Monday, January 4, 2021

BOOM! 1968

"I don't believe God is dead, but I do think he is inclined to pointless brutalities."
Tennessee Williams

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made a total of ten films together (11 if you count the presciently-titled 1973 TV-movie Divorce His/Divorce Hers) over the course of their highly-public, passionate-but-rocky, ten-plus-one-years marriage (wed in 1964, they divorced in ’74, remarried a year later, re-divorced a year after that). By the time they appeared in their 8th vehicle together, Joseph Losey's Boom!, unkind film critics--worn down by years of ceaseless press coverage of the couple's top-of-the-line lifestyle and bottom-of-the-barrel movie resume--had taken to referring to the paparazzi-popular pair as a traveling vaudeville act. A difficult point to argue against at the time.

Branded infamous for their scandalously out-in-the-open, adulterous canoodling during the making of Cleopatra (1963), the combination of gossip and public curiosity helped turn cinematic dogs like 1963s The VIPs (neither had secured divorces from their respective spouses by then) and the following year’s The Sandpiper (their first onscreen pairing as man and wife) into boxoffice blockbusters. Yet it wasn't long after scoring an unexpected critical and boxoffice bullseye in Mike Nichols’ film adaptation of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), that Taylor and Burton developed the reputation for saying yes to any film offer that promised a hefty payday, major tax break, or exotic locale in which to work. 

Il Palazzo di Goforth
Built especially for the film, the mansion of Mrs. Flora Goforth is situated high atop the limestone cliffs of Isola Piana, a small island in the Mediterranean off the coast of Sardinia. Along the bluffs are replicas of the Easter Island moai heads, six of them, representing perhaps the spirits of the six husbands she outlived. Some interiors of the mansion were sets in Rome.

Boom! offered all three, plus the prospect of granting Taylor an unprecedented Tennessee Trifecta: Having already appeared in two successful Tennessee Williams screen adaptations—Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)—garnering Oscar nominations for both, surely reuniting with Williams for Boom! (working titles Goforth and Sunburst) would result in delivering the third cherry for a boxoffice jackpot. 

In his diaries published in 2012, Richard Burton admitted that The Sandpiper—a substantial financial success, but critical flop—was a film both he and Taylor knew to be a joke, but accepted solely for the opportunity to work together and as a cash-grab of convenience should negative public opinion about Le Scandale lead to their never working again. On the topic of the $5 million mega-flop that was Boom!, Burton asserts that it was a film both he and Taylor very much believed in and very excited to do. In fact, after watching dailies mid-production, Burton writes of the film looking “perverse and interesting, and optimistically intones, “I think we are due for another success, especially E [Elizabeth].” Given the dismal returns on their most recent releases The Comedians (1967) and Doctor Faustus (1967), perhaps the words "long overdue" are more apt.   

Elizabeth Taylor as Flora "Sissy" Goforth

Richard Burton as Christopher Flanders 

Noel Coward as Baron William "Billy" Ridgeway, aka The Witch of Capri 

Joanna Shimkus as Francis "Blackie" Black

Michael Dunn as Rudi

Elizbeth Taylor is eccentric millionairess Flora (“All my close friends call me Sissy”) Goforth. Cloistered away in a majestic mountaintop villa on her private island in the Mediterranean, Sissy Goforth dictates her alternatingly introspective/self-aggrandizing memoirs to her put-upon secretary (Joanna Shimkus) while being overzealously watched by her sadistic bodyguard Rudi (Michael Dunn). It’s summer (isn’t it always in a Tennessee Williams movie?) and Signora Goforth is dying. But not to hear her tell it.

 After burying six husbands--five wealthy industrialists and a penniless poet/adventurer who was the love of her life--the widow Goforth fancies herself as an indefatigable force of nature and nothing less than eternal. And, in point of fact, after getting a load of her constant carping, bellowing, and hurling of coarse invectives at all and sundry, one can well imagine that even death itself, when faced with the prospect of coming face-to-face with Flora Goforth, might opt to pass her by.

In 1968 Boom! and Rosemary's Baby earned the dubious distinction of being the first American feature films approved by the MPAA (Production Code Seal) to feature the word "shit."

"The doctors are disgusted with my good health!” Flora insists. Even in the face of nightly pain injections, blood transfusions, regular vitamin B shots, a steady diet of pills and medications, and the distressing increase in the number of paper roses blooming in all corners of the villa (a paper rose is Flora's bleakly poetic name for the many discarded wads of tissue stained with her coughed-up blood.) 

But for all that money can buy, it can't buy immortality, so the gravely ill Flora against time to complete her fated to go forth from this plane of existence. But not until she’s good and ready. And ready she’s not. The "dying monster," as she's referred to by her scornful staff, is not yet willing, prepared, or capable of relinquishing her vicelike grip on life. Or, closer to the truth, that which has come to represent life tor her: wealth, power, possessions, position, acquisition, and excess. 

The Walking Dead
By way of her vulgarity, cynicism, lack of compassion, and ostentatious flaunting of wealth,
it's inferred that Flora Goforth's spiritual death occurred long ago.

As though metaphysically summoned, a trespassing stranger named Christopher Flanders (Richard Burton) arrives at the villa carrying two heavy bundles and professing to have been invited. Flanders, whose saintly Christian name proves to be as symbolically relevant (and subtle) as Flora’s surname, is an itinerant poet, mobile artist, aging gigolo, and professional houseguest. Most recently, among his circle of imposed-upon jet-set friends, he has come to be known as “The Angel of Death.” A bitchy-but-accurate name assigned to him after a pattern emerged involving his paying visits to some of his aging and ailing benefactors shortly before their deaths.

With Christopher’s arrival, the already sublimely bizarre Boom! takes on the form of a spiritual allegory played out in a highly-stylized manner suggesting a Western interpretation of Eastern kabuki theater. Flora, facing mortality by stubbornly ignoring its existence, clings ever tighter to what she wants. Meanwhile, Christopher, whose physicality inflames Flora’s lifelong use of sex as a means of denying death, dares to suggest that beyond the things she wants lie the things she actually needs. 

Death Takes a Holiday
Flora amuses herself by dressing Chris (whose clothes were shredded by her attack dogs) as a samurai warrior, but the joke may ultimately be on her. The flowing black kimono and samurai sword present Chris as a kabuki variant of the traditional black-robed Grim Reaper with his scythe.

Hostess and guest engage in verbal sparring matches exhibiting the one-upmanship strategizing of games. An element emphasized both in the costuming (Flora & Chris are dressed in the colors of chess pieces) and art direction (chess boards and B&W domino tiles are scattered throughout the villa). Between bouts of seduction and bargaining, their parry and thrust conversations circle around existential fundamentals like acceptance of the inevitable and the relinquishing of the inessential. 
As the sun sets on Flora Goforth's island and indeed, Flora herself, Tennessee Williams’ paradoxically heavy-handed and confoundingly opaque screenplay leaves us with the metaphorical food for thought that “Saint” Christopher has trudged up that mountain to assist Flora in her journey to the other side. And in the recurring device of having Chris' requests for food (especially a drink of milk) met with refusal or completely ignored, the presumed takeaway is that Mrs. Flora Goforth is singularly lacking in the figurative ‘milk of human kindness,’ its train long having ceased pausing at her lonely threshold. 

