Thursday, February 7, 2013


I've a feeling an individual can easily gauge what his or her overall response to this film is likely to be simply based upon how one reacts to its title. If Puzzle of a Downfall Child strikes you as a potentially profound, enigmatically poetic title conjuring up images of Paradise Lost and existential disillusion, you’re likely to fall in love with this long-considered-lost exemplar of European-influenced, '70s “personal statement” cinema. On the other hand, if the title reeks of self-serious pretentiousness and needlessly arty ambiguity…well, little about the film itself is likely to alter that perception.

Me, I fall a little into both camps. For one, I've always been crazy about the title. Perhaps that's because I was 13 years old when the movie came out and the title sounded just gloomily cryptic enough to appeal to my adolescent taste for high-flown self-dramatization. (In an interview, director Jerry Schatzberg has stated that the title alludes to a plot element involving an abortion that was deleted in an early draft of the screenplay.) I adore Puzzle of a Downfall Child for its introspective examination of the elusiveness of happiness and the human desire to connect in the face of reality-distorting conceptions of image, sexuality, self-worth, and success. In the telling, few of the film’s insights are very acute, but there’s a psychological authenticity to the screenplay and performances which significantly mitigate the sometimes arthouse excesses of the film’s visual style.
Which leads to camp #2. As much as I love Puzzle of a Downfall Child and believe it to be both a beautiful and moving film, I’m the first to admit that at times it can feel like a parody of a '70s art film. The debut effort of photographer turned-director Jerry Schatzberg, Puzzle of a Downfall Child falls prey to the minor sin of over-determined significance. There’s a kind of naïve foolhardiness to be found in acts of absolute sincerity, and if Puzzle of a Downfall Child suffers from anything, it’s from a heartfelt conviction it is saying something “important” about the human condition. To some, such ponderousness can come off as pretentious, humorless, or just plain exasperating. But me, I’ll take a self-serious film that tries to be about something over today’s cynical, eye-on-the-boxoffice, market-research product any day.
Faye Dunaway as Lou Andreas Sand
Barry Primus as Aaron Reinhardt
Viveca Lindfors as Pauline Galba
Roy Scheider as Mark 
Faye Dunaway plays Lou Andreas Sand (nee Emily Mercine), an emotionally fragile former high-fashion model who has retreated to a solitary beach house on Fire Island following a crippling nervous breakdown. Visited by long-time photographer friend and former lover Aaron Reinhardt (Barry Primus), Lou recounts her troubled life in a taped conversation Reinhardt hopes to fashion into a film. With her life revealed in flashbacks that come at us in stylized and realistic non-linear stretches devoid of obvious hints as to their veracity as memory, fantasy or both; Lou reveals herself to be the most unreliable of narrators. Yet the tone of these mental images, playing out like scrapbook pages torn from an album and reassembled, expose the truth of the woman, if not always the truth of the events themselves. It's a fascinating narrative path made all the more so due to Puzzle of a Downfall Child being a film constructed in much the same manner. That the movie creates for us a sense that we are watching just the sort of film Primus' character is likely to assemble from his talks with Lou is just one more piece of Puzzle of a Downfall Child 's continually self-referential puzzle. 
Two magazine covers photographed by Jerry Schatzberg
Left: Anne St.Marie -1956 / Right: Faye Dunaway - 1968

Director Jerry Schatzberg, who had worked for more than 20 years as a photographer for magazines like Vogue, Esquire, and McCall's, based Puzzle of a Downfall Child on taped interviews he conducted with one of his favorite subjects, 1950s supermodel Anne St. Marie. St.Marie, like her film counterpart, retired from modeling after suffering a nervous breakdown. To further the whole wormhole effect of this enterprise, Schatzberg, who was rumored to have had an affair with St. Marie (as does his screen doppelganger, photographer Aaron Reinhardt with Dunaway's Lou Andreas Sand) in real life photographed Dunaway for many fashion magazines, and for a time the two were engaged to be married. Their relationship had already dissolved before Puzzle of a Downfall Child went before the cameras.
"If one can't keep some friends somewhere, then something is really wrong."

