks (which, as it turns out, are considerable in our culture of normalized female-directed aggression) of choosing to live life on her own terms.
Like her male counterparts, Theresa delves into sex and drugs in her quest for self-discovery, and for once a woman’s exploration of her sexuality is presented in a manner perceptive and honest enough to allow for the enjoyment of no-strings sex for its purely sensual appeal and enslavingly addictive anodyne effect.
"Get this into one of your two heads, the one that can think...I am my own girl! I belong to me!"
Looking for Mr. Goodbar is such a downer of a film it never received the credit I think it deserved for the rather groundbreaking sincerity and seriousness with which it approached female sexuality. Anyone coming to Goodbar hoping for gauzy, soft-core porn cloaked in faux-feminist empowerment rhetoric (a la the popular Emmanuelle franchise) was in for a shock.
If screenwriter Brooks is guilty of anything, it's in being too honest. Taking a tack different from the book, the Theresa of the film is not the self-loathing masochist with a death-wish Judith Rossner wrote about (Rossner was said to have been displeased with the film, finding Keaton's character too "happy") and so many critics longed for to help explain away their discomfort; she is a flawed woman who makes one too many bad choices.
Because things end badly for the character of Theresa, Looking for Mr. Goodbar was seen by many as an anti-feminist cautionary tale for single women. Things ended very badly for Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, but I don’t recall anyone calling that film a cautionary tale for hippie drug dealers.
Robert Fields as Rafe and Carole Mallory as Marvella
Fans of The Stepford Wives will recognize these  two swingers. She played a robotized housewife, he played chemist, Raymond Chandler, Katherine Ross' first love

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
I only got around to reading Looking for Mr. Goodbar two years ago, an experience which left me appreciating even more what Richard Brooks' skill as a screenwriter (his first career) brought to the film version. To me, his work is a vast improvement over the source material, and when faced with the challenge of extracting drama and suspense from a story most everyone knows the ending of, Brooks builds tension through the stylized application of an almost Biblical motif emphasizing the contradictions of free-will and fate.

Brooks cannily uses innocuous events in the "light" parts of Theresa's life (as a teacher) to foreshadow the progressively violent trend of her "dark" nocturnal pursuits.
In assisting a deaf child to feel the forming of a word, Theresa has the girl hold her throat. A choking image that will be reenacted (horrifically) later. 
Asked to come up with words that will produce enough air to move a feather, a child repeats the word "punch." When asked to come up with a less violent word, he responds with repeated shouts of "help!"
Having overslept due to a night of partying, Theresa is greeted by an angry class. On the board is written, "You don't care!" The phrase, an inadvertent commentary on her desire for emotional disengagement in her private life, the ominous, death-mask skull, a foreshadowing of the film's final image.
At the time, so much was made of Theresa's "double life" (warmhearted teacher of the deaf by day / emotionally detached bar hopper by night) as being a sure sign of her schizophrenic, self-destructive nature. Hetero-normative, matrimonial sexuality rearing its head once again. But for many gay people in the 70s who were forced to behave one way during the day to keep their jobs, only free to be themselves on weekends or in the evenings at bars; Theresa's duality was less an indicator of a conflicted sexuality than representative of society's inability to  recognize a self-identified female sexuality beyond the confines of partnered male validation (boyfriend, husband).


 THE STUFF OF DREAMS
"How do women still go out with guys when you consider that there is no greater threat to women than men? We’re the number one threat to women! Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women. You know what our number one threat is? Heart disease.”     Louis CK

“Every guy has a ‘crazy girlfriend’ story. Why don’t women have ‘crazy men’ stories? I never hear that. Why? Because if you have a crazy boyfriend, you’re gonna die.”     Donald Glover


Looking for Mr. Goodbar was released decades before Sex and the City, so no cultural paradigms were in place through which one could process the notion of a sexually-active single woman living alone in a metropolitan city without resorting to blame-the-victim terminology. Terms like: self-loathing, nymphomaniacal, self-destructive, desperate, mentally ill, masochistic, unstable, depressive. The whole thing was quite ironic; while calling out Richard Brooks for making a morally reactionary sexual thriller, so-called liberal critics couldn't stop themselves from reaching the conclusion that promiscuity, drugs, and drinking were a certain fast-track to death for a single woman. A point which failed to acknowledge that promiscuity, drugs, and drinking were cornerstones for a great many male coming-of-age films of the era, but nobody saw anything fatalistic in such "boys will be boys" behavior.
Tom Berenger as Gary
On a similar note, Goodbar came out long before the concept of rape culture, so at no time could one find a journalist willing to devote even a paragraph to the castigation of the brutish, violent behavior of the men in the film, or could you find articles addressing our normalized attitudes on the matter of rape and other forms of female-directed aggression in the age of sexual permissiveness. All I recall reading were a lot of human-interest articles about parents taking their daughters to see the film as a means (I suppose) of terrorizing them into celibacy. Of course, there were no stories about sons being taken to the film to teach them not to rape and abuse women.

A lot has changed over the years, but not so much that a daringly mature film like Looking for Mr. Goodbar doesn't  have something relevant to say to contemporary audiences. As stated earlier, it's a film that begs to be rediscovered and reevaluated in terms broader than the lazy label of  "cautionary tale" has afforded it. It's an unpleasant film, to be sure, but an honest one. Perhaps even a bit too honest. But it's an inarguably important entry from a decade when the objective of major motion pictures wasn't always to placate and pacify, but to get us to think. Unfortunately, I'm still looking for Looking for Mr. Goodbar...at least until the day Paramount decides to finally release it on DVD.

(DVD copies burned from tapes are often available through iOffer where I've had amazing luck tracking down rarities.)

Copyright © Ken Anderson

62 comments:

  1. Ken! What a great post and a perfect image to end it on!

    I saw this movie SIX TIMES in the theater. I was in HIGH SCHOOL at the time, and each time brought a different "girl friend" to see it. How fucked up is that?? But I was completely taken by it. By the next year, I had gone to some of the Chicago discos used as locations in the film, almost as a pilgrimage. Of course I was not into violence or sexual assault, but the nightlife sang to me and there was no turning back. I still can't hear Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way" and not think about this movie!

    This is another one of those films which I could go on and on about but I'll spare you that for now. But as is so often the case, Ken, we are on the same page. Thanks for covering this so wonderfully!

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    1. Hi Thom
      Why, thank you very much! My love for this movie knows no bounds. I was crazy about it then and I just recently watched it with my partner (who had never seen it before) and it led to a talk about it that lasted over an hour.
      It comes as no surprise to me that this film is one of your favorites. And as a Chicagoan, seeing it must have been a doubly heady experience. Eerie perhaps? (I laughed at the thought of your taking all your “girlfriends” to see this absolutely trauma-inducing film!)
      I was seriously into disco and the allure of the whole night-life scene, but had not experienced it first-hand yet. The film thus seemed very dangerous and exotic to me…a peek into a life I was on the brink of entering into. We all see this stuff and imagine that we’d be too smart to fall into the trap that Theresa does (this film is fantastic for “"shock of recognition" moments)…but by the time I started going to clubs myself, my heart pounds now just thinking back on all the stupid risks I took and how so many of those one-night stand strangers could easily have been a safe-appearing lunatic. Had I been actually active in the club scene when I saw this, “Goodbar” would have probably sent me into the priesthood.
      In spite of its depressing theme I've always thought the film captured the real feel of the 70s for me (I couldn't at all relate to Saturday Night Fever) and like you, there are songs in the score (The O'Jays' "Backstabbers") that I can't listen to without thinking of this movie.
      Nearly everything about it encapsulates everything I most love about 70s movies. one of these days we’re going to have to get you to share with us what it is you like about Ken Russell films and movies like this. So far all we know is that you’ve got impeccable taste. :-)
      Thanks, Thom!