Flora Goforth, appearing to be engulfed by a stylized golden shroud, is at last ready to go forth. But in reciting the title of the 1963 Broadway play upon which Boom! is based, lets it be known that Helen Lawson...intends on going out the way she came in. 

Such is the tale Tennessee Williams hoped to tell. What he delivered was a wordy, over-stylized exercise in opulent incoherence that, had the cast been a decade younger, would likely have been labeled a youth-culture "head trip" movie. As it stood, the generation still interested in the life-in-a-fishbowl antics of Taylor and Burton were either baffled or bored. It didn't take long for word about Boom! to get around, and, as the saying goes, people stayed away in droves.
Taking advantage of a little breather between Goforth tantrums,
her houseman Etti (Fernando Piazza) and her attending physician Dr. Luilo (Romolo Valli) 

One of the more persistent Hollywood myths that gains traction every award season is that of the passion project. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Oscars triumphantly hoisted overhead as the recipient shares the same “tenacity rewarded” tale of never giving up on a beloved movie vehicle despite years of studio rejection. This then cues everyone watching to shake their heads in amazement at the thought of all those studio dummkopfs failing to recognize the value of a project whose obvious merit now shines so brightly. As reassuring as all this is to those who romanticize the never-say-die spirit, I think it neglects the equally-valuable flip side: recognizing when it is both wise and prudent to let something go. Ironically, one of Boom!’s major themes
Even those who meet Boom! with, as one journalist phrased it "almost gleeful critical contempt" are apt to be impressed by the glorious compositions of Douglas Slocombe's stunning cinematography, and the breathtaking production design and art direction by Richard McDonald and John Clark.

If any Tennessee Williams work can be called a passion project, it’s The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. How else to explain the alarming fact that Boom!’s screenplay represents Williams’ 4th crack at the same material and he STILL failed to work out bugs?  What began life in 1959 as a short story titled Man Bring This Up Road (a line of dialogue that survives in Boom!) morphed into a stubbornly unsuccessful Broadway play that had the unprecedented honor of bombing twice in the same season. Claiming it to be one of his most obsessively beloved yet most difficult plays to write, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore is partly 52-year-old Williams confronting his own creative decline (his last hit was 1961's The Night of the Iguana), part his processing of the 1963 death of Frank Merlo, his partner of 14-years, from cancer at age 40.
Flora Goforth's secretary, Mrs. Black--the most honest and compassionate character in the play--owes her name to Williams paying tribute to his love, Frank Merlo. Merlo is the Spanish name for a blackbird, one of which appears in a golden cage in Boom!

In what feels like a desperate, last-ditch effort to get his point across, Williams has a character simply verbalize one of the film's themes: "Sooner or later, a person's obliged to face the meaning of life!" but Joseph Losey's stylized direction works just as hard making sure little as possible makes sense. What comes through (almost in spite of itself) is that death is the ultimate solitary act. No manner how many friends or how much money and "stuff" we amass, we can't take it with us and we must "go forth" alone. Boom! in its clumsy, campy way, proposes the gladdening notion that life offers us final mercy...the appearance of someone (something?) to ease our fear and escort us on our irrevocable journey.  We may claim it was never invited, but death requires no formal invitation. It's been summoned the instant of our birth. 

In his 1975 memoir, Williams relates that he was both astonished and overjoyed when the film rights for The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore had been purchased and director Joseph Losey (The Servant) assigned to the project: “Then a dreadful mistake was made. [Producer Lester] Persky offered the film to the Burtons.”

Were I the gambling type, I’d wager that the very reasons Tennessee Williams saw the Burtons as the least-favorable casting option for Boom! are the very reasons I find them to be absolutely ideal for the material. The stunt-miscasting of Taylor & Burton in Boom! was a bald-faced effort to try and recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle magic of Mike Nichols’ “And you thought she/he was all wrong for the part!” Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  hat trick, while simultaneously exploiting the screenplay's many Taylor-related bits of self-referential coincidence. Flora was supposed to be a past-her-prime battleax grinding to a halt in her 60s (Taylor was 35), Chris a fading gigolo in his early 30s (Burton was 42). Neither really fit their roles in ways having nothing to do with their ages, but say what you will, Taylor's mesmerizingly purple performance abutted by Burton's Sunday-morning-hangover thesping are the sole and primary reasons Boom! achieves any level of watchability at all.
Chris: (Indicating cigarette) "May I have one?" 
Flora: "Kiss me for it."

But I’m the first to admit that the Boom! I adore is probably not at all the Boom! Losey & Co. set out to make. As a play cloaked in Brechtian minimalism, it reads like a needlessly convoluted rehash of themes Williams has already explored…with more poignance and coherence…in Sweet Bird of Youth, The Fugitive Kind, Summer and Smoke, and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. As a film, not only does Williams’ trademark brand of cloaked symbolism and Freudian metaphor sound cobwebby in the era of “tell it like it is,” but no one involved in the project seemed aware that high-minded drama and high glamour have a funny way of canceling each other out. The end result is like watching a Theater of the Absurd sequel to Valley of the Dolls dramatizing the final days of Helen Lawson.

Since Mrs. Goforth on her deathbed looks better than most people in the full bloom of health,
it's kinda hard to wring much pathos out of her plight. 

Representing murky ideologies rather than people, the king-size personalities of Burton and Taylor, left with no characters to inhabit, resort to playing exaggerated versions of themselves. Portraying Death and often looking like it, Burton staggers about while letting his trained voice do all the heavy lifting. Meanwhile, Taylor, tottering around in high heels and even higher hair, plays Flora Goforth as a female impersonator doing a burlesque of Elizabeth Taylor. Yet they’re impossible not to watch. The film's sole concession to a contemporary sensibility is achieved in having a character written as a gossipy queen actually played by one. The Witch of Capri is traditionally played by a woman, and the producers had hoped to snare Katharine Hepburn. But granting the role to famed playwright/composer Noel Coward is inspired if ultimately affectless. 

Losey’s directorial style is languid and lovely and the storytelling clumsy, but there’s no end of delights to be found in the Burtons in their scenes together. Or in the regal blowsiness of Liz and her coughing, barking, swearing, drinking, glowering, and bitching. It entertains and maybe even enthralls.
Despite his initial reservations, Tennessee Williams, feeling his screenplay for the film was much better written than his play, ultimately warmed to Elizabeth Taylor's interpretation of Flora Goforth. Even going so far as to call her performance "The best that she's done." 
Howard Taylor (Elizabeth's older brother, who died in 2020) appears briefly as a journalist 

Before reality TV, the only opportunity fans had of getting a glimpse into the private lives of the rich and famous was when movie stars obliged them by taking on roles audiences were encouraged to interpret as fictionalized versions of themselves. They called it the Gawk Factor. Boom! is a movie loaded with Gawk Factor. The play was written for Tallulah Bankhead, but new generations of viewers are to be forgiven if they assume the role of Flora Goforth was Taylor-made.
Liz Taylor Loves Jewelry
Flora Goforth is a widow who sports a huge diamond ring that (tellingly) cuts into her hand every time someone tries to hold it. It's Taylor's 1956 engagement ring from 3rd husband Mike Todd. Two weeks prior to Boom!'s 1968 premiere, Burton gifted Elizabeth with the famous...and much larger...Krupp Diamond.

