Friday, August 28, 2015

George C. Scott in Petulia (1968)

Today the subject of TCM's Summer Under the Stars is the very versatile and sometimes controversial George C. Scott.  He starred in so many different types of films and is probably most recognized for his title role in Patton and his over the top comedic performance in Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Stop Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb.  Some of my favorite roles of his are in The Hospital, They Might be Giants and Petulia.

From Journeys in Film's SUTS Blogathon Page
I had first heard about the movie, Petulia, about 5 years ago while reading Kate Gabrielle's delightful film blog: Silents and Talkies.  Her post encouraged me to check out the movie and I ended up really enjoying it.  It will be airing tonight on TCM at 12:15am Eastern/9:15pm Pacific, if that's too late try to set your DVR, it's definitely worth a watch.

It has a wonderful cast led by Julie Christie (Petulia) and George C. Scott (Archie) and includes Richard Chamberlain (David), Shirley Knight (Polo) and a cameo by Joseph Cotton (Mr. Danner).  It is directed by Richard Lester, who I know and love for being the Director of The Beatles movies: A Hard Day's Night and Help!.  The movie is extremely stylized and very much a product of the 60s.

Opening Credits
The opening credits are surprisingly minimalistic, the names appear over a solid black background and the music is almost ominous.  Not really preparing the viewer for what they are about to experience.

We then get whisked into the film.  There is then a mixture of juxtaposing images, wealthy people attending a fund raiser intercut with a musical performance by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company (there are also cameos by The Grateful Dead).  The opening sequence pretty much sets the tone for the film.  Anything goes.

Then we are introduced to Petulia and Archie.

Petulia is a free spirit (with a fabulous wardrobe) who is married to an abusive and controlling man, David and she sees Archie as an escape, someone who is a healer, who is gentle and who can take care of her.  Archie doesn't exactly agree.  

Archie is a soon to be divorced surgeon who doesn't know what he wants out of life.  He tries to do the right thing, but also tends to do what he feels.  There are many scenes where he vacillates between two very different motivations.  The scenes with his soon to be ex-wife Polo really show how difficult it is for him to live with his decisions, as do the scenes with his 2 young sons.

The movie also makes use of it's location.  Set in San Francisco there are many beautiful shots of iconic and memorable locations around San Francisco.  In one scene, Archie takes his 2 children to visit Alcatraz. 

Some examples of the camera angles, imagery, and framing
At times it is a bit difficult to follow what is going on in this movie, there are intercuts, flashbacks, abrupt scene/location changes and unclear passages of time.  Oddities like an outdoor motorized stairway, a tuba, George C. Scott in tighty-whities, an automated motel complete with light up key that lets you know when you’ve arrived at your room.  There are many things to pay attention to in this film, there is a lot of seemingly random imagery (lots of nuns), many stylistic choices, especially when it comes to camera angles, framing, editing and storytelling.  But all these techniques make the movie that much more interesting and help exemplify some of the main points of the movie.  

At it's core the movie is about trying to be true to yourself and doing what makes you happy and realizing sometimes that doesn't work out the way you hope, but you can still maybe make an impact.  When the stylistic choices are removed the film is about relationships, connections, strength, weakness and regret.  One conversation that I think really sells the heart of this movie is this exchange:

Archie's friend Barney asks, “What do you want, Archie?”  

Archie replies, “I don’t know what I want.  To feel something.” 

Barney responds, “That’s no answer, grow up.”  

I chose to focus on this movie for George C. Scott’s special day because I think he delivers a wonderful performance (as does the rest of the cast), but also because it's really an atypical role for him.  He’s soft-spoken, kind and is in what could be classified as a romantic lead.  Not what you would normally expect from Mr. Scott.  The majority of his other roles are gruff, tough, fast-talking and more severe.  In this role he shows some vulnerability, uncertainty and the possibility of learning and growing because of another person.  It's nice to see him show some emotion.

What are your favorite George C. Scott roles?  Which movies are you going to try to catch on TCM today?  I really hope you have the opportunity to watch this movie tonight as part of George C. Scott's special day.  If you don't, it is very hard to come by on DVD.  It's currently over $40 on Amazon, but it does appear to be available to purchase through Amazon Instant.

And also be sure to check out the other contributions to the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon.

1 comment:

  1. Very soothing blog :-). GCS and Julie make a wonderful if unlikely pair.