I think perhaps my favorite thing about Puzzle of a Downfall Child is that it combines two of my favorite film genres: the '70s trying-to-find-oneself character drama and the '40s suffering-in-mink women’s weepie. How perfect is that? When I first saw this film, Faye Dunaway’s too-sensitive-for-this-world fashion model was an oasis of estrogen ennui in the testosterone-leaden desert of male-centric '70s films romanticizing male identity crises and masculine existential moments of reckoning. To my taste, there was a decided oversupply of movies featuring the likes of Jack Nicholson, George Segal, Richard Benjamin, or Elliot Gould grappling with the meaning of life, while an uncomprehending female (usually a sweet-natured dumbbell, and almost always played by Karen Black) stood around on the sidelines. Aside from the vastly inferior (by comparison) Jacqueline Bisset drama, The Grasshopper (1969), Puzzle of a Downfall Child was one of the few films from this era to grant a female character an equivalent navel-gazing opportunity.
To update Easy Rider's famous tagline, Puzzle of a Downfall Child could have been subtitled: "A woman went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere."

To its credit, Puzzle of a Downfall Child tries to find the common thread of humanity in the privileged-class despair of Lou Andreas Sand. And as embodied by Dunaway and captured by Schatzberg’s loving camera lens (actually cinematographer Alex Holender of Midnight Cowboy), Lou may never look less than exquisite (even when in the throes of a foaming-at-the-mouth nervous breakdown), but her pain is recognizable and real.

Have you ever seen an old detective movie or TV show and marveled at the perversity of (male) cops and reporters at a murder scene going on and on about how beautiful or desirable a female corpse was? I can't count the number of films I've seen where men stand over a dead woman's body lamenting the "waste" of a beautiful woman and how particularly tragic it is that said woman, so pretty or sexy in life, is now dead. It’s like there’s this overriding mentality that a woman’s looks and physical appeal matter even in death. Or worse, that one can be too beautiful to if the loss of life is sad, but the tragedy is compounded if the corpse is a looker. 
Beauty: Fetishism and Objectification
Puzzle of a Downfall Child sensitively addresses the high value we, as a culture, place on beauty, and the price exacted on those who fall prey to it. In placing this character drama in the appearance-fixated world of fashion photography, Schatzberg and screenwriter Carole Eastman take an insightful look at a woman whose entire existence and sense of self-worth is tethered to her beauty. Whose need to please and always be seen as desirable under the male gaze is both a desperate, deep-seated search for approval and a profound denial of self. The film's definitive narrative thread calls attention to the pervasiveness of male exploitation and the vulnerability/susceptibility of the female form.
Distorted Image
Troubled Catholic Schoolgirl Emily Mercine attempts to lose herself by adopting a pretentious name (perhaps borrowed from Nietzschean psychoanalyst Lou Andreas Salome) and engaging in casual sex with father-figure strangers. Like a character out of Damon Runyon, Lou Andreas Sand speaks in a mannered style totally devoid of contractions, and compulsively re-imagines events of the past in order to protect her fragile image of herself.

Faye Dunaway’s participation was instrumental in getting Puzzle of a Downfall Child to the screen, and her passion for the project is evident in every frame. And it’s a good thing too, because to the best of my recollection there isn't a single scene in which she does not appear. Mind you, I'm not complaining, for in much the manner that Liza Minnelli is so good in Cabaret that she makes you forget “Liza Minnelli: The Home Shopping Network Years”; Faye Dunaway so thoroughly blows me away in Puzzle of a Downfall Child that I'm reminded of everything her career promised before the whole Mommie Dearest / voicemail meltdown thing. One of my favorite but most problematic actresses (you have to have a taste for her mannerisms), Dunaway has every reason to be very proud of her work in this. After Bonnie & ClydePuzzle of a Downfall Child ranks as my all-time favorite Dunaway film. She is phenomenal in it.

I tell everyone, even if you don't have the patience for the entire film, just watch the first 15 minutes. The sequence chronicling Dunaway as a fledgling model navigating the battlefield of her first fashion shoot is cinema gold. Shot with an eye for detail only possible from knowing this world very well, Schatzberg peels back the illusions we hold in our America's Next Top Model preoccupation with the fashion industry and reveals the dehumanizing reality. Sure it's satirical, sure it's depicted from the overwrought perspective of the heroine; but from the performances, the dialogue (tellingly, Lou's voiceover describes the men on the set all looking at her as if they were sex maniacs. The visuals reveal her to have been largely ignored), and the stylish cinematography, this sequence is a great example of MY kind of moviemaking.
Dunaway reacts (I'll say) to being required to share her close-up with a live falcon. This terrifying sequence recall actress Tippi Hedren's accounts of working with Hitchcock on The Birds.