Mrs. Goforth has been married six times; Taylor beat that number by one (Burton was husband #5). The one husband Goforth truly loved died in a mountain climbing accident. Mike Todd (whom the fan magazines were fond of claiming was Elizabeth's one true love) died in a mountain plane crash. It's difficult to argue that these fact/fiction similarities weren't exploited, because in the play, Goforth's husband dies in a car crash.   
Liz Taylor Loves To Drink
Enjoying what appears to be a glass bucket of Bloody Mary, Goforth subsists on coffee, cigarettes, codeine tablets, and alcohol. In real life, Taylor suffered from alcohol addiction and helped destigmatize the illness by being one of the first celebrities to go public with her rehab treatment. Boom! is rumored to have been a very liquid set.

Liz Taylor Loves Kaftans
Goforth reveals closets overflowing with colorful kaftans. In the late '60s and '70s (until she found Halston) it was the rare photo that did not feature La Liz in a flowing, colorful kaftan.

Other exploitable Goforth/Taylor parallels pertain to Flora being known for her beauty ("If you have a world-famous figure, why be selfish with it?"), and Flora being plagued by numerous health maladies. Taylor enjoyed poor health throughout much of her life, her paparazzi-attended hospital visits as numerous as red-carpet premieres.

John Waters has called Boom! a “failed art film,” which I think is a very accurate description. It’s just ironic that Boom! ismovie that never could have found financing without the star-system leverage of the Burtons attached, yet the duo's megawatt star-quality is precisely what turns so many scenes in Williams’ elegiac “poem of death” into The Liz & Dick Show
But I don’t really have a problem with that because I think I must be a little in love with Elizabeth Taylor. How else to explain my finding her to be both epically awful and some kind of wonderful in this ambitiously off-beat camp curio that feels more emotionally truthful the older I get?
No, Boom! is not a perfect film, it's possibly not even a good one. But it's a risk-taking film. And the risk-taking Burtons of fascinating flops like this one are infinitely more affecting and fun to watch than the play-it-safe Burtons of moneymaking snooze-fests like The Sandpiper.

What does BOOM mean? It's...


Robert Redford portrayed Death as a kind young man who comes to ease an old woman’s (Gladys Cooper) fear of dying in the 1962 episode of The Twilight Zone titled "Nothing in the Dark." 

Divine Intervention
A favorite blogger writes about BOOM! as drag inspiration HERE

That's Tab Hunter embracing Divine in the 1981 John Waters film Polyester. Hunter appeared opposite Tallulah Bankhead in the second Broadway incarnation of The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore. British actress Hermione Baddeley starred in the original production which opened 11-months earlier. 

In 1997 a red-wigged actor Rupert Everett (My Best Friend's Wedding, Another Country) portrayed Flora Goforth to David Foxxe's Witch of Capri in a London production of The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore at the Lyric Theater

Early casting considerations for Joseph Losey's film version (likely never moving past the discussion stage) were Simone Signoret and Sean Connery; Ingrid Bergman and James Fox. Donald Sutherland was wanted for the role of bodyguard Rudi.

BOOM! opened on Wednesday, May 29, 1968 at Hollywood's Pantages Theater. 

Copyright © Ken Anderson   2009 - 2021


  1. I guess if you want to start the new year off with a bang, reviewing a movie called "Boom!" would do it. What a film! I have to admire your ability to find the good in nearly every film you watch and to be able to enjoy even low quality films. "Boom!" isn't "low quality" in the strictest sense of the term but it's just so...weird. I really enjoy much of Tennessee Wiliams' work. "Suddenly, Last Summer" and "The Night of the Iguana" are a couple of favorites. And I enjoy the Burton/Taylor duo. (If you ever review the Sandpiper, I'll have share my experience watching THAT film for the first time). But Boom!....! I started watching the film one night (probably on TCM) and just couldn't finish it. I think the quote from your review nicely explains why I couldn't.

    "Representing murky ideologies rather than people, the king-size personalities of Burton and Taylor, left with no characters to inhabit, resort to playing exaggerated versions of themselves. Portraying Death and often looking like it, Burton staggers around while letting his trained voice do all the heavy lifting. Meanwhile, Taylor, tottering around in high heels and even higher hair, plays Flora Goforth as a female impersonator doing a burlesque of Elizabeth Taylor." (I laughed out loud at the last part)

    But I really appreciate your obvious affection for both actors. I like them both, too. Didn't you say in some past review that Taylor and Burton are like the girl with the little curl? "When they're good, they're very very good and when they're bad they're horrid." And despite that, we just don't have those kinds of actors around these days. Sure we have some great ones and some poor ones but who is really "larger than life"? Who can really carry a mediocre film on the strength of their personality alone? I can't think of anyone I'd describe that way currently. So Boom! may be bad cinema but, as you say, at least it's interesting bad cinema (thanks to Taylor and Burton) and not boring bad cinema. I still don't think I'll try and watch it again.

    1. Hi Ron
      Thank you for reading this and commenting. And I appreciate your honesty in sharing your understandable resistance to BOOM! and the variable charms of the Burtons.
      There’s no getting past the fact that BOOM! is a very weird film. Nor is there any point in arguing its obvious flaws, narrative and performative Reading the play, which Williams presented as Kabuki-style theater, reveals a Southern Gothic playwright bitten by the Brecht/Pinter bug.
      But as I was saying to my partner today as we were discussing the subjective merit of film, there really is something I call the “sensate” experience of film that draws me to a movie.

      Speaking from personal taste, movies like SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, GHANDI, CHARIOTS OF FIRE, THE STING…are all movies reasonably labeled “high quality.” Indeed, all are Best Picture Oscar winners. But not a single one of them elicits even a scintilla of emotion form me beyond an academic appreciation of craft.
      But watching BOOM! stimulates me. Despite its flaws (and maybe even because of them, in some instances) I keyed in to the points it’s trying to make, I’m impressed by the ambition of the project, there’s a flood of sensual responses to just how beautiful it is, and (as you point out) there is just something compelling in the larger-than-lifeness of Burton and Taylor. I agree with you that we just don’t have that anymore.
      The 1970s ushered in the deglamorization era in movies, but that doesn’t mean the fantasy audiences go to the movies for grew plainer along with them. Like Norma Desmond said, “It’s the pictures that got small.”