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    2. I've shared this film with a number of younger friends over the past decade, and it always blows their minds! Films like this (and so many of the great films of the '70s) are just not made anymore, nor could they be -- at least in Hollywood. Plus it's interesting how something that was so very contemporary is now a total "time capsule"!

      Likewise, I never really got into Saturday Night Fever but Goodbar really struck a cinematic chord with me. It's one of those films that is etched into my memory and somehow helped make me who I am. Not just by showing ways of being, but by opening me up to artistic and creative possibilities, in that special way that film can (by virtue of being a combination of various art forms). I don't know if that makes any sense but there it is!

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    3. Yes, "Goodbar" is one of those "Only in the 70s" films in many ways...very mind blowing!

      And what you say about the influence this film had on you makes total sense, plus you phrased it beautifully. I'm a big believer in film's ability to engage and influence us on deeply profound levels. Their potential to inspire beauty and creativity is one of the reasons I get mad at how low so many mainstream films set their sites.
      Movies that don't challenge, provoke, or expose us to the potential of our imaginations might as well be commercials.
      I know movies were always a business, but it seems like the films were more interesting when someone had a particular story they wanted to tell and not just a market demographic to reach.

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  2. Ken, thank you for writing this, you nailed it! Unlike you sitting stunned and watching it a second time, my friends and I couldn't get out of the theater fast enough when it ended. I remember sitting stunned in the backseat and I haven’t been able to watch the movie since. For me, Looking for Mr. Goodbar was a cautionary tale; that like most, I ignored.

    The conflict, societal expectations, insecurities and the double standards are still in play today. While the music, clothes and characters have changed; the game remains the same. I miss strong films and it is noteworthy that as Star Wars entered, films that allowed us to draw our own have pretty much disappeared.

    This is Diane Keaton’s best moment on film. Once Annie Hall hit, it seems that every other role taken was a variation of Annie. While talented, I come away from her movies the same as I do after watching Kevin Costner; same delivery, same person, same kookiness, different words.

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    1. Hi Cathy
      Thank you very much! I don't know that I nailed it, but I've tried to convey why this film has always been so important to me.
      Having four sisters, i know EXACTLY what you mean about needing to get out the theater quickly. As much as I try to imagine other people's points of view, I can't say I could ever imagine what it would be like to be a woman and see this film.
      Of course you're right about everything being the same today except the fashions and music, a perceptive and sad observation.
      Thanks so much for reading this, Cathy. From the little I know about you I sense you really don't like films where people are cruel to one another, but I'm glad you shared your experience of this film so many years ago.
      I guess when it comes to some cinema experiences, once is more than enough.

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    2. Ah Ken, you know me just enough to have nailed that assessment as well. I used to read nothing but true crime and thrillers, but movies in the 80's and 90's pandered; they didn't have grit. Then when you take steps in life and learn hard lessons, one tends to drift to happier subject matters.

      However, I do watch movies where people are cruel, but now they're called classics for the very reasons you're written.

      I was delighted bringing up your link to see the new post and a movie that still stuns. Who knows...maybe for old time sake I'll see it again; naw... I'll read the book.

      Thank you for your thoughtfulness in this review Ken.

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  3. I remember watching Looking for Mr. Goodbar late night on Showtime in the early 80's as a 12 or 13-year-old and thinking, "Damn, I really am too young to watch this movie." The end sequence still haunts me. And it haunts me that since the 1980's, it's just about impossible to find; youtube offers a German language version which is useless. Thank you for so very intelligently writing about this remarkable film!

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    1. Hi Percy
      As one who saw a great many inappropriately mature films as a young age, I can wholly identify. I was 10-years-old when "Psycho" had its premiere TV broadcast, and I never made it past the shower scene. Traumatized, I turned off the TV and avoided the film until I was in my 20s.
      I can only imagine what you must have went through seeing this. It's a wise child who knows when he is in over his head.

      It's a serious pity this film isn't available anywhere. I got these terrible screencaps off of a fuzzy copy on a website I'm positive is loaded with malware and viruses. The German YouTube version is frustrating in its lack of subtitles and in being so dark.
      I appreciate you visiting this blog and thank you both for your compliment and for taking the time to comment!

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    2. Reading other comments here, I'm amazed to think about the different experience of cinema I had vs. what my young children will have, because when my parents wanted to see a movie like this they had to take me along! (I actually haven't seen this one, only read the book, but now I definitely will!)

      I saw Saturday Night Fever at age 7, Alien and The Wicker Man at age 9, Tommy at age 5 (that one was definitely a mistake -- I ran out screaming at, I'm guessing, the Uncle Ernie scene). So weird to think that the generations of early, random exposure to seriously adult films may be over.

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    3. "Tommy" at 5? Yikes! And how did you survive "Alien" untraumatized?
      Interesting point. I don't see movies at theaters much these days, but I completely remember the days when, no matter how mature the topic, you'd see adults with their kid(s) in tow, taking little heed of what kindertrauma they were going to foist on their little tyke. Has it changed?

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    4. Unlike my parents, if I want to see a movie like Alien, my options aren't limited to (1) take my children with me vs. (2) wait 2-3 years hoping for it to appear as the Sunday Night Movie on CBS, heavily censored and with commercials.

      I don't recall being traumatized by Alien; mainly I recall bearing it as a nickname from absolutely everyone for the next few years.

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  4. Ken, what a brilliantly incisive and at the same time deeply personal essay on one of the most disturbing films that ever came out of Hollywood. You have really said it all and covered the bases on this complex piece of work. This film does make sex seem dark and scary...does sexual freedom really have to be depicted as even more harrowing and dangerous than repression, denial, prejudice and religious dogma? This film makes life itself seem hopeless and pointless, no matter which road is taken. Talk about nihilistic!

    BUT - that said, it is a masterful film with amazing performances, particularly by Keaton (who really DID win the Oscar because of this film) and Weld and Kiley. It is titillating and sexy as hell, even if you do feel dirty afterwards. And the soundtrack is iconic and evocative--full of my favorite sexy 70s tunes that still get my hormones going...

    I was lucky to be able to find a very decent DVD transfer from VHS that is very serviceable, as a surprise Christmas gift for a friend who has been waiting in vain for this film to be released.

    And thank you for sharing my opinion about Taxi Driver--I just can't watch that film because of its dark and cynical and paranoid view of reality. Why must filmmakers so often combine sex and violence as if they were the same thing. They are not!!

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    1. Hi Chris
      The rhetorical questions you pose are in line with discussions I have had with younger film fans who find 70s movies difficult sometimes because of their bleak outlook on life.
      They so associate the 70s with disco and silly fashions, they find it difficult to align such "fun" imagery with the gloomy cast of so many of our popular films from that era. I always have to remind them that it is just that contradiction that made these movies so fascinating.
      Your taking note that the film makes sexual freedom seem every bit as soul-killing as repression and prejudice is the exact "no escape from the pain of life" experience that so intrigued me when I was young.

      If Paramount doesn't get on the beam and get around to releasing this (which doesn't seem like any time soon) I might look into one of those VHS to DVD transfers available though iOffer. Even a slightly fuzzy copy is better than none.
      If indeed the soundtrack rights have been behind what has been holding up "Goodbar"s availability, I have to say, it's one of those films where actual songs originally used are inseparable from the experience. One of the best uses of music in a non-musical EVER!

      And "Taxi Driver"...I'm sure I'll write about it one day, but honestly, that one is dark in a different way. One that doesn't always make me admire it. Needless to say, I thank you Chris for the kind words and for your sharp comment contributions. Always appreciated! Ken

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  5. Ken, you should also read "Closing Time: The True Story of the Goodbar Murder." It was written after the novel but before the film was made. The author uses fictionalized names, but it is narrative non-fiction of the "In Cold Blood" vein. I think you would like it.