One of the good things about viewing an old film (and at 43 years-old Puzzle of a Downfall Child definitely qualifies) is that one gets to watch it in an environment entirely different from that in which it was created. Puzzle of a Downfall Child bombed in part because it came at a time when audiences were wearying of the glut of European-influenced, tarnished American Dream films that filled theaters after the breakthrough years of 1967. When viewed from the comic book / 3-D / blockbuster perspective of today, the film looks nothing short of miraculous.
Throughout her modeling career, Lou Andrea Sand compiles a list of photographers she refuses to ever work with again due to their abusive behavior. Boldly written in red on this list is the name of the film's director, Jerry Schatzberg. In her memoir, Looking for Gatsby, Faye Dunaway explains that this was an improvisational impulse on her part born of a particularly difficult time the director gave her after actor Marcello Mastroianni (the man she left fiance Schatzberg for) visited her on the set. Schatzberg liked the touch and kept it in the film.

As a culture, we’re guilty of attributing great profundity to the existential midlife traumas of male characters in films, while women undergoing the same are dismissed as merely neurotic. (I don’t know where I read it, but someone once observed that The Graduate missed the boat in focusing on the petulant Benjamin Braddock when the film's most compelling story and most interesting character was Mrs. Robinson and her midlife dissatisfaction.) It’s difficult not to think this subtle double standard played into the critical response to Puzzle of a Downfall Child, but as good as the film is (and I think it’s a really excellent film) there’s no ignoring that it falls into the usual traps that beset movies that ask us to feel sorry for the beautiful people.
Film is a storytelling medium and all manner of human experience should be explored. But films like Puzzle of a Downfall Child seem to forget why movies exist and who attends them. No matter how masterful the film, it’s difficult to ask an audience to listen to a woman as breathtakingly beautiful as Faye Dunaway complaining about how unhappy she is in her (perceived glamorous) job as a fashion model, and how empty she finds her life (after amassing enough wealth to live in financially independent solitude in a spacious beach house). 
We all know that the rich and beautiful can suffer as much as the rest of us, but any film that attempts to dramatize a shared humanity with people whose lives offer far more options than those of the average person has to walk a precarious tightrope. If the world is too glossy, the people too lacquered, it can actually end up glamorizing that which it's trying to vilify. Ultimately sending a message similar to the one expressed by those cops in the old movies bemoaning the fact that certain people are  just “Too beautiful to suffer, too lovely to die.”
As of this writing, The DVD of Puzzle of a Downfall Child is currently only available in France (released Feb. 2012), but every year more and more obscure films are getting "made to order" releases, hopefully this will be one of them.
So, whether you take the film to your heart (as I did), or wish to wallow in its camptastic splendor  (Puzzle of a Downfall Child is an exquisite, sumptuous-looking film that has a scene involving a toilet that is sure to send Mommie Dearest fans into wild ecstatics), this artifact from the days when movies sought to do more than make Variety's Top Ten weekend boxoffice list, has a little of something for everybody.

No matter how you prefer your Dunaway, overdone and theatrical or touching and deeply affecting, Puzzle of a Downfall Child is a lost miracle of a film that is worth taking the time to discover (or rediscover).
"One only breaks oneself apart in order to put oneself back together again...better."

To view some of Jerry Schatzberg's magnificent photographs, visit his website HERE

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2013


  1. I really enjoyed reading this (as I do all of your posts) and can't believe I've never seen this. Of course, as you say, it's been out of circulation for quite a while. Faye is my favorite contemporary actress (well, perhaps I should amend that to say that she's my favorite from the '60s to the '90s since her most recent work has been difficult to love for a variety of reasons.) I'll have to commit to hunkering down before my laptop screen and watching this movie, and soon! Thanks!

    1. Hi Poseidon! And thanks again. I always like hearing from you. I think you will like this film and I'd be curious to hear how you think it stacks up against some of her other work. Although I think she's marvelous in it, I have to confess that it took me a while to shed some of the post-Mommie Dearest baggage I carry around with me about her.
      The world of fashion, beautiful women suffering with flawless all leans so easily into camp that it takes a kind of concentrated effort to give the film the benefit of the doubt. Give it a shot. i can't promise that you'll like it, but there is plenty of fodder for the odd giggle or two.

  2. Ken, I tried -- really, I did -- but 37 minutes into it, I'm not sure how much more I can handle. Faye's line readings (unless she's improvising badly) sound like a cross between dithering Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall" and Barbara Eden in "I Dream of Jeannie" (She never uses contractions!).