      So, you hit the nail on the head for me when you wrote “BOOM! may be bad cinema, but at least it’s interesting bad cinema.”
      I personally don’t know many people who’ve even seen BOOM! (I’ve yet to subject my partner to it. It feels cruel, somehow) so I understand why it should remain in the “I gave it try, but now I’ll give it a pass” category. One such dark cinema secret I harbor is that I feel that way about the classic film CASABLANCA: I’ve tried at least three times to watch it but, I’ve never been able to make it to the end!
      Thanks for your thoughtful contribution, Ron!

  2. This film is surprisingly compelling, thanks to Tennessee Williams' ideas and the scenery/photography. I am not, though, a Taylor/Burton fan (not even the over praised "Who's Afraid of V.W.), but, maybe, thanks to the eccentricity of this project, they work well here. Joanna Shimkus is very lovely and it's too bad she didn't do more. (She's part of that Gayle Hunnicutt/Sharon Farrell/Judy Geeson group of late-1960s intriguing young actresses who were virtually AWOL by the 1970s.

    If you haven't already, please do compare "Boom!" with surprisingly similar 1968 film, "The Magus," starring Anthony Quinn, Candice Bergen, and Michael Caine. Similar "white palace" set on a Mediterranean island, similar "pretentious" games-playing, death-allegory story.

    1. Hi Mark
      THE MAGUS! I love that you brought it up! Not only because it’s a favorite I can’t believe they finally released on Blu-ray, but because it’s a film reference that made it to my first draft but not my completed essay. It’s exactly as you describe, a curiously similar mainstream oddity, magnificently shot, with a literary pedigree and an inscrutable plot. I know BOOM! didn’t last long in theaters after first-run, butI wonder it it was ever paired on a double-bill with THE MAGUS.

      And yes, after Shimkus married Sidney Poitier it was bye-bye fledgling career. I’ve only seen her in two films (This and THE LOST MAN where she met her future husband) but Richard Burton had little good to say about her in his diaries. I get the impression movies didn’t lose too much with her departure. Not so with the other ladies you mentioned, all being favorites who worked continuously if not consistently after their heyday (Sharon Farrell! I think she lives fulltime in episodic reruns on Decades Network).
      As for BOOM!, there is definitely something gained in the film being such an off-beat vehicle for Taylor and Burton. Some feel it brings out the worst in both and plays to their weaknesses, but I’m made aware of how the character’s contentious dance of advance/retreat play intriguing counterpoint to the couple’s natural chemistry.
      Thanks very much for reading this post and for your engaging comments, Mark!

  3. This was a fun, interesting read! I have seen this before, but not since I switched to a widescreen, high-def TV, which I bet makes all the difference since the scenery (the house, the ocean & terrain and, of course, La Liz) is so striking to behold. This has to be one of only a few films in which the leading lady is seated to dinner with what appears to be the table's centerpiece on her head! Ha ha! It's a divine looking creation nonetheless. I admire you (and thank you) for being able to sort out some semblance of what it all means... I am sure that much of it went right past me the time I saw it. I kept wondering how in the world Burton ended up in a role of Tab Hunter's and how they compare (or not.) Thanks, too, for pointing out Liz's brother! He looks very handsome (and clearly related to her) in that screencap, but I know less than nothing about him. On the subject of famous (and even award-winning) movies that don't get to you the way other "lesser" ones do, I have to concur. There have been countless important movies that I missed seeing but felt that I ought to watch and, even when I could recognize the skill within and behind them, they just left me either chilly, cool or cold. Not always, but many times. My own deep down favorites would likely as not NEVER make the top lists of "great" films. Sometimes, though, I'm surprised when I sit down to watch one that had eluded me beforehand. Examples of a couple that I just LOVED when I really didn't expect to are "How Green Was My Valley" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." Is it too late for one more swing at "Boom!," this time with Faye Dunaway and Zac Efron (and some nudity on his part)? ha ha ha!!

    1. Hey Poseidon
      Thanks for reading this! Although a favorite of mine (and you can relate to this) I never wanted to write about it because the copy I had was so lousy that the screencaps would never have captured how stunning this film looks.
      That I EVER thought anyone would put BOOM! out in Blu-ray was merely wishful thinking on my part.
      Your observation about Liz and that headress made me laugh. She does look stunning in it, but one of the (many) weird things about this movie is how the more they keep piling things on Liz's head to make he look taller, they only succeed in dwarfing her.
      When BOOM! first appeared on TV when I was a kid, I couldn't make it through. Expecting a yell-a-thon like VIRGINIA WOOLF, I couldn't make sense of anything that was going on. I understand it better now, but that Twilight Zone episode with Redford makes Williams' point with far more poignance in just 30 minutes.
      In reading Burton's diary, he talks about Liz accepting the film and how happy he is for her...there is no mention of his even being offered a role. Next thing you know...he's in role traditionally cast with a young man (I think the character is 32 in the play). Anyhow, I wondered if they got a body double for his brief nude scenes, the body looks a lot like Burton's. And if it's not his, he clearly had no ego about them finding an obviously "mature" stand-in.
      As for Liz's handsome brother, from what I've been able to glean he was an oceanographer and a real iconoclast and ascetic. He starting up a clothing-optional commune in Hawaii and though they were close, he mostly shunned his sister's spotlight.

      Thanks, too, for sharing your thoughts on what I think is true of most film fans who respond to movies emotionally as well as academically: we're able to appreciate so-called "good films" and classics, but since we engage our hearts, spirits, and imaginations, absolutely terrible films are no exactly outside of the scope of our affection if for us they are also affecting (or just plain fun).
      I've also had the same experience you shared with being surprised how much you enjoyed a film you perhaps eluded before.
      A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS was one of those Best Picture winners that held zero interest for me. Something like three years ago I caught it on TV and absolutely fell in love with it.
      In closing, can I tell you how much I LOVE your casting idea of Faye Dunaway and Zac Efron? Yes! Somebody call up Ryan Murphy and make this happen!
      Thanks, Poseidon!

  4. Hi Ken. How are you?

    I was unaware of the existence of this film, although I find really admirable the thoroughness with which you analyze it.

    In Spain, by the way, a country where we love to change the title of movies, it was called "The cursed woman".

    1. Greetings! I am doing fine, thank you for asking. I hope you are well and keeping safe.
      Your relating your unfamiliarity with this title makes me wonder how BOOM! was received in other countries. It was released the same year as Pasolini's TEOREMA and it's easy to imagine BOOM! starring Silvana Mangano and Terence Stamp. In the '60s, nobody expected the Burtons to appear in an art film. BOOM! is by no means as artful as TEOREMA, but I have a feeling that's the tone it was aiming for.
      Since I really hate the title BOOM!, "The Cursed Woman" sounds pretty good to me! I think in Italy it was called THE CLIFFS OF DESIRES, which makes it sound like a'70s TV-movie starring Morgan Fairchild.
      Thanks very much for reading this post! Cheers!

  5. Now I must track down this movie. If late-Sixties Liz taught us anything, it's that short bosomy women should steer clear of caftans!