    Also interesting to note that the real life killer was bisexual, and in fact he and his WIFE lived with his male lover, (whom he still had sex with), at the time of Quinn's murder. Very complex characters and an interesting read, in spite the killer's characterization as the Typically Attractive, None Too Bright Bisexual Hustler, (whose motives for murdering a one night stand are still quite murky at best). The main character too is quite sphinx-like, perhaps even more so than in the novel.

    Here's the Amazon link:

    http://www.amazon.com/Closing-Time-Liza-Fosburgh/dp/0440113024/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405113559&sr=1-3&keywords=closing+time

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    1. Thanks very much for commenting and reminding me of this book I'd long forgotten. I remember reading this book sometime in the 80s after an airing of a boring old TV movie about the Goodbar killings rekindled my interest.

      YouTube link to :Trackdown: Finding the Goodbar Killer -1977
      http://youtu.be/vISqRZcN3C0

      True to form (for me) the squalid reality - the cast of characters involved would not be out of place on an episode of Jerry Springer - only made me appreciate more Richard Brooks' ability to turn the more banal face of man's inhumanity into something resembling art.

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  6. Now that the Internet and cell phone apps make random hook-ups a way of life for many people, you would think this movie might have even more relevance now than it did in the era of AIDS and STD panic that came along after this in the mid-'80s and for years after. Such a shame that a milestone work like this with many great actors and performances is unavailable!! But,hey, at least the $5.00 bins at Wal-Mart are teeming with stale romcoms and any number of goss-out comedys! I JUST bought the book mentioned above ("Closing Time") for $0.29 and can't wait to read it. I have yet to see this movie apart from just a few minutes of it once many years ago on a basic cable channel (with - aarrgh! - commercials.) When I see it, I want to see it right. Thanks!

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    1. A milestone work is exactly what this is, and yes, while you can find DVDs of every Adam Sandler or Kevin James piece of crap ever made; this film remains ridiculously unavailable.
      What a coincidence that you picked up the book mentioned above so recently!
      And yes, today's casual hookups make the kind of addictive anonymous activity depicted in this film all the more relevant. More's the pity the film is so hard (impossible) to find! Thanks, Poseidon!

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  7. Could you elaborate on your dismissal of Bob Fosse? I would think this movie would be right in his wheelhouse. I've only seen a little bit of Star 80, for instance, but it seemed to have the same kind of sexual dehumanization.

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    1. Oddly enough, I think it was precisely because “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” was such a perfect fit for Bob Fosse, that I’m glad he didn’t do it. I think he’s talented as all getout, but a pessimist and misanthrope to the 9th degree. It’s likely he would have made a film more in tune with what the author would have preferred, but (and this is purely my taste alone) so much darkness needs some breathing room. Richard Brooks gave the material that by casting a likeable actress with an innate humor, self-possession, and enough emotional gravitas to make the film more of a measured character study than the waking nightmare I imagine Fosse would have delivered.
      Indeed, I feel about his “Star 80” the way a great many feel about this film: I saw it once and hope to never see it again. I thought it was both an ugly and mean-spirited film that sided and sympathized with the killer. “looking for Mr. Goodbar” has always worked for me because it never turns Theresa into someone to pathetic or damned, she’s just human. I honestly don’t think Fosse could have carried that off. Thank you for asking and affording me the opportunity to elaborate on a throwaway line!

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  8. I saw the movie when it first came out, have not seen it since. As you point out, it never shows up anywhere; however, I think there's a good reason for that and you address it in a roundabout way in your (excellent) review: Despite the great acting and gritty seventies storytelling, the movie's relentlessly downbeat tone and violent ending make it fascinating but not very entertaining (if that makes sense). In other words, I could sit and have hours-long discussions about the movie, but I don't think I'd be inclined to sit through the movie again. I do think the sort of "slut panic" the movie laid bare is being played out right now, 37 years later, when five Catholic male judges have recently decided that a cirporation's rights (don't get me started!) trump a woman's rights to have access to contraception.

    /Dismounting soapbox now!

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    1. Hi Deborah
      Don't get me started. The main reason I put my hard drive at risk and sought this movie out on a dodgy website is exactly because of what has been happening lately (I love the term "slut panic").
      It burns my biscuits (I'm old, you have to indulge the odd colloquialism) to thin that in this day and age so many of the attitudes expounded on in this film are still around.
      For example: Why is it that freedom is freedom, except when it applies to "some groups" in this case, women, who need a patriarchal eye kept out for them. The idea that liberation is only admissible in the presence of perfection is absurd. That women are somehow not to be trusted with their own bodies and need some overseer to decide what's best. (Like Theresa's father and religion in the film)
      Also, the recent internet explosion of the felon with the good bone structure...what's that? That whole "women are attracted to bad boys" stuff may still be in effect, but I thought by now it would be seen as a by- product of internalized self-loathing (like Theresa's attraction to the slightly dangerous excitement of the Gere character).
      Or that Santa Barbra shooter and his delusional espousing of the belief that women should make themselves available to so-called "nice guys" ...as if the female entire gender is a harem reward for not being a rapist.
      No, I'm the one on a soapbox.

      The strength of "Goodbar" for me has always been that behind the reactionary feel of it, is a film that, as you say, lays bare certain attitudes we have as a culture about women and their sexuality that we are afraid to address.

      I think you're totally right about the downbeat tone of the movie. Consider what kind of mood you'd have to be in to want to watch this as "entertainment". I have to confess, when I looked at this film again and went over it a couple of times for screen caps, I couldn't ever bring myself to watch that last scene again. I turn it off about ten minutes before it ends. It's still a little too strong for me and i'm positive that is one reason it was so overlooked at the Oscars that year...the Academy was then still pretty much an old-folks club, and this film was too depressing.

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    2. Ha! If you're old, so am I. In fact, based on various things you've written about how old you were when certain films were released, I think we're almost exactly the same age (I was born in 1957; graduated high school in 1975). I have a theory that one of the reasons people of our age get so furious about the reactionary nature of current gender/sexuality politics is because we remember that brief little moment (mid-sixties to early-eighties) when it looked like we were leaving a lot of that nonsense behind. Then Reagan was elected and...well, I'll say no more!

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    3. We are exactly the same age! Class of '75, that;s me! No wonder we feel cranky about so many of the same things.
      And yes, it is frustrating to think that so many years after Ms. magazine, Gloria Steinem, and The Pill, the subject of whether or not a woman's ovaries are her own is still a political and religious debate.

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  9. That is a wonderfully clear and incisive view of the film Ken. I can see you really connected with the film. I didn't like it nearly as much as you but I really enjoyed both your memories of seeing it and your examination of the picture and it's themes.

    I had read the book around the time of the film's release but didn't see the movie in the theatre. Although the book kept my interest I found it sad and depressing so I wasn't motivated to run out and see the film. Also I had seen Annie Hall recently and hated it, still do, it took me years, until I saw Shoot the Moon, to warm up to Diane Keaton and eventually come to appreciate her talent. It was at that point that I tried to track the film down. It seems funny to say but fortunately it was still the age of VHS and I managed to find it in a Blockbuster.

    I was curious to see what Diane Keaton had done with the character having read an article when the film was released that Brooks had picked her personally over Faye Dunaway and Jane Fonda as well as Barbra Streisand who had campaigned heavily for the part. She was very good in the film, I really couldn't envision any of those other ladies in the role, but good though she was along with the rest of the cast the film was just as depressing as the book. Maybe had I seen it on it's release in the more ambient environment of a darkened theatre I might have been able to engage with it more.