    Ultimately, I'm just not finding "Lou" a very sympathetic character nor does she seem like a real person (why would anyone want to interview her in the first place?). As stunning as she looks, Faye seems too old to play such a naif and the whole thing is just so heavy-handed and pretentious: those flashbacks/dream sequences are like bad Bunuel. I AM enjoying Viveca Lindfors, however, whose over-the-top performance is quite a bit of fun (She just had a meltdown at the dinner party). And I love the moss-green walls in that first photo shoot space!

    If today's blizzard keeps up perhaps I'll revisit it: thank heaven for YouTube!

    1. Hi Peter
      First of all, that first sentence of your comment cracked me up! It sounds like a quote from "Zero Dark Thirty"!
      In spite of my loving this film so much, I commend you for your stamina and bravery in the face of two artists(Schatzberg and Dunaway)stricken with an acute case of 70s significance. This film (subject matter, characters, and performances) are no slam-dunk in the entertainment sweepstakes. I think it's appeal is very personal, and that's not at all to say that it's very good. It's mostly to say that it's very ME (which is a pretty scary thought to ponder). But when I'm really taken with a film, I get a big kick out of hearing the various ways in which the same film fails to speak to someone else.
      For example, your Diane Keaton/Barbara Eden observation is really priceless! It's very much spot-on (even Dunaway in her memoirs commented upon her character's avoidance of contractions when speaking. She fails to note if it was a acting choice on her part or in the script).
      Secondly, the point you make about Dunaway's age is also a good one, although it doesn't exactly solve your finding Dunaway a tad long in the tooth for her early scenes. Schatzberg has said that he had considered Anne Bancroft or Joanne Woodward for the model in advanced age, but Dunaway was so enthusiastic about the project he allowed (?) her to play Lou as a teen, a young woman, and as past 30 or so.
      I too cracked up at the dinner party scene with Lindfors (who's never met a piece of scenery she didn't find to her chewing taste), and in a later scene Barbara Carrera makes a comical impression.
      I'll have to check out the film again to get a look at those moss-green walls!
      Whether you feel up to giving the film another chance or not, let it be known that I applaud your efforts (I'm trying to spearhead a revisionist Dunaway appreciation society)and really enjoyed reading how much the film just didn't come together for you. I'm sure many will find your comments a good deal more entertaining than the film. Thanks, as always, Peter.

  3. OK, the closing credits just rolled. I agree with a lot of what you said in your original review, Ken. I think a more interesting film COULD be made about a mentally fragile young woman swept up in the world of modeling who...wait, what was the plot of this movie exactly? For me it just rambled on and on and I had no clear sense of the passage of time (in fact, it took me a long while to realize that Lou was supposed to be MUCH older than she was in her earliest flashbacks -- Faye doesn't age, she just switches to a palette of earth tone makeup.).

    With the exception of "Funny Face" has there ever been a good film about modeling? (Think "Mahogany" or "Where Are You, Polly Maggoo" -- They're dreadful.) Models (and I've known a few) are just not very interesting subjects. They're paid a lot look pretty and they worry about getting old and being passed over. But that's not what makes the Lou character so tedious (for me) -- it's that the movie never lets us get outside her own warped perceptions. At the end she's just as lost and out-of-touch as she was at the beginning (not the interview beginning, but her early scenes as a model). Why should we care about this woman living alone in a to-die-for beach cottage?

    BTW, here in the East, nobody says "I'll be driving up the coast." LOL

    1. Bravo! I feel like I should give out a digital gold star to you, because rather than go with your gut instincts (head for the hills) you weathered the storm (I suppose the blizzard gave you added incentive by cutting down on your options) and made it through one of those 70s movies I'd like to call a "noble failure."

      I'm very proud of you! It matters less that you weren't reduced to a teary-eyed mess at the conclusion (as I was!), so much as gave an interesting film a shot.

      I love the point you make about the modeling profession. It mimics my own feelings about the motion picture industry. Most average people don't think of modeling or making movies as "real" jobs, at least not ones we have a lot of patience with hearing privileged pretty people carping about. That's why I think movies about modeling (like the exquisitely bad "Mahogany") always come off as camp unless they find a twist (focusing on the photographer and turning it into a genre film, as was done with "Blow Up" or Dunaway's "Eyes of Laura Mars").
      It's just hard to make glamorous people in socially "useless" professions (does that sound communist?) appear sympathetic, and I think that's what you address in your comment. (I too hated "Where Are You, Polly Magoo", but for a good modeling movie, have you ever seen GIA...which also features Dunaway, only in the Viveca Lindfors role ?)