    1. Ha! It's so true. I've never been made so aware of how tiny Taylor is (Tiny Taylor sounds like the name of a professional wrestler) than in the many scenes showing her diminutive stature sandwiched between high-heels (worn even when climbing the craggy bluffs of her estate) and a mountain of hair, her figure boxily concealed--making her look even shorter---by flowing kaftans.
      If you've lived this long without encountering BOOM!, then the Blu-ray age has made this the PERFECT time.
      Thanks for commenting, Peter!

    2. What a delightful New Year's gift to your readers Ken!

      A Taylor fanboy from birth, I really appreciate the depth of perspective you've consistently brought to (the treatment of) her films, and with "Boom!" you've really excelled yourself. The obviously extensive research and remarkably seamless analysis makes for an impressive read that's for sure!

      Yes - John Waters' summation is right on the money. It IS a failed art-house epic. What should have been sparse is excessive and overblown. And that's just about everything...from a stage-bound script through hammy performances to the gorgeousness of Mediterranean mood. But then it's an Elizabeth Taylor epic at its core so all bets are off. The vanity that Richard Burton was sexually attractive onscreen seems to be more a figment of their imaginations than anything else, But Taylor and Burton certainly never gave up trying for a decade or more.

      All in all, a most wonderful and definitive piece of writing sir~!

    3. Hey Rick
      I welcome your referring to this post as a New Year's gift, as I am certain most are apt to see it more as a New Year' lump of coal.
      I don't know that I was aware of your being a Taylor fanboy. I have a terrible memory, but someone long ago commented on this blog and put forth the suggestion that latter-Liz's career could reasonably be viewed through a prism of daring artistic (eccentric) challenges, rather than from the wholly commercial angle of whether or not they were profitable. I'd never thought of that before and it totally changed how I came to perceive her seemingly to go out of her way to appear in to such non-surefire vehicles as UNDER MILK WOOD, THE DRIVER'S SEAT and SECRET CEREMONY. That suggestion turned me into a Taylor fan. Perhaps that person long ago was you!

      You speak fondly of BOOM, but not uncritically, which I like. You seem to harbor no illusions about the film's strengths and weaknesses, but you accept your ultimate surrender to the Taylor star quality.
      I have so far only heard of fans of Taylor liking the film. I don't know if I've ever met a person who enjoyed the movie without already being pre-sold on the cast.

      Per your reference to Burton, there's a line in the film Taylor says to Burton "You've got a nice pair of legs on you. Or rather under you." Since the line isn't from the play, I thought I'd read somewhere that it's what she said to him when she met him on CLEOPATRA. Haven't been able to confirm that one, but Burton's sexual appeal was only visible to me during his Angry Young Man period in the UK.
      I so enjoyed seeing your flying pic avatar and knowing you took the time to read this and comment so generously. Thanks so much, Rick

    4. It WAs me Ken!

      I'm reminded of a very old survey or the like from the 60s which attempted explain why “The Taylor Mystique” was so attractive to those who attended her films in droves...the matinee goers. When confronted with the facts about her relative acting “ability” and non-stentorian voice, her fans almost universally responsed with “Yes...but we understand how she feels”.

      And that's very telling: Taylor came to the movies barely a decade after sound. She was taught by people who'd mastered movie-making (and stardom) in that bygone era. Elizabeth Taylor had the rare abilility and skill to use a camera for direct communication – something which we know beauty enhances. Coupled with a photographic memory, she only needed good direction and extreme concentration to create a person who was truly attractive, in a most magnetic way.

      I'm glad we have all the vehicles and the bombs and the excess and some very good entertainments from the Elizabeth Taylor Dream Factory – it's not overly generous to say that none really out-shone her.

      She probably deserved that Oscar for BUTTERFIELD 8 – poor Gloria may after all be the broken bits and pieces of people who live their confused lives yearning for some veneer of value on the cheapness of it all!

    5. Rick
      That's so fabulous! In my mind I always credited this forgotten blog "commenter" for leading me to an appreciation of Taylor that at one time began with SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER and ended with VIRGINIA WOOLF. Because I bought into the idea that big movie stars MUST be interested in only making hit movies, I never understood her weird movie choices, chalking all of them up to tax deals, etc.
      She was interested in hits and money, but I also think she was interested in doing work that challenged. What other major female star would have gone near REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE in those days?
      But with all that fame stuff all in the past and her remaining film legacy all that's left to speak for itself, I do find her choices to be refreshingly avant-garde and so off the formulaic "success" grid that I feel like I've rediscovered her thanks to you.
      And what you say about Taylor's ability to convey feeling is precisely something I wrote in an early draft of this post that didn't make it. I wrote that I can't always say Taylor is a "good" actress, but for me she has always been an "affecting" actress. She has the power to make me feel something for the characters she plays.
      I think you described her appeal even in compelling misfires like THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN it perfectly when you wrote :
      "Elizabeth Taylor had the rare ability and skill to use a camera for direct communication – something which we know beauty enhances." Perfect.
      I don't know how far back it was you first wrote and introduced that perspective, but I owe you a huge vote of thanks. It made an indelible impression.

  6. Happy New Year, Ken! Thanks to you, the art of classic movie criticism is alive and well!

    Incoherent is the perfect word to describe the explosion of words and images in Boom!
    What a beautiful mess! Everything about it is so wrong, but you can’t stop watching.

    Elizabeth Taylor is a goddess! In my opinion, she is the only reason to stay tuned. My favorite moment is our first glimpse of her, as she rasps “Pain—-injection!!!” Let’s all have one, shall we, as we settle into this strange metaphysical melange!

    I first saw this film when it was a cult rarity—none other than John Waters brought it to a small audience at a theater in Miami Beach who he knew would appreciate it. Waters’s presentation and introduction put the stamp of approval on it as a bad movie we would never forget!

    As always, I love your choice of material and your inimitable style— your gorgeous writing makes for easy reading and dreaming for all us movie acolytes!!
    - Chris

    1. Hi Chris...and Happy New Year to you, too!
      How terrific that you not only had the opportunity to see this with an audience (even those who enjoy it reverently must have found themselves howling at parts) but with John Waters introducing it as host. Perhaps knowing he gives the Blu-ray commentary will induce you to buy it. It certainly is a gorgeous print.

      I love that first scene, too, with Liz attended to by masseur and manicurist while being served the first of many amazing-looking cocktails. I'd planned on including a screencap of because it features Liz's real-life Pekingese making its film debut, but I lost it during a rewrite.

      To use your words, BOOM is indeed a "beautiful mess"...folks who love it always seem to understand why others find it either a bore or a hoot. Elizabeth Taylor makes it worthwhile even when operating as the main culprit in supplying the film with its biggest laughs.
      When I was young I didn't know that Williams had written it as a comedy-drama. I just thought the movie was very odd and uneven in tone. But even with this, the way Williams writes and the way Taylor and Burton act, it's still not all that easy to tell what's SUPPOSED to be funny.
      But BOOM! does somehow mesmerize, doesn't it?
      So nice to hear from you, Chris, and I take your very generous compliments to heart. Thank you very much for reading this and contributing so enjoyably to the comments here. Take care!

