PETULIA

Petulia
d. Richard Lester / 1968 / USA /  105 min

Still from Petulia

Screen Addict is back, finally! And boy do I have lots of updates to share, so expect yet another onslaught of wordy film gibbering as I struggle to catch up on the backlog of my backlogs.

First up is Petulia, an excellent, underrated little gem from an underrated director (Richard Lester), that explores what becomes of London’s swinging sixties once they cross the pond and start to go sour. A gloriously disjointed narrative unfurls as Julie Christie plays an unhappily married socialite who spreads her misery to a recently divorced doctor, Hollywood’s own walking proboscis, George C. Scott.

Going into the screening, I knew next to nothing about the film aside from the headline trio of Lester, Christie and Scott, and sat through the whole thing with an unmistakable sensation that it was uncannily similar to Nicolas Roeg’s outstanding Viennese mind-melter Bad Timing (1980). As the credits begin to roll, of course, lo and behold I discover that Roeg was indeed the cinematographer.

And obviously I’m not the first to draw the correlation without realising, my colleagues in the screening were similarly struck by the film’s relationship to Roeg’s later work. Indeed, Petulia feels as much a product of Roeg as it is of Richard Lester, and the eminently eminent Jonathan Rosenbaum goes one further, in fact, regarding it to be the first ‘Nicolas Roeg film’, a statement you’d have trouble arguing with when you consider the usual directorial impulses of both men.

And when you look at Nic Roeg’s later directorial choices, it’s hard not to consider the influence borne directly from his career as a cinematographer. There seem to be a whole series of concurrent obsessions running through his work, even on a surface level, and it seems more than reasonable to draw a straight line from Roeg’s collaboration with Mick Jagger in Performance (d. Roeg / Donald Cammell, 1970) and his later use of Art Garfunkel for Bad Timing, as well as between Petulia and Don’t Look Now (1973), for which he re-used Julie Christie.

Regardless, as a fan of both Dick Lester and Nic Roeg, I can only recommend Petulia. And that’s without even mentioning the ubiquitous nuns which populate the background of this film, doing all sorts of un-nunworthy things (like driving Porsches)!

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