      The thoughtful points you bring up show me that you were actively engaged in watching the film and wanted it to work for you, it just didn't. Rather just say "I didn't like it," or "It's no good," you're able to delineate where it fell apart for you. THAT is real movie watching, and, as I said, were I teaching a course in film, you'd get a gold star.

      Lastly, I love that you took note of how either the egos of Dunaway or Schatzberg failed to allow Lou to look as old as she should have in the contemporary parts of the film. As moving a film as I've always found it to be, Dunaway just never allows herself to get into the levels of physical deterioration (Charlize Theron in "Monster" levels, I'm thinking) that would have given the film and her character more poignancy. I think Dunaway could have pulled it off, but either Schatzberg's photographers eye or Dunaway's enchantment with her own bone structure kept things prettier than they needed to be in that part of the film.
      Don't mean to respond to each of your posts with an essay, but in your desire to find something in this film to connect with, you illuminate perhaps many of the complaints expressed by critics and audiences at the time. I mean really, anyone who can pick out the comic inauthenticity of "I'll be driving up the coast!" is no passive movie-watcher and is a critic at heart!

  4. I'm so glad you've reviewed this rare film. As a Dunaway fan I have longed to see it and I finally managed to order a copy over the internet. I saw it once and have not returned to it as I found it quite confusing. Thank you for expaining the plot for me. I now also understand why it wasn't a hit since they're asking us to feel sorry for someone with drop dead looks.

    I liked that you put the film in perspective among the more macho films of the 70s. It's an odd movie and I don't know who they were expecting to watch it - maybe lovers of European cinema? I will give it another go and thank you for nice pics from the film!

  5. Hi Willie
    I'm beginning to think that word "puzzle" in the film's title is proving to be prophetic when it comes to people trying to make heads or tails of Dunaway's well-lit existential nervous breakdown.
    I'm not so sure I've actually explained the film so much as recounted what the film says to me, but I'm gratified if my post has inspired you to revisit a film you had washed your hands of after one viewing.
    I do think the 70s was the era of the "personal" film and a time when a major studio could put out what is essentially and "Idea" built entirely on a particular artist's vision, without concern (too much) for its commercial viability. That's one reason America's auteurist film movement was so brief: they bankrupted the studios.
    Thanks for reading my post and if indeed you give this film another go, I hope perhaps it's a tad less murky. I'm just crazy about it. But, as you know, I'm crazy about a LOT of odd films.

  6. Ken, you noted:

    "I can't count the number of films I've seen where men stand over a dead woman's body lamenting the "waste" of a beautiful woman and how particularly tragic it is that said woman, so pretty or sexy in life, is now dead."

    It's become a cliche in those sorts of TV shows and movies, I agree. I've noticed this a lot, but you're the first writer that I've read to bring this to the fore and analyse it thus.

    Sometimes I catch myself thinking this about deceased beautiful and or/talented women, and then a wry little voice says back to me "So, it wouldn't be so bad if she were ugly and couldn't sing?" But then we must remind ourselves that it's perfectly natural to morn the loss of beautiful things.

    This ties in well with society's obsession with physical beauty and how people often express sadness that Jane Movie Star's looks have faded over the years, the loss of youth seen as a sort of death before death. People feel remorse over the fact that Jane Movie Star is no longer young and striking in her pulchritude, instead of celebrating the fact that she's lived more than 90 years as opposed to "dying young and leaving a great looking corpse" (to paraphrase John Derek). Less and less in our society, do we remember the value of growing old.

    Going back to the first point, your analysis reminds me of a line from the time travel TV show "Quantum Leap" where Al (Dean Stockwell) tells Sam (Scott Bakula)that one of the female characters featured in that week's show (I won't say which character in which episode, but she's one of my favourite "mirror images" in the whole series)never gets married, prompting Al to sigh "What a waste".

    Naturally, when I first saw the episode as a child, I thought the same thing as Al, because I had an instant crush on on the character/actress. Years later, I think differently, and I ask myself "Well, is it not possible that she never sought marriage, that she didn't believe in the institution, that she was happier being single?" Of course, Al's lament fits his character perfectly (Al was a skirt chaser and married several times in the show). But it does speak of men putting their own considerations and desires ahead of those of women.

