Wednesday, October 18, 2006

BEYOND THE LAW (Norman Mailer 1968)

Just saw Mailer's BEYOND THE LAW tonight and wanna get down some impressions since I doubt I'll ever see it again (for more reasons than one).