  7. Happy New Year, Ken. We're only nine days in and I'm already exhausted!

    BOOM is the first film you've written about in a year and a half that I've seen. I've been checking in on your blog, but had nothing to offer.

    And, in reality, with BOOM, I still don't have much to offer. It has the silliest title ever. "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" is evocative and has a wonderful rhythm one can almost dance to. That it was dropped in favor of "BOOM" is inconceivable. There times when some fact about a film leaks out months in advance of the film's release and when you learn that fact, you pause and say, "Oh... no. No. No." That one fact telegraphs that the people in charge of making this film have lost their way. (One of these moments was when I heard, lo, these many years ago, that "A Little Night Music" was being moved to Austria. Oh, no!) Swapping in BOOM for the play's elegant title is one of those telling facts. BARF.

    BOOM is loaded on YouTube if someone wants to check it out. Not a great copy, but it's there. I checked it out tonight after seeing this discussion. The music is so annoying throughout. I had forgotten that. Weird music which may or may not be typical of the region in which the film is set, but is still annoying. Too loud, rhythmic, percussive, tonal and almost atonal and back again. Somewhat related is the sound recording of the dialogue scenes. The damned set echoes. Voices get lost in it. It makes me long for an MGM sound stage.

    And then the casting. I am devoted to Elizabeth Taylor, if more for her AIDS work than for her acting. I'm inclined to love her in anything. But not this. She's too young. And Burton is too old. When age relationships of characters are ignored in casting, the narrative usually suffers. Instead of Miss Taylor, this film should have had Lauren Bacall. Bacall's trim body with its extreme angularity would have better fit the look of this film. Her dark heart and supremely bitter soul would have been a better fit for a character who demeans and abuses everyone she encounters. And she would have worn the clothes better, too.

    I'm no expert on this painful film, but pushing through it tonight reminded again of how annoying it is. Really good work wedged in with really awful work. Ugh.

    (I've always thought La Liz, in her old Virginia Woolf wig, would have been a great Miss Hannigan in the film ANNIE. But no. We got Carol Burnett doing it exactly as we all knew she would. Every move. Liz and a bottle of Jack Daniels, kicking those little girls. It would have been heaven.)

    1. Happy New Year, George!
      And I’m feeling the same about this first week of 2021. Thoroughly exhausted.

      Although it was perhaps not a very pleasant revisiting of the film for you, I’m glad BOOM! got you to contribute, especially since it’s been proving to be quite entertaining reading readers’ thoughts on it
      And thanks for mentioning that BOOM! is on YouTube. Sometimes when a film gets a DVD release, the copyright police do a scour job on that site.
      The whole title thing has dogged Williams since he wrote it. I came across a Broadway review from ’63 and the journalist (who gave the show a so-so review) thought the title was so ridiculous, he refused to mention it, referring to the play only by its initials. I prefer the original title to any of those considered for the film during its making, or those given to it in foreign countries.
      And you’re right, there are things you can hear about a film in production…a decision made…that raises red flags. I got it when I heard NINE was going to be done by Rob Marshall, or way back when Peter Bogdanovich announced he was going to make a musical with Cybill Shepherd singing live.

      Even though you found it annoying, I’m glad you brought up John Barry’s music. I’m not trying to be perverse or contrary, but I had intended to mention it in my post as an aspect of the film that fits Losey’s offbeat vision. Its experimental and I think it’s marvelously atmospheric…reminding me of the strange soundtrack for A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY. As that film was also released in 1968, I wonder if it was a trend in movie scores or something.

      And I agree with you about there being something off about the sound, at least in some scenes. Some of the scenes outdoors has the hollow, disembodied sound of being post dubbed. Understandable if those whipping winds on that terrace were as strong as they look.

      I like the idea of Bacall as Goforth. She has all the requisite hard edges.
      And Elizabeth Taylor as Miss Hannigan is the casting idea of the century! Honestly, it makes me smile just to imagine how delightful she would have been in the role…in a genuinely fresh way. Burnett was indeed too much of exactly what everybody expected. No surprises.
      I think I’ll sign off now, with the delicious idea of Taylor performing a glamorously bitchy rendition of “Little Girls”…truly, Liz as Hannigan is a dream unfulfilled.
      Thanks so much for commenting and sticking with the blog even when you haven’t seen any of the films I’m writing about!

  8. I'm so glad you brought up the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor imitation with Divine and Tab Hunter in Polyester. I remember reading some book involving John Waters who bragged that he liked to pair up straight people with gay people in romantic scenes. I don't think he knew Tab Hunter was gay at the time.

    1. Oh, he knew.
      If anything, Waters might have been satirizing Hunter's hetero screen image and poking fun at any who, in 1981 didn't already know Tab Hunter was gay.
      Although Hunter only came out "officially" in his 2002 memoir, his sexuality was an open secret for decades. contributing to his inability to land film work.
      It's true that some John Waters films feature gay/straight pairings (Ben Stiller/Divine in "Hairspray" for example), but every adult gay man who drew a breath in Los Angeles in the 80s knew Tab Hunter was gay.
      I'm glad you liked the inclusion of the "Polyester" reference, and thank you for reading this post and commenting!

  9. Oh, my goodness! Boom! One of the most camptastic films ever made, reviewed on your site!!! Oh, good gracious! This is going to be so much fun to read!! I am so looking forward to this, Ken!!! I'll get back to you about this. The strange thing is that I ordered a better copy of this on dvd by post and it has still not arrived! I'm still waitng for it. Well, I still have my old copy.
    - Will

    1. Hi Will
      I like your enthusiasm! I hope you wait for your new copy before rewatching "BOOM!" again, it's really gorgeous, and makes some of the silliness easier to take. It also seems to open one's eyes to the level of care lavished on this lavish film. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts once you get back to us!

  10. Hello Ken, the damned dvd of ”Boom!” that I had ordered hasn’t arrived yet but I couldn’t resist reading your view about the film. It has been difficult to find and watch it and there’s been very little information to be had about the film but finally there is your essay on the subject. I think it is the definitive text about this bizarre film. You nailed so many of the elusive aspects of it.

    You make some very interesting observations about the film. Things I hadn’t thought of such as the chess game theme. I want to thank you for finally explaining the original title with the link between ”Milk Train” and Flora’s lack of ”milk of human kindness”. I agree that the glamour of the cast, the beautiful house, location and costumes cancel out any deeper musings in the script about life and death.

    Few people seem to have seen the film despite having the two superstars in the leads. I would have thought that people would have loved to see Liz and Dick in sunny Sardinia, shouting at each other. But maybe people were fed up with them by that time. There had been quite few pictures starring the pair and and their films were not always great.

    I would love this film much more if it were not for Richard Burton. He is too old for his part and It seems a little ridiculous him playing some sort of wandering hippie death angel. It would have worked so much better with a younger actor like James Fox or Terrence Stamp, as you mention, who could play both beautiful and dangerous.

    I’m looking to see this film again, thanks to you. Your essay of the film is so good it should be included in the little booklet that comes with the dvd.