    Much as I love Tuesday Weld I was surprised by her nomination for this. It's no reflection on her work which was up to her usual exemplary standard it was just the role didn't seem like much of a challenge. Maybe having ignored her string of quality performances through the year they felt she was due. I'm glad that Vanessa Redgrave received the Oscar that year for Julia, though that was really a compensation prize for her years of worthy work too, but it's a shame Tuesday never got another crack at the award.

    It is odd that the film isn't readily available considering the cast, the book's notoriety and the award traction it received but Paramount is one of the worst at making their catalog titles available.

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    1. Thanks, Joel
      I was speaking with a friend of mine from high-school and he made a good point about the film that points to why it may have made such an impression on me back in 1977.
      I think so many gay men of my generation responded to "Goodbar" because Theresa's dual life was very much a common experience for urban gays in those less tolerant days. It was not unusual for gay men to live "closeted" daytime lives in offices, schools, etc...only to really feel like themselves on weekends or at night in the bars...the only non-judgmental environment available. Perhaps women, under pressure to always be "good girls" felt the same.
      I love that you are not a fan of "Annie Hall"! I love the movie, but sometimes delight in someone holding such an opposite opinion. It's refreshing!
      Like you, i can't imagine a single one of the ladies campaigning for the film in the role of Theresa. Seriously can you imagine Faye Dunaway taking that guff from her father? She looks like the type who would have HIM cowering in a corner.

      I kind of agree with you about Tuesday Weld. If anyone had seen her in Pretty Poison" or even "Lord Love a Duck', what she does here is no challenge to her talent, but Hollywood is always giving sentimental, "comeback" nominations, so, taking nothing away from her fine performance, I too think it was probably born of feeling she had one coming.
      Your comments and those of many of the others here points to an interesting thing about film: what kid of mood does one have to be in to consciously seek out movies that are "downers"? And what term is used for the experience? The word entertained seems weird.
      I love "Sophie's Choice" but haven't been depressed enough to want to watch it again. Similarly, Star 80, Schindler's List, Two Women, Funny Games...

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    2. I know what you mean about being in the proper mood for films that are designed to be depressing. I have watched several, Sophie's Choice, Mysterious Skin, Star 80 to name a few, that I suspected would be downbeat and waited for a time when I thought I was in the mood for something weighty but once done they were so depressing I couldn't ever imagine wanting to watch them again. After muddling through Judgement at Nuremberg though and being totally dispirited at its conclusion despite that cast of legends I decided that the time invested to end up totally dejected wasn't worth it.

      Since then I've assiduously avoided films that sound akin to an extended root canal and therefore have never seen Schindler's List, Leaving Las Vegas, Boys Don't Cry or Funny Games. It's not that I don't enjoy serious films with thought provoking themes I'd just prefer not to feel like someone ripped my heart out and stomped all over it at the conclusion. Or as Goodbar did that a hopelessness is pervasive throughout society that gnaws at its very foundation. Oy! I think I need to go watch Summer Stock, Fired Up! or something equally innocuous.

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    3. I can't remember the exact quote or meme, but I think it sometimes applies to movies that are "downers": Depressing isn't always profound, and happy isn't always foolish.
      I love movies that give me an experience: fun, sad, escapist, or fanciful... but for a depressing film, the director has to be someone I trust, not someone just trying to take the shortcut to profundity through adolescent nihilism. I always resent it.

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    4. Hi Ken,

      Referring back to what you would call the mood you'd have to be in to consciously seek out movies that are downers the closest I could think of would be an appreciative mood. By that I mean you're ready for a film whose craftmanship, story and acting you can respect and admire but don't expect to be entertained in the sense that you would with something light, uplifting or more traditionally dramatic because just from the description it sounds gut wrenching. That's fine every so often but a steady diet of it would be exhausting and somewhat dehumanizing I would think.

      Couldn't agree more about the depressing isn't always profound, I just watched a film like that called 11:14 that tried for that sort of empty profundity and ended up being a stinking pile, and happy is most certainly not always foolish. I've known people who wouldn't watch upbeat movies because the were "false" and didn't represent "the human condition". That's silly and so limiting.

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    5. "Appreciative mood" is a very good phrase i think. You're certainly not seeking to be entertained in the usual sense, but you are seeking something, and you're willing to let whatever that is happen to you.
      I get it when i see "Day of the Locust"...no picnic, but always a rewarding experience.
      I saw that film "11;14" and happily I recall very little of it. i just remember feeling it was trying to hard. I too had a friend who systematically felt all depressing movies were "truth" and though all happy films were "Hollywood"...as i got to know her better, i came to realize that HER life was indeed depressing, and she thought anything reflecting that was true rather than a reflection of her attitude about life.
      I think "The Wizard of Oz" has a lot more to say about real life and truth than many a somber, serious film I've sat through.

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  10. I have been absolutely dying to see this movie for the past few years since reading the book and in turn, reading your blog. A VHS copy of this pops up on Ebay from time to time for $50 or more, so when I find myself at a flea market or a thrift store, I always scour the tapes looking for this and a few choice others.

    I am glad that this is a slightly more upbeat take on it, if that is even possible! I thought the book was good, but I would never read it again nor suggest to anyone to read it since it left me in a state that I don't want to force upon others!

    I've said this in other comments before, but thank you for enlightening me as to the highlights of 70s cinema. I consider myself a 'classic' movie fan but 70s film knowledge is embarrassingly low. Although I didn't like the movie, I loved Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, and I would love to see what she does in this movie. I think Diane Keaton would have been the ideal actress to play Terry. Also, you are completely right about 70s movies being more about the men than the women, but when a movie is female-led, those actresses always knock it out of the park (Fonda in Klute and Ross in Stepford Wives definitely come to mind).

    Colin

    PS - I know this is the wrong article, but I am so excited to see that youtube has I Am A Camera for the same reasons you posted - its association with Cabaret and Julie Harris as the lead.

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    1. Hi Colin
      The more I hear from people, the more I'm convinced it is a real pity that this film isn't around in DVD form (it would certainly be nice to see it in a restored version...those VHS copies are SO dark).
      I'm with you on the book. It was an interesting but very unpleasant experience.Seeing the movie is oddly fascinating, but as I said to a precious poster...I can watch Keaton's performance in this a million times, but don't make me watch the last few minutes of the movie again.

      Unlike you, I don't know that I am that well-versed on films of say, the 30s and 40s, but the 60s and 70s...well, I just love those decades in film. I'm flattered that you could fine these personal reveries of mine enlightening.
      I do hope you take time to see "I Am a Camera"...movies come and go so quickly on YouTube, I hope it avoids the copyright police.
      Great to hear from you again, Colin!

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  11. You really take a deep, clear look - from so many perspectives - at "Goodbar," Ken. Fascinating and spot on.

    I first saw the film at a theater in San Francisco, too. At the time I worked at KYA AM/FM. Rock 'n' roll radio...you can imagine what that was like. Fortunately, it was obvious to me by that point that "sexual liberation" was basically a con and that the singles scene had become what many called it, a "meat market." And you're right, there was an increasing tone of desperation in all of it. Forced hedonism. Of course, what nobody, including me, anticipated was that the worldwide outbreak of a deadly, sexually transmitted disease was just on the horizon.

    I suspect you must be right about Diane Keaton's performance being the best of her career. She actually was acting! The Annie Hall persona grates after a while (and especially after decades).

    I remember seeing "Goodbar" a second time on TV sometime in the '90s and that it struck me as powerfully the second time as it had the first. I'd love to see it again after having read your so-astute review. Not sure how easy that will be to accomplish. Meanwhile, I just put a hold on "Closing Time" at the local library.