    "Puzzle for a Downfall Child"--where do I stand on the issue of the title? I love it! It sounds great, another one of those "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" type deals.

    A quick snoop online reveals that this film has been screened several times in the past decade as part of various retrospectives (e.g. it screened in 35mm with a live Q&A with Jerry Schatzberg at the Torino Film Festival, December 2011).

    The Harvard Film Archive has also shown it in 35mm as part of a Jerry Schatzberg retrospective (November, 2010).

    Back in 2004, there was a screening of "Puzzle of a Downfall Child" in Brooklyn, also with an appearance by the director for a Q&A.

    As recently as 2012, the Film Forum on West Houston Street in NYC played a DCP Restoration of "Puzzle of a Donwfall Child".

    I see that there is a French release DVD of the movie as of early 2012, so I hope that there are still 35mm prints of the film and that they haven't been junked. This film was never released on video or laserdisc, and I certainly wasn't familiar with its details prior to reading your review. This is definitely one that I'm interested in seeing. Perhaps a local film society here in Australia could find a 35mm copy--most likely the National Film and Sound Archive. I'm going to suggest this to some of the film society and revival cinemas and see if they can make this happen!

  7. Thanks for your observations, Mark
    I think one of the points "Puzzle of a Downfall Child" makes pretty well is that beauty "does" merely "is." And for as much value as we place on physical beauty, it offers the possessor of said beauty nothing that validates what is essential about being human, only that which is the most superficial. The kind of dissociation Dunaway's character feels comes from never being able to align the great value of her looks with how badly she feels about herself inside. Leaving her doomed to continually seek and define herself through the appreciative eyes of others. When she's alone, she really has no sense of who she is.
    I don't know how well the film clearly conveys these ideas (they are easily lost in all the stylistic flourishes), but I like that a film attempted to address them.
    Schatzberg and Dunaway was reunited and the film screened at the Cannes Film festival in I think 2011, just prior to the DVD released over there. Unless some legal or licensing hassle is holding it up, I'm sure they will release the film here soon. Certainly some distributor can see we can all do without the DVD release of yet another disposable Sly Stallone or Jason Stratham movie and allocate a few bucks to getting this fascinating film released in its country of origin.

  8. I wonder what would happen if they shut down the wheels on Hollywood for a year and cinemas resorted to showing a bunch of obscure old films as if they were new? Some of those old films would easily outdraw what's being shown today. The old films would do big business at the box office, with the bonus of propping up the eventual DVD sales.

    Anyone who says that old films wouldn't draw at the box office doesn't know what he or she is talking about. Granted, they wouldn't all be hits, but then again, look at all the costly flops produced every single year by Hollywood. At least if the theatrical reissue of an old film flopped, it wouldn't cost studios millions of dollars.

    1. Interesting idea. Here in the states, Turner Classic Movies has had the most success with re-packing classic films to theaters as special screenings, often with video or live appearances of still-living participants in the film. I suspect they have been very successful, as they have a whole slew of classic-filmed events throughout the year. Here in Los Angeles, "American Cinemateque" also does well with bringing old films to theaters.
      I have no idea of the kind of money made, but it can come nowhere near the obscene amounts of money a film like "Identity Thief" can make in a single weekend.
      Revival movie houses are struggling, but there are still a few here in town, but their attendance numbers are nothing compared to what even a contemporary Hollywood flop stands to make (the overseas market usually saves films that die on the vine here).

      Back in the days when movie studios were run by one dictatorial individual, it was likely a person's love for film could override boxoffice concerns. Now, movie studios are incorporated with everything from newspapers to computers. Movies are just one more product put out. The "Hollywood machine" doesn't care if it's putting out garbage...if people keep paying big money to see garbage, I guess they can see no reason not to keep making it.
      I complain a lot about the kinds of films being made today, but no one's forcing anyone to go see crap. Obviously, we as a country want it. We get the kind of films we deserve.

  9. I think the gist of it is that the general public can be rather undiscerning. Sometimes this lack of discernment, the desire to watch any old thing, can lead people unwittingly into something they wouldn't normally watch. The best-case scenario that can result from this is someone being surprised most pleasantly by a film that they wouldn't otherwise have considered, thus planting the seed for a shift in perception as to what constitutes great cinema. My basic belief is "build it and they will come". Put enough quality films into the cinema and inevitably even the most casual viewer will stumble into something really special. Unfortunately many in the film business don't share my enthusiasm.