    1. Hi Will
      Sorry about the long delay in that DVD getting to you. But on the plus side, perhaps reading this beforehand will provide a couple of things to keep an eye out for.
      Two things I didn't mention come to mind: take note of the flowers throughout Goforth's home. All of them are dead. Also, I like how her enormous white villa has two small "villinas" next to it, one pink, one blue, as though the big house gave birth to twins.
      I'm glad you enjoyed this piece and found it informative. As I've often recounted, although I loved reading film criticism when I was growing up, magazine publishers clearly had a line drawn in the sand as to what kind of films were worthy of extensive examination and which ones were to be dismissed with a couple of paragraphs.
      Because I loved so many flop films and curios, so few of my favorites were ever written about in depth. Even a lengthy negative review would have been welcomed.
      So it makes me happy if you feel this BOOM! essay fills a bit of the void I've encountered online myself: the inability to find much written about the film beyond its camp value.

      As for why audiences stayed away in 1968, I'd say you nailed one of the more significant reasons "People were sick of them." BOOM! was promoted in a way as to give the Burton-weary the impression that the famous couple was creatively treading water. Ads made it appear that this was going to be a color version of VIRGINIA WOOLF, and when the popcorn matinee crowds were confronted with an art film (not the youth market. To them the Burtons were strictly Establishment) the death knell was sounded.

      I've never been much of a Richard Burton fan, and like you, I think the film could have used a younger actor. Alain Delon is another good option.
      I thank you again for reading this and for your very complimentary words about it. I hope the waiting proves worthwhile for your BOOM! DVD. I can't imagine you not being swept up in how beautiful it looks in HD.
      All my best, Will!

  11. Midway through, Taylor bellows this: "Now tell them to bring the table over here, so I can put my chair in the shadow when I want it in the shadow!...Now tell them what I want put on the table! A cold bottle of mineral water. Sun-tan lotion. Cigarettes. Codeine tablets. A bucket of ice, a glass, a bottle of brandy. My newspapers."

    Back when I was drinking, I used to fantasize about having that table brought to me every morning, and never leaving my apartment again, ever. And by evening, having my favorite dinner ordered, by way of Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry: "Reading spoils my appetite, George. Just bring me the squab with the wild rice, asparagus with hollandaise, a small green salad with a touch of garlic, cherries jubilee, and a double martini with two olives."

    I guess it's a good thing I got sober. And this was over twenty-five years ago when I was going out of my mind as a closeted cop in the New York City Police Department, and drinking myself to death as a result. So unreality, above all in the form of movies, cinematic dreams, meant a lot to me at night, since I was operating under conditions of absolute, punishing reality during the day. Videocassettes of old movies on a comparatively tiny TV screen in a dank apartment until I couldn't even focus my eyes and then passed out, sometimes waking up in my own vomit.

    But what dreams! Movies sustained me back then, Ken. For years. After a liter of Stolichnaya, I really was in that shadowy, nightmarish black-and-white world, as civilization itself collapsed around us, in Night of the Living Dead: or sailing through outer space aboard the Jupiter Mission with Hal the Computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey; or even landing in Pepperland with The Beatles themselves in Yellow Submarine, our very steps leaving psychedelic colors, and life-giving music, behind us.

    Sorry about getting carried away, there, Ken, but I guess that's why we are all here, right? And this was great as usual. The only shocking thing is how long it took you to get to this one. And I almost thought you had, but then I realized I was thinking about Secret Ceremony(!) But Boom! is the kind of movie this blog was invented for, Ken. Excelsior!

    1. Rick
      I don't consider what you wrote as being carried away. It reads as someone trying to express the transcendent quality of film. And you're right, that's why we're all here.
      In my experience I've not met a single "film buff" for whom movies haven't served as a form of rescue and escape at some point in their lives. I know that's not rue of everyone, but I don't envy those for whom film is just distraction or time-killer.
      So where you needed to be transported from may have been exceptionally dark, but you recognize that it isn't the "quality" of the film that does it (not quality as Oscar Awards and film scholars would have us believe), but the quality of a film to reach us where we are most in need of rescue.
      The boozy imperiousness of Liz Taylor's performance is almost mythologically over-the-top. As is almost everything Joan Crawford ever did. It can be comforting and amusing to watch someone tightrope walking the heights of absurdity when you're feeling down. I'm glad movies were there for you. And congrats on being able to have all that you disclosed in "past tense."
      And you're right, BOOM! is 100% the type of film I started this blog to write about. When Liz Smith mistakenly wrote about my having written about BOOM! back in 2016, I took that as confirmation that she GOT my blog. She knew instinctively that it's the type of movie that SHOULD be here.
      I thank you for reading this and for your feeling comfortable in this film-lover's space to share your story of your own cinema dreams.

  12. Thanks for the welcome distraction from the stressful current state of affairs, Ken! A fun choice to start off the new year.

    Your writing on the structure and symbolism of the writing and plot is most helpful. I look forward to my next viewing in piecing it further together. I too haven't subjected my other half to viewing it; I'm not sure whether he'd enjoy it or not. If Burton's role was accurately age-casted and wearing something much more revealing than a robe he'd probably be down for it...

    The blu ray issue indeed looks stunning. One thing you could say about this film: if you just put it on a monitor somewhere without the sound it would definitely draw attention (and maybe even keep it for a while). It's never not interesting visually.

    Thank you for defending the John Barry score! It's one of my favorite elements, with that odd contrast between the more "circus"-like melody and the haunting dulcimer-led passages. It adds to the intrigue. It's an utterly unorthodox place for someone to take up residence; why shouldn't the mood fit that somewhat? I'm thankful it wasn't a bunch of syrupy strings or instantly dated "mod" music.

    One of the more surprising facts to me was that the infamous kabuki-styled headpiece wasn't created for the was recycled from a masquerade party Taylor and Burton attended in Venice in 1967. I presume it was her idea to immortalize it in the film, and I applaud her for it.

    As for Taylor's career, this film begins the more eccentric/off-the-rails choices that make for a much more interesting (to me, anyway) latter part of her career. I'd watch this, Secret Ceremony or Night Watch over Father Of The Bride or Butterfield 8 any day. Thanks, Ken!

    1. Hi Pete
      Thank you...yes, in many ways BOOM! felt like the ideal film to start to a new year and perhaps the only movie loony enough to see out a year as monumentally shitty as 2020.
      It doesn't surprise me that you're familiar with BOOM!, that you like the unusual John Barry score, and that you prefer arthouse-era Liz Taylor over her glossy studio hits. But I did get a good laugh out of your perfectly reasonable assumption regarding the uncertainty behind sharing the film freely with loved ones: "If Burton's role was accurately age-casted and wearing something much more revealing than a robe he'd probably be down for it..."
      Best of all, I think you are on the money regarding the visual appeal of BOOM!
      There HAS to be a gay bar or somewhere with a TV monitor showing BOOM! in all its sun-baked glory with the sound muted. It's a stunning-looking film.
      As per La Taylor's famed kabuki headdress, all my research has showed that the whole getup was made by this Italian design house where Karl Lagerfeld got his start. He is said to have designed the gown, some other artisan the headdress. As the shooting schedule for BOOM! was June to November of 1967, that Venice masquerade party you refer to was held in September 1967, placing it in perfect time for Taylor to have "borrowed" the whole getup for the event.
      I'm sure I'm right about these details (doing research is the fun part of the blog, the writing is what's torture!), but please tell me if you've come across differing info.