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    1. Hi Eve
      A fellow friend of mine from the Bay Area reminded me of somethign i had forgotten but perhaps you remember: that Union Street at the time was known for all ts pick up, "meat rack" bars. He recounted to me how dark and somewhat hidden the gay bars were in 1977, but on Union Street, the heterosexual singles' bars had people overflowing into the streets.
      I love your assessment that the sexual liberation was a "con," as this film dramatizes, it was a one-sided, double-standard game women were pawns in, but couldn't win.
      By the way, I've never read so many comments before from people finding Keaton's Annie hall persona to be grating! I love it, mainly because I have mostly heard the opposite for so long..
      Hope you like the book "Closing Time"...but like many felt about this film, you may crave a shower afterward. Thanks, so much, Eve!

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    2. I do remember Union Street as a teeming hot spot, Ken. There was Perry's on Union, always absolutely packed beyond its doors...and there was an intersection just off Union known as "the Bermuda Triangle" - the Fillmore/Greenwich intersection with bars on three corners (one was the Balboa) - so-called because so many people disappeared there on Fri. & Sat. nights. I lived on Green near Fillmore from the early - mid-'80s and Union Street was still going strong then. Probably still is.

      I seem to recall that Polk Street had an open and active gay bar scene by the mid - late '70s.

      Diane Keaton as Annie Hall was great in the 1977 movie. But, as you noted, she has repeated the part endlessly ever since. I have to assume that this is at least partly because the character reflects who she really is, since Woody Allen has said that he based the Annie Hall character on her.

      I forgot to mention earlier that I didn't think Paul Snider (Eric Roberts) came off as especially sympathetic in "Star 80," though the least sympathetic characters in that film were those based on Peter Bogdanovichand and Hugh Hefner. That's another film that makes one want to shower after viewing.

      Also - in researching "Closing Time" a bit before I reserved it, I discovered that the author, Lacey Fosburgh, was married to Joan Baez's ex-husband, David Harris, for nearly 20 years, until her death in the early '90s. Six degrees of something...

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    3. Hi Eve
      That's a hoot about the "Bermuda Triangle" name! Love that you remember that era as well. Polk Street did have a lot of clubs and bars, but gay bars then were never as much an "outside" experience as straight bars, Perhaps as a carryover from gay-bashing days and the patron's own discomfort with public displays of affection, it always felt as though the straight bars had a more visible, open, sidewalk life to me. Maybe it was more an impression than a reality.

      As for the Snider character in "Star 80", I think I may have been swayed by Fosse saying in interviews at the time that, had he not been successful, he would have BEEN Snider. And while he's hard on the character in the same way he's hard on himself as Joe Gideon in "All That Jazz," I thought Fosse felt Snider's betrayal by Stratten, Bogdanovich, and Hefner was the tragedy of the story. Stratten herself is presented as just one of those "If I can't have you, no one else will" pawns in a macho competition between the men.

      And that's interesting about the Fosburgh/Harris marriage. David Harris was one of those activist names i remember from my youth!

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  12. Argyle, here. Wow - such an interesting discussion. Ken, one of your skills is to clearly outline a film and your take on it while simultaneously opening up points of entry for your readers. That may seem obvious, but it’s rare for it to actually happen.

    I saw this when it came out, I guess I was a freshman at college. And I’m pretty sure I had read the book. I was a late arrival to “Annie Hall.” It took me years (post-“Manhattan”) to enjoy it. And I still waver when I see it now between being annoyed and impressed in the same viewing.
    Anyway, I did sort of go crazy for Diane Keaton, and I’m always a sucker for a good “difficult production” story so I wanted to see “Goodbar.” I mainly remember thinking it was very grim. And that Richard Gere was kind of out of his depth which is funny because I’m sure it was all completely over my head. I am still a late-bloomer.

    All of this means, I need to see this again, now that I have a little more (30+ years?) life experience under my belt. I’ve never been a bar person - what does that mean? I think Thombeau’s comment at the very top is amazing and thrilling. That an individual can take so much excitement and encouragement, in a way, from such a “grim” picture is to me what is so great about good films. You just can’t predict how something is going to hit everyone.

    It’s funny, I had a long solo car drive earlier this summer and listened to Diane Keaton’s memoir “Then Again.” It’s interesting; I would say it’s mainly about her mother and her father and their histories. And her relationships with her siblings and kids. And her romantic connections. Sometimes it’s discrete to the point of being opaque. She talks about the films you’d expect. I don’t think she mentions “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” I would love to have heard her take on it now. She’s had a strange career and “Goodbar” seems to be a real outlier. Now it’s these ghastly adult-rom-coms. And those “Father of ...” movies that were an absolute desecration. But I don’t really blame her.

    Regarding other “depressing” films: for me “Sophie’s Choice” and “Schindler’s List” have an easy beauty and sentimentality that allow you to distance yourself from the subject matter. For me that’s sort of a meta-depression. Just give it to me straight and let me find the beauty and the tragedy on my own. I realize that’s harder than it sounds. I kind of think Diane Keaton was getting into Isabelle Huppert territory with “Goodbar” and to see that develop would have been incredible. But I can’t force my notions on other people. I guess Hollywood has such a different screen culture some things get lost. Richard Brooks’ film of “In Cold Blood” was truly frightening when I first saw it on TV ages ago. It really haunted me while I watched it and it has ever since. I’m sure I was just too young and shallow to appreciate “Goodbar” when I saw it. Thanks, Ken as always for hosting such a ramble!

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    1. Argyle, just wanted to chime in here that I agree with you about Schindler and Sophie - both those films have an energy of hopefulness and provide the viewer with the opportunity for catharsis, unlike unrelentingly downbeat films like Goodbar. In fact, I must admit I watch Schindler's List at least once a year when I am in the mood for a good, long, cleansing sobfest....

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  13. Argyle, again. On further reflection - Isabelle Huppert wasn't even getting into Isabelle Huppert territory until around 1977, so Diane's accomplishment is all the more impressive! ;-)

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    1. Hi Argyle
      Very kind of you to take note of the way the comments here are almost collaborative entries in the discussion about this film. Hearing why and how a film impacts (or doesn't) a person is so much more interesting that just talking movie trivia and stats.
      I read that Keaton book you mention, and was so disappointed that she devoted just one sentence to the entire film (saying she turned down Warren Beatty to do it). I can understand it, but I get frustrated with celebs who write their memoirs, and in an effort not to be another "And then i made..." collection of anecdotes, seem to passive-aggressively avoid talking about the things that will interest their fans. I recall reading a Sandy Dennis memior that i almost wanted to throw across the room (it should have been titled "Me and my cats").

      Anyhow, i love your making the allusion to Keaton in this film entering into Isabelle Huppert territory...talk about the Queen of Darkness! That's perfect!
      Also, i'm not so sure you weren't correct about Gere being in a little over his head here (pretty astute observation)...I like him in it, but his performance has "worked on it with a drama coach" written all over it. His natural charisma won out, but it's a bit keyed up (as it needed to be) and Method-y.
      Thanks for joining in on the discussion, Argyle. It's too bad no one's recollections can be refreshed by getting a chance to see this lost film.
      Paramount has a lot to answer for!

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  14. An excellent analysis, as usual, Ken. And you're right about the book/vs. movie. I agree completely. I, too, was disappointed Keaton didn't cover this much in her book, but I did think it was one of the better written celeb bios - and I got the sense she actually put her butt in the seat and wrote it.

    For me I find it criminal that A) this is not on DVD! and B) this is the ONLY film Tuesday Weld got an Oscar nom for.

    I have nothing else profound to say, you have done quite the job as per usual.