    In regards to feeding the Hollywood machine, one factor to consider is that even the most refined cineaste still watches a fairly large amount of Hollywood product--in fact, if you're a film critic (and by that I mean a real film critic, not just one of those E! Entertainment-style hacks) then your job more or less demands that you watch the latest films, the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

    1. Sad but true. I agree with your cultural "build it and they will come" theory. I know from research that there was a time film, television and newspapers all considered it their duty to deliver to the public product that would lead cultural tastes, not follow them. That seems to have fallen by the wayside.

  10. Awww, somebody pulled off the YouTube upload. I will have to wait for Robert Osborne or Ben Mankiewicz to rediscover this for TCM!!

    1. Phooey! I'll be deleting that YouTube link. Such a shame, though. Can't see this movie anywhere in the US yet.

  11. " No matter how masterful the film, it’s difficult to ask an audience to listen to a woman as breathtakingly beautiful as Faye Dunaway complaining about how unhappy she is in her (perceived glamorous) job as a fashion model, and how empty she finds her life (after amassing enough wealth to live in financially independent solitude in a spacious beach house)."

    Not what I got from this film at all. I felt very sorry for her character, if anything for how delusional she actually is, and how she is her own worst enemy. Maybe with a different actress, it would be hard to feel sorry for her but it's not possible with Faye Dunaway. She also ends up in a mental institution, I think she suffered plenty. Your criticism is more warranted for someone like Sofia Coppola's utterly pathetic movies post Marie Antoinette, not this one. I also don't perceive as Lou having any money at the end. That house doesn't seem luxurious.

    1. Getting to this one rather late!
      I see your point. A good one, too. And well-taken given given how you express the way you perceive the character and what that means for you in the context of the film. But, as this is a film, and one so intelligently made, it's worthy of multiple subjective interpretations. I like mine and that's how I see's authentic to me and feels right for how I perceive the character. But I like yours too, and I'm pleased you shared them here.
      I always like when the point is made that there is no ONE, single way for a viewer to look at a movie. We can share opposing perspectives, but they can both be valid as representatives of the feelings and impressions of the individual. Thanks for contributing.

  12. Ken: thought you’d appreciate queer Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce’s sensitive and lyrical appreciation of Puzzle. He puts it into context beautifully. And isn’t it nice to read an appraisal of Dunaway as a serious and compelling actress instead of treated as a campy joke? Read it here

    1. Thanks so much for that, Graham! Beautifully and thoughtfully written, it sis indeed a refreshing take on Dunaway (more in tune with the kind of reviews she got pre-Mommie Dearest) and an excellent personal assessment of this wonderful film. Much appreciated!

  13. One of my favorites! So glad you reviewed this lost cult classic. I taped this onto VHS from the late movie back in the 80s and it has a different opening than the newly restored French dvd. The version that aired on television has narration by Barry Primus talking about Lou as stills from the film are shown of Faye as Lou, except for one shot which has a young actress (not Faye) sitting in front of a mirror that contorts her face like a fun-house mirror. It's a much better and more dramatic opening than this new one which is just titles over black screen.
    If someone can't sit through Puzzle, I'm not sure I want to know them!

    1. Hi tlcarpenter3
      That's so interesting about the different opening used on the TV version. The first I'd ever heard of it. I do wish it would get a US DVD release. So few people have seen it and its such a strong performance from Dunaway.
      I'm pleased to hear it's one of your favorites. And of course, the last line of your comment made me laugh!
      Thank you for reading the post and for sharing that bit of opening titles trivia!

  14. I had never heard of the movie before reading this essay and today I noticed that KL Studio Classics is putting it out on DVD/BR next week and I'm tempted to blind buy it based on your words here. I do loves me the filmmaking aesthetics of its time and while Faye may be a terrible person, she was an exemplary actress in her heyday.

    Plus Roy Scheider. I'll give anything he's in a looksee.

    1. Well, if there's a film that's worth a blind buy, I'd say it's this one. Especially if you like Roy Scheider and have a feel for '70s film aesthetics.
      The rest is more or less a subjective roll of the dice. There's a reason this movie has taken so long to come to the notice of the larger public. Hope you enjoy it!