      By the way, I'm so impressed by your reading both this long essay AND the comments section(your awareness of the John Barry exchange). Such a testament to how interesting the contributions of readers like yourself are on this site. When I visit most sites, the often hateful, hate-filled comment sections are a must to avoid!
      Thank you again, Pete!

    2. Ahh, thanks for clarifying the timeline of the kabuki ensemble, as I certainly didn't bother to research the dates of filming. ;-) Given La Liz's eccentricities, especially at that point in time, it didn't seem that odd for her to have commissioned someone to create that especially for her for a social occasion...

  13. Ken, you mention John Waters calling "Boom!" a "failed art film". May I ask you what your favourite failed art films are, if you have any?

    1. Hi Wille
      That's such an excellent question I wish I had a worthy answer. If I define a "failed art film" as one whose intended high-flown artistic ambitions are sabotaged by bad judgement, misunderstood market targeting, or poor execution, my mind goes to Joseph Losey's SECRET CEREMONY. However, as they feature the same director and star as BOOM!, that answer is a bit of a cop-out.
      The only other film that comes to mind is the 1970 UK film version of Joe Orton's LOOT. I think the movie is really wonderful and odd, but at the same time I think it's out-of-step. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Silvio Narizzano, the guy who made GEORGY GIRL in 1966, LOOT feels like it was made in the mid 60s. Just a tad dated a bit off in its unusual casting (cast against type, Lee Remick is a delight).
      Unfortunately, I can't think of any more right now.
      How about you, Will? Any failed art films on your list of favorites?

  14. Hello Ken, I totally agree with your choice of "Secret Ceremony"! It's enjoyably "arty" with big stars! Can one make an art film with big stars?

    My favourite failed art films are:
    "The Appointment" with Omar Sharif and Anouk Aimee from 1969
    "Ondata di Calore/Dead of Summer" with Jean Seberg from 1970
    Have you seen them?
    I think you have reviewed "Puzzle of a Downfall Child "(1970), right? The late sixties was a great period for failed art films.

    Two other movies that were arty (and at times quite cryptic) are "The Day of the Locust" by John Schlesinger and Robert Altman's "Images" with Susanna York. But I think those are good films so then they're not "failed", just strange. - Will

    1. Ha! Hi again, Will -
      I actually deleted my reply and was going to take another crack at it after I thought a while, but I wasn't fast enough and you'd already responded!
      I'm so impressed you were able to come up with several examples. I haven't seen either of the top titles you listed, but I love the actresses in both, so I'll have to seek them out, failed or not!
      And THE DAY OF THE LOCUST is a great example of a mainstream film with a kind of arthouse sensibility. But, like you, since I think both it and IMAGES succeeded in their objectives (failure based on boxoffice performance doesn't really apply to art films) they perhaps don't count.
      On that score, PUZZLE OF A DOWNFALL CHILD is a film that occurred to me, too, but I didn't list it for much the same reasons. I think it's intention is to be arty and it succeeds.
      There were SO many more mainstream films given the arthouse treatment in the late '60s and '70s, that's why I was so surprised your question stumped me beyond Losey's work. Perhaps some other readers will suggest a few titles.
      Thanks for responding with your own selections and giving me a couple of new films to discover! Cheers, Will!

  15. Hi Ken, I saw Loot a long time ago and I thought that as a comedy it didn't translate well to the screen. You're right about the films, Images, Locust and Puzzle. Just because they were not hit movies doesn't mean that they are failed art films. I tried looking for other examples. Someone in the comments mentioned "The Magus". Two other are Agnes Vardas "Lions Love" and "Inside Daisy Clover". These films are quite pretentious, I think. What do you say?

    1. Hi Will
      I think the term "failed art film" is open to multiple interpretations, allowing for perhaps a broader selection of tiles to be made available. But I still see it as referring to a film that fails in realizing (or being realized as) the art film it was intended to be.
      BOOM! has all these artistic pretensions, but due to casting, screenplay, and marketing, it fails at what it tried to do. Not because it's a "bad" film poorly executed, but because something about it misses the mark, preventing it from being regarded seriously by audience or even understood.
      THE MAGUS is I think a good example. Perhaps the best. And I'm intrigued by your mentioning INSIDE DAISY CLOVER, because I do agree it's pretentious, but I think it's goals are strictly melodrama.
      LIONS LOVE is, for me, a genuine art film...a personal vision unconventionally presented, that doesn't purport to be a commercial film or traditional narrative. Pretentious, yes, but true to Varda's vision I believe.
      Maybe my translation of what "failed art film" is too narrow, that's why I can't think of any other films, You, on the other hand, are doing great!
      By the way, so cool that you've seen LOOT! All this talk about it is making me want to watch it again. I think I need to write about that one sometime!
      Thanks for the thought-provoking suggestions, Will!

  16. Hi Ken, you're probably right about the term "failed art film" - that it only applies to Josef Losey's two films with Elizabeth Taylor! Your also right about DAISY CLOVER and LIONS LOVE. They're probably not failed art films either, even though I can't stand them!
    Looking forward to whatever you write about next!

  17. I don't know if you'll ever bother reviewing THE COMEDIANS, but I watched it for the first time the other day. Taylor is pretty hopeless as the German wife of a diplomat (Peter Ustinov, also seriously miscast. Why not Sam Jaffe?). At this stage in her career she just wasn't capable of playing passive, decorative roles. The only interesting thing about the movie is the astonishing cast of black actors in supporting roles, all pre-stardom: James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Zakes Mokae, Georg Stanford Brown, Gloria Foster, Raymond St. Jacques. All of them just amazing. If Taylor's role had been played by somebody a little less famous who could do the accent, like Santa Berger or Romy Schneider, this might have been a decent movie.

    1. Hi Kip
      I actually did pick up a copy of THE COMEDIANS not long after Cicely Tyson's death. I didn't know she was in it and even though I'd heard her role was 'blink and you'll miss it' I was curious.
      Well, in spite of the impressive case of Black actors who I wanted to see, i didn't get very far in the film. That you actually completed it is quite the achievement in my eyes.
      A political drama is REALLY not up my alley, but this movie was just so plodding I couldn't take it. So dull.
      I think you are right about Liz. She was too strong a screen personality for that nothing role.
      It made me think of Frank Sinatra's THE DETECTIVE...he was demanding Mia leave film in which she is the headlining star in every scene for that absolutely vacuous role given Jacqueline Bisset?
      When real-life couples make movies out.
      Perhaps Taylor's role became more substantial as the film went on, but from what I saw Burton was slumming, Ustinov was hamming (as usual) and Liz was marking time. I like your international casting suggestions, though. And indeed, what an impressive roster of future stars in Black cinema.