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    1. Hi Tanya
      Thanks for the lovely compliment! I agree with you that Keaton's memoirs at least had the stamp of her own voice. And I certainly can't say I didn't enjoy it. I just think my inner film geek always longs to get a performer's take on a work (especially an actor as famously inarticulate as Keaton) we outsiders see as seminal or (what with all the nudity) particularly challenging. Who knows? She may have hated doing the film!

      And yes, Weld has been criminally overlooked by the Oscar folks.

      In any event, I sure wish this would come out on DVD in my lifetime. I think the last good copy I saw of it was back in 77 in the theater.
      Good to hear from you again, Tanya!

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  15. Ken, this is such a brilliant, beautifully written analysis, I found myself both moved and excited while reading it, and agreeing with so many of your perceptive points (such as the one about high-powered hedonists and their dead eyes, something that now comes into focus for me). It sounds as if your review has added depth to this film, which I confess I haven't seen. I had read the novel when it came out (and vaguely remembered the true-life case), and I found the book so upsetting and grim that I avoided the film. I don't think Rossner had one moment of relief in her story, it was all a horrible downward slide for her protagonist. And yet the book was a best-seller, it must have tapped into something powerful in the zeitgeist. In reading your post and your recounting of critical reactions to the film, it makes me wonder why certain true-life crimes become touchstones of an era (there were, and are, dreadful murders going on in NYC, so why this one stirring us up?). And I agree that Goodbar would have relevance today, in our post-sexual-revolution culture, where, from what I read, anxious mothers send 14-year-old daughters to therapy because the child still hasn't lost her virginity (and again, the emphasis is on the girl's sexuality, not the boy's). I take an interest in true-life crime cases (an interest I don't recommend, it's a scary area), and it seems that sexual predators are known to hang out in bars looking for their Ms. Goodbar, as it were, so I can see why the film would be seen as a cautionary tale. But I love how you leave the complexity of such a story open in your post---that women are entitled to explore their sexuality, but that even casual, guilt-free sex could have emotional consequences. It's not a matter to be screamed about as having to be one-way-or-the-other, but an issue to be explored and thought about. After reading your post, I hope someday to get up enough nerve to see the film (that is, if Paramount can hustle itself to release it on DVD). Thanks!

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    1. You're very kind GOM, and I thank you very much. You bring up many fascinating points yourself. One particularly striking one being just why this particular story caught on with the public. A story so grim and dark.

      You could probably fill several volumes with why it is our culture is drawn to the idea that sex and pleasure must be punished, and why there is something people find so "comforting" in the idea that behavior of which they don't approve resulting in some kind of Biblical comeuppance for the hedonist. I always thought "Goodbar" was like some very grim fairy tale: people could comfort themselves with the idea that as long as they got married, stayed out of bars, and trod the straight and narrow, nothing this awful could ever happen to them.
      I appreciate that you really "got" my take on "Goodbar" being a film whose value lies in positing the questions, not necessarily providing the answers. But what does one do about a film that is largely an unpleasant experience for the viewer?

      Should you ever get up the nerve to see this film (being a big believer in the axiom that one can't "unsee" things, I have a short list of films I've never had the nerve to see as well) I hope you share with me what your thoughts are. but given Paramount dragging its feet on ever giving this film a DVD release, I don't think you'll have to muster your courage for some time. thanks for your very lovely compliments and incisive observations!

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  16. It has been so many years since I have seen this film that I can only comment about how it left me feeling queasy when I 1st encountered it at the cinema with its strange medley of contemporary songs ( which probably are prohibitively expensive for a DVD release ) & tragedy. I have seen it thrice -- I think --, viz, the original cinema run, &, at least once, possibly, perhaps, maybe, twice on old-fashioned monochrome telly, edited with commercials ( it felt like a ' One Step Beyond ' episode, a show which always scared me more than Twilight Zone, for the former had always some real incident behind it, though the interpretation was subjective & could be accepted or rejected by the viewer ) . The last time must have been back in the 1980s & I can't contribute now a detailed commentary. I recognise many of the scenes depicted in your screen-captures, especially & particularly, the heart-rending ' You don't care ' scene, & that last pic stirs my tear ducts ( might not be able to sleep ) . The music rights for the film probably mean that I might not see it again.

    Ciao!

    --Pearl

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    1. Off-subject : do you ( or anyone ) recall from the same era ( give or take a year or 2 ) a film -- this will sound risible -- about, erm, a postman which wanted to be a tree ? I swear I am not making this up. It was about a tired postman which felt unappreciated but fortunately did not turn postal, & he loved trees & wanted to be one ! In the last scene, he was chased into the park by his wife & colleagues & probably by men wearing white & carrying a net, but, when he cleared a bend with several trees and/or bushes, he disappeared from view, & only we the film viewers realised that there was a new tree. After seeing it, I forgot about it for more than 20 years till I had a discussion with some friends about strange movies & I mentioned it to their disbelief & amusement. I could have sworn it was titled The Postman Who Wanted To Be A Tree, but IMDB, which is exhaustively authoritative, doesn't recognise that title & I concede that I must have forgotten the real one. Any takers out there ? It was a regular studio release. thank you !

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    2. Hi Pearl
      Before I address your earlier comment I have to address the fascinatingly off-topic one. I know that film you speak of: it's called "Mr. Sycamore" and it came out in 1975. The only reason I know about it is because I am a Sandy Dennis fan and I've never seen it. In fact, if it had a release at all in the Bay Area during my youth, it went totally right by me. This in spite of the fact that the postman in question was Jason Robards, and the rest of the cast is pretty impressive.
      How marvelous that you saw it! it sounds perfectly odd and actually kind of sweet.
      Anyhoo...
      I hope this post does not in fact inhibit your sleep, but like so many, it seems to be a film that elicits strong reactions. it's a film most people respect, but find far too gloomy and sad to really want to revisit. Which certainly can't help it's chances for a DVD release.
      While i would love to see a pristine copy of the film, I'm grateful that Paramount hasn't gone of the route of films like "Sixteen Candles" for it's VHS release, and substituted more affordable tracks for the expensive ones they couldn't license. The songs in "Goodbar" seem to comment on the action...it would be a shame to lose them.
      love the reference to "One Step Beyond" which gave me the creeps, but not as much as the opening sequence of "Journey to the Unknown" which was nightmare material. Lovely to hear from you Pearl. Thanks!

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  17. What a brilliant article. I have been fascinated by "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" since I saw it in the early '90s - on a FOX-affiliated channel! Despite being heavily edited for TV, the grim, downbeat tone of the film seared into my mind, as well as the haunting last few images of Keaton's face.

    Her performance is absolutely brilliant. Theresa is so relatable and so REAL, that what happens to her at the end makes it even more depressing.

    Brooks truly captured the loneliness and emptiness of nightlife. I must say, this is probably the best soundtrack ever in my opinion. Every song used in the film whether intentionally or not, works perfectly in each sequence. Bill Withers' "She's Lonely" is funky yet sad and is the perfect song choice for the scene where Theresa is finally independent - but alone - in her new apartment.

    A few years ago, iTunes had a widescreen version of Goodbar for rent. I watched it and it looked absolutely amazing. Obviously, the music rights are the holdup for a DVD release but it would be fantastic if Criterion could release this.

    I loved how in-depth your review was, and the various images. I absolutely love that teaser from Variety. I would love to learn more about the making of and publicity for Goodbar. What a classic.

