Model Shop (Demy, 1969) and The Seven-Percent Solution (Ross, 1976)

I’m unfortunately pretty unfamiliar with Jacques Demy’s filmography.  I really know him as Agnes Varda’s husband and the director of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  His Model Shop is an odd film.  It’s sort of a post-Rebel Without a Cause, pre-Slacker film, and (overtly, in my opinion), the male version of his wife’s masterpiece Cleo From 5 to 7.

One of the major things that I learned from Model Shop is that Anouk Aimee is gorgeous.  I mean, stunning.  Was she this good looking in Fellini films?  I don’t recall.  But she’s also a phenomenal actress – sort of like the reverse Breathless-Jean Seberg here (a Parisian in America instead of vice-versa).

The narrative of Model Shop – man bored with life, meets beautiful woman, contemplates an affair – is nothing new, and wasn’t even particularly new for 1969 (see many of 1940-1950 era Italian flicks).  Gary Lockwood is good and bad as the lead, George (more on him later) and Alexandra Hay is intolerable as his girlfriend, Gloria.

But Model Shop is truly a great example of how one actor can directly influence another.  Lockwood is pretty bad in his scenes with Hay.  It’s partly Demy’s fault – the staging is wooden and he cuts to close-ups at awkward and obvious times – but it’s really that Hay isn’t a great actress and she therefore drags Lockwood down.  I have no idea if they used a stand-in for Hay, but I doubt they did.  Meaning: she didn’t really give Gary much to work with.

It’s funny then that Lockwood is really quite good when placed opposite Aimee.  Their scenes really click and he plays the malaise-ridden wayward youth to a T.  His final phone call to her is wonderfully dramatic and very well-performed.

It’s all a testament to the effect a strong performer can have on the entire film, not just on individual performances.

Demy uses his bright, pastel color scheme in the small LA neighborhood and a set that looks ripped from the mind of Jacques Tati to mixed effect.  Sometimes it’s all too charming and, when Lockwood and Hay bicker, it gets tiresome.  He makes other interesting creative decisions though – there is a constant sound of airplanes overhead, and the opening dolly shot – through LA and to their small rickety house – speaks of the encroaching modernization that Lockwood’s architect George so yearns to build himself.

The Seven-Percent Solution

I’m a sucker for anything Sherlock Holmes – as may have been stated on this blog in the past – so when a friend told me about this oddball Herbert Ross (Footloose, The Goodbye Girl, The Last of Sheila, Play it Again Sam) I had to check it out.

The concept is fun: Holmes (Nicol Williamson) is enrolled in Sigmund Freud’s (Alan Arkin) care at the request of Dr. Watson (Robert Duvall) to cure his cocaine addiction.  Post-treatment a sinister kidnapping plot is uncovered.

There are some great things about the film: Ross concocts a beautifully surreal Holmes-parody nightmare sequence involving all of the best from Conan Doyle’s stories (Moriarty, the snake from the Speckled Band, etc).  Williamson gives a manic performance as Holmes, and Arkin’s Freud is appropriately droll.

Duvall turns in one of his weirdest performances as Watson, with a fairly annoying accent and more sideline cheering (the fault of the script, as well) than actual acting.

The script is fun but frequently too obvious and involves little of Holmes’ famous intuition.  Instead, Freud takes center stage in a film that’s closer to a testament for his psychology than for any Holmes-ian logic or reasoning.

Within the iterations of Holmes it’s an admiral attempt at something new, but it never goes to the dark place that Holmes’ cocaine addiction truly stems from.  That root is revealed via Leone-esque flashbacks, but only at the end, and past the point of any truly interesting psychoanalysis.  Laurence Olivier is wasted as Moriarty, who could well have played a larger, and more interesting role, rather than root cause and red herring.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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One Response to Model Shop (Demy, 1969) and The Seven-Percent Solution (Ross, 1976)

  1. Pingback: Bay of Angels (Demy, 1963) and Timbuktu (Sissako, 2014) | dcpfilm

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