  15. Just for the record: Dunaway was an understudy to actress Barbara Loden in 1964 when Loden played a roman a clef version of Marilyn Monroe in Arthur Miller's play AFTER THE FALL. Loden married Elia Kazan, who in 1967 wrote an autobiographical novel called THE ARRANGEMENT which he then directed a film version of in 1969, where the character of the wife named "Gwen", based on Barbara Loden, was played in the film by Faye Dunaway. And then in 1970, Barbara Loden wrote, directed, and starred in what is now considered the CITIZEN KANE of 1970's groundbreaking independent American cinema, WANDA, which had a female protagonist at the heart of it's then au courant early 70's male existentialist ennui, and can be threaded as a hugely unacknowledged and connective influence on PUZZLE OF A DOWNFALL CHILD, and Dunaway's involvement, as well as the ensuing later wave of "feminist" 70's American cinema that followed in its wake (DIARY OF A MAD HOUSWIFE, UP THE SANDBOX, GIRLFRIENDS, THE BELL JAR, AN UNMARRIED WOMAN).

    1. Hi Barry,
      That’s brilliant…citing the seminal indie film WANDA as a trailblazing influence on the emergent, undernourished ‘70s subgenre of women-in-search-of-themselves movies. It’s so true, but I’d never thought of it. Your comment is also timely, as this weekend I watched for the first time Francis Ford Coppola’s 1969 THE RAIN PEOPLE, another film that, with Shirley Knight’s road-trip journey to herself, stands out as an early and welcome alternative to all those alienated young men of cinema youthquake.

      The Dunaway/Loden/Kazan connection is particularly intriguing. For although I read Dunaway’s memoir, this seems to be my first time learning of her serving as Loden’s understudy in AFTER THE FALL.

      Back in high school (1974) I saw the TV production of AFTER THE FALL, in which Dunaway finally starred. And somewhere around this same time, WANDA was shown on PBS. I read Kazan’s THE ARRANGEMENT back then, too. But I think I was too young to find much to relate to in the midlife crisis of the macho protagonist. I only saw the film version decades later on TCM. You pulled them all together for me in a way I wasn’t aware of before.
      Thanks for contributing so much film history and context to this post. And I'm especially gladdened at your reminding me of Barbara Loden's WANDA. A film I definitely agree with you in regard to its influence and groundbreaking status. I haven't watched it in years. I think I need to take another look.

    2. Ken: Your scholarship is staggering, your insight and film analysis even more so. There is very little you haven't thought of. You are "The Guardian And Sentinel Of All That Has Been Lost And Purposefully Destroyed": the classic and iconic sage/wizard/seer character living secretly in the illegal no-go zone of a dystopic and allegorical sci-fi novel, i.e. 2024 America. I need (crave?) your extraordinary perceptions towards what I personally consider to this day the single greatest "lost and forgotten" film of the 1970's, namely "Natural Enemies", starring Hal Holbrook, Louise Fletcher, Viveca Lindfors, and Jose Ferrar, directed by Jeff Kanew. And I leave you with this thought: why are you not currently a formidable and creatively working force inside Hollywood? If there ever was a time a mind like yours was desperately needed inside that great national tragedy of functional illiteracy, now is it.

    3. Hi Barry- If ever I'm asked to submit a biography in context with this blog, I am going to steal the entirety of your "if only it were true" hilariously flattering description.
      I haven't seen or haven't heard a soul mention "Natural Enemies" since I saw it on cable sometime in the early '80s. Wow! A real blast from the past and (based on a quick Google check) a completely lost film.
      I didn't even remember much about it until I revisited the trailer on YouTube. It's a great suggestion for this blog and entirely the kind of film that bears rediscovery.
      I've added it to my list of coveted hard to find films, right below Andy Warhol's "L' amour."
      Thanks for the recommendation and for the very gratifying compliments. To have anyone respond to my writing in such a way is a dream realized.

  16. Faye was absolutely incredible in this. I actually think it's her best performance of all and I don't know why she was overlooked at the Oscars. I also think she was the most beautiful woman of all time and this movie showcases her beauty perfectly

    1. I, of course, am in wholehearted agreement with you about Dunaway's beauty and her touching and compelling performance in this.
      It's a career high point as far as I'm concerned.

      I know the film was probably too arty for a large percentage of the Academy voters at the time, but it also wasn't a financial success. And for all of Hollywood's self-proclaimed interest in rewarding excellence at Oscar-time, they habitually overlook quality movies that don't make money.
      Thanks very for reading this post and for commenting.