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    1. Hi Tom
      Thanks for the kind words and for your thoughts on the film. Everything you say about the character being relatable is quite true, and in a weird way, the biggest offense Richard Brooks perpetrated on his audience. He gave us character we liked, ergo her death was all the more painful. At the time, that seemed to bean unforgiveable offense...making us feel the pain of death.
      It's like the antithesis of the superhero films and even the disaster films of the 70s, where death was entertainment or distant.
      And I believe you are correct about the music choices, if one pays attention, each song comments on the action, Theresa's state of mind, or the singles' philosophy of the time. Although i hate that the music is the holdup to the DVD being released, I can't think a non-musical film where each song as chosen is as important. It wasn't one of those jukebox scores cobbled together with hits from the era in order to market as a soundtrack. The songs in "Goodbar" are the film's Greek chorus and undercurrent.

      I sadly missed that brief moment whan "Goodbar" was on iTunes (As i did when it was available for screening on Netfix) but perhaps someday it will get a decent DVD release. Paramount has a terrible track record for releasing bare-bones editions. I wish Criterion would get on it, too.
      it's nice to hear from someone who found the film fascinating and is interested in learning more about it. In spite of it being one of the most anticipated films of that year, so little information about the making of it exists, and Keaton NEVER talks about it.
      Terrific hearing from you, Tom. Thanks and come back again!

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  18. Well, sad to say...(and I won't get into it) but I totally related to Diane K's character in Goodbar. It was about 4 years after I came out as a gay twentysomething and I was already 30 and jaded. unfortunately, like Theresa, though the movie terrified me and I swore that I could NEVER be like her, I became promiscuous, out of insecurity, escapism and fear. I didn't get murdered...but I paid a huge price (you may be able to figure that one out) I understood her and this story way before things went wrong for me. I do think that gay men could totally relate to Theresa....anger at religion, sexual repression, unable to find or present a true identity...etc. it's 2015, things are very different for gay men....but even today and back in 77...gay men used sex as escapism from self hatred. let's face it, that truth has been around forever. I saw Goodbar by accident on a cheap cable movie channel. of course, it freaked me out completely. I was in the closet and I bet seeing it made me go further in, unfortunately. I swore I would never see it again. The image of Diane Keaton being stabbed to death, her face turning white, dying into a frozen face of fear....really put me over the edge. I changed my tune after hearing about the movie over the years and wanting to see it again. now I've seen about 5 or six times. I agree with everything you said. it was a movie way too far ahead of its time and it rubbed people the wrong way. and, again, as you said...this is about a woman's self discovery to her dark side. For Deniro....it's okay....for Diane Keaton....thank you very much, where's the exit? and I think it's very clear that men and (gay) men can relate to it. At any time of our lives we have all experienced insecurity....to the point where you "lash out" in self destructive ways. Keaton is phenomenal, as you said. She never "shows"....she just "is" Theresa. The rest of the cast is great, of course. Richard Kiley (what an asshole) Tuesday Weld ( well....we already know her unique gift as an actress...why go on?) Tom Berenger (I really don't want to get into it). But....hey.....let's face it. Who, I mean was there anyone who walked out of the theater without making sure they knew the name of the actor who played Keaton F buddy?? Man....Richard Gere knew exactly what to do with that character and I'm sure he KNEW his career would be off and running after the movie's release. Gere is like a Disco Brando....style, sleaze, sex object, scary yet, dare I say...caring? well in a manipulative kind of way...and kind of funny. any actor would dream of a career making scene where you dance around in a jock strap....with a knife.....looking like a ballet dancer on speed. I'm a fan of Gere...but I'm sure even if you weren't...you wouldn't take your eyes off of him for a minute. but again, I was very happy to see you discuss another movie that was groundbreaking but not fully appreciated at the time. If any other movie comes close....it would be Taxi Driver....but even Goodbar surpasses it. This is the movie...maybe...that foreshadowed the end of the sexual revolution......and the concequences of promiscuity that AIDS would define in the early 80s. Nobody was safe anymore.

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    1. Thanks for your intelligent, sensitive, and most of all, honest commentary about "Goodbar"! Just wonderful.
      I agree that a great many gay men can identify with Theresa, but I honestly know a great many straight men and women who CAN identify but REFUSE to see themselves in the dark character portrayed. Just recently i spoke to a well-to-do housewife and mother of two who, in speaking of her single years, "I look back and I'm honestly surprised I didn't wind up in some dumpster somewhere."
      The reality is that a great many young people explore their sexuality in a natural way, but we are a violent, sex-hating society that can make that very natural impulse, shameful, and ultimately dangerous.
      Society supports heterosexual men acting this way (replace Keaton with a man and would we even have a movie? She behaves like every young man the first time they leave home and get a place of their own).
      I personally don't consider sexual licence as promiscuity, and see the scourge of AIDS is more a flaw in our society (no one blames themselves for getting cancer from the food we eat or air we breathe), but a film like this is rather brilliant in confronting and dramatizing our seriously conflicted and confused attitudes about sex and its too-close association with violence (that "50 shades of Grey" crap is far more dangerous than this film will ever be).
      Your comment is like a mini review of the film, and I really enjoyed your perceptive observations. Some of it made me laugh (calling Richard Kiley an asshole); some of it is so on top of the electrifying quality of the film as a whole (your take on Gere's charisma is particularly on-point).
      But most of all I love the perception that sex has always been a means of escape for the self loathing, and in that, repressed gay men don't hold patent. You see it in heterosexual misogyny dressed to look like being a "player" - you see in women who romanticize brutality and call it masculinity, and you see it in the arena of male/female singles bars that feel like battlefields of mutual disgust.
      I think 1977 was too soon to have a non-reactionary dialog about a film like "Goodbar" (after all, the woman dies in the end, so to far too many of the un-anaytical, it meant she was asking for it, or deserved it, or brought it upon herself). But today I think more provocative discussion could arise out of what kind of society produces the male and female Theresa Dunns of the world.
      I know the sign-in thing on Google makes the Anonymous title necessary, but I wish I could thank you by name. The time you took to relate so many interesting thoughts and ideas contributes to this particular post more than you know.
      Your candor and shared introspection is much appreciated!

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  19. Just wanted to say thank you for reading and your reaction to my comment. again, I have had much better understanding and great new insight into films that I have loved because of your writings. It is surprising to me that Goodbar has (w/out sounding melodramatic) followed me through my life. (even as a child, I had seen the cover of the book, the ad for the movie...and knew that those images showed something was "not right". I even remember coming home from school, seeing the Time magazine cover with Diane Keaton that said (I think) : "Annie Hall Looks for Mr. Goodbar". I bet it's on ebay. but thanks again Ken. always so great to hear your response!!!

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    1. You're so welcome. And you're not sounding melodramatic at all. Film really does have this weird influence sometimes. What you describe about your childhood awareness of "Goodbar" mimics my own in regard to "Rosemary's Baby"...the title, the book, the graphics, they all followed me throughout my childhood/teen years. They become pop cultural emotional landmarks for us in some ways.
      I can see a film and tap into what I was feeling when I first saw it...much like re-reading a diary.
      No, it just sounds to me like you allow yourself to be receptive to film. Personally I think those who don't or cannot, miss out on a great deal. Thanks!

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    2. Just wanted to thank you again for the superb review. I haven't read the book, but i'm going to pretty soon. My interest was sparked in the movie and book...again...when listening to Donna Summer's "Could it Be Magic" (in the scene where Gere and Keanton...bond? In your analysis, you pointed out the moaning and groaning of sex in the disco songs. But...(though I am biased) if you listen to most Donna Summer songs...they're actually songs about lost love, hoping for what's gone to come back. time running out,etc. "Bad girls, talking bout the SAD girls" and Last Dance? a story about a desperation from someone who knows..the party is over. there must be other disco artists who go much deeper than the "push push in the bush" theme. (I met Donna Summer at Best Buy, I was a cashier , she was with her daughter. she was very sweet, but had a "oh, shit" look on her face when I recognized her." Still sad when we lose any artist. but getting back...your review is so insightful. It makes me want to watch the movie again, then again. and you praise Keaton..which not many did at the time...or now. also, I saw an intereview with Keaton..and I was surprised that the interviewer mentioned Goodbar...and Keaton opened her eyes very wide and said..."Oh, yeah...that's...wow...boy, yeah, that part...yeah" and that was it. but no one brings it up when she is interviewed. and she is so phenomenal in it. well, have a wonderful Labor Day!! Always look forward to your analysis of films. you're the best!!! :)

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    3. Hey there
      Thanks for revisiting the post! Speaking of insight and returning the compliment, I think you make an interesting point about the content of disco songs. It's a somewhat common complaint among composers of dance music (say, The Pet Shop boys) that just because they write music to dance to, their songs are often dismissed as inconsequential. Though disco is guiltier than most of creating mindless (but enjoyable) noise, it's true that some songs (like those of Donna Summer's you mentioned) are actually pretty thoughtful. If you have the soundtrack to "Goodbar" - there are a couple of songs ("She's Lonely" "Don't Ask to stay until tomorrow") that are really excellent, lyrically.
      That's terrific you got to meet Donna Summer, an anecdote made all the better by your picking up on her "oh, shit" look!
      As for Keaton's response to Goodbar, I'm always intrigued by actors who hate the films I think they are wonderful in. I suppose it all comes down to the actor's experience of making the movie, but I know Karen Black is said to have disliked "The Day of the Locust" intensely, and Tuesday Wed felt the same about "Pretty Poison." In both instances the actors recount that the filming was so unpleasant, they have little objectivity about the film itself.
      Thank YOU again for the greeting and Labor Day wishes, hope all is well with you, too. You're very kind.

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  20. Hey Ken. Thought you’d like this: Bruce LaBruce is on fire these days with the new regular film column he’s writing. I sent you his column about Puzzle of a Downfall Child before – this is LaBruce on Looking for Mr Goodbar.

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  21. Oh, I liked reading it a great deal! Thanks for thinking to share it with me, graham! Wonderful essay! I may have to become a regular reader.

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  22. Ken, a little earlier this month TCM aired LFMG in a pretty decent print, completely unedited (God love 'em, with all the rough language and bits of nudity intact!) and I finally got to see it last night the way it was intended. I hope some of your other readers did as well since this movie has been so out of circulation. It was great to re-read this post after having seen it, along with all the great comments. Though I didn't always completely identify with her character, this has to be Diane Keaton's finest hour on film and the work (along with the others, who are also great) deserves to be seen! I hope this augers a video release sometime soon. (But what a disappointment to read above that she doesn't even mention the movie in her auto-bio. Wow...!) Anyway, it was your profile of the movie that put it back on my radar and had my eyes peeled for it for (almost exactly!) two years. Thanks!

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    1. Hey Poseidon
      How cool of you to revisit this post and share your experience of seeing it (again?). When I learned TCM was airing it, I posted notices on Twitter & Facebook. It's one of those movies every film fan knows about, but as you say, it's been out of circulation for so long.
      I really think it gets better with time (it feels less sensational and more thoughtful), and I would love to know why (if) Keaton has a problem with it. To my taste she certainly has never been better. And the music!
      I do hope it gets a DVD release soon.
      And two years ago this was posted! Yikes! Happy to know we're both still here doing what we love- writing about film. Thanks, Poseidon!

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  23. I finished it 30 minutes ago and I still don't know if I liked it. Glad I came here cause now I think I understand and respect this movie more, BUT I'M TERRIFIED.

    I never heard about this movie and I didn't even watch the trailer so I was surprised. I'm not a die-hard fan of Diane and I always wanted to like her, and at least I finally do: She's just adorable here and it took me 15 minutes to fall in love with her character and her acting.

    Maybe I misunderstood the movie but at some point it was looking like those old pulp fictions were sexually free characters (as in women, gay women, gay men) always had a terrible life and died at the end to teach people what happens to the "bad guys" (And we're not talking about the killers). I can't see it with a different light maube I'm not as open minded as I wish I was. It felt like a bad morality tale and I somehow felt offended. The fact that all man were bad or crazy or unstable didn't help it either - Even though Theresa was real all the time, the world around her seemed like a bunch of stereotypes that never rings true. I spent the whole movie asking "Where is she going? What's gonna happen? Why this movie insists on her self destruction?"

    Still, it's amazingly filmed (I love that is dark almost all the time) and thanks to your review finally there are a lot of things I can see now (When it comes to Theresa, I was blind to most of the nuanced issues you posted here about her sexuality, maybe I was trying to figure out the world around her so hard I couldn't pay attention enough). The question I had when the movie ended is still unaswered: why throw that character in this surreal world and then end like this? What's the purpose of this whole story?

    Wish I had the balls to watch it once more, but I highly doubt it hahahahaha. I don't think I ever had the experience of finishing a film and feel so empty like I couldn't take anything from it (Or didn't want to. i'm not sure). Actually, I think I'm kinda depressed.

    Thanks for your review! :)

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    1. Hi Joao Paulo
      I feel for you. And I think you largely express what the public felt about the film. It is definitely a downer, and few felt it wasn't exactly what you perceived it to be: a morality tale in which female sexuality is punished.

      When it comes to movies, I think it's always good to go by your gut response to it. It's YOUR truth of your viewing experience, and its as valid as mine...even when they differ.
      I know several people who feel like me about "Goodbar"; they really love it and find it to be a strong film about American sexual mores in the '70s. But I also know a lot of people who find it misogynist, moralistic, and even poorly made and simplistic.
      I appreciate all those points of view, just so long as no one tries to convince the other person THEIR opinion is the right one.

      It sounds like you both understood the film and allowed yourself to get into it, so I don't think you misunderstood anything about it, and that it's authentic that it left you with little to extract from it (except depression). The best part is your being able to delineate what worked for you and what didn't.

      I've seen films that I felt didn't play fair with the characters or themes, and I walked away feeling offended or angered that I was left depressed or sad for what I thought was an inauthentic truth. Perhaps that's a bit what you felt. Movies have to speak to us personally, and none of us have life experiences and sensibilities so similar that we'll all extract the same thing.

      I can only imagine what a shocker it was not knowing anything about the film. I knew about it a bit beforehand, but it still knocked me for a major loop. There are some disturbing movies I hate (like director Michael Haneke's "Funny Games") and others I just find so powerful thatI like them, but can never watch them again (the 1988 film "The Vanishing", not the lame remake).
      It's actually good to know the film still packs a punch after all these years.
      From the sound of it, you need to watch a Doris Day movie soon!
      Thanks very much for checking out my essay and for commenting!

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    2. Thank you for your words, Ken!
      I spent the whole day thinking about this movie (against my will I must admit), that ending is undeniably powerful and well made (Diane's screams, the lighting, the unsuccessful moments she tried to unlock the door, all so nerve-racking) so I have to say, it's a very well crafted movie in so many ways that I've developed some kind of a distant admiration, but still... Well, As you said very well it's not MY TRUTH, and I think that the filmmaker didn't want to make his own truth explicit so maybe that's why everybody feels this movie so differently, because it allows each viewer to make what they want of it. It takes some courage from the director.

      The bright side is that I understand Theresa better now: I think she liked troubled people (not only men, but also her sister) because she had low self-steem and being around them would make she feel superior. That's why she was so condescending and never pushed them to be better, and I think it's pretty interesting. So this wasn't a worthless experience, Theresa seems like a richer character and I think I'll eventually find out more about her in the coming days! Also, I'm glad to finally join the Diane Keaton's Fan Club.

      Oh how would my family and I be like without Doris Day to keep us sane? Hahahhahaahahaahah

      Thank you and have a nice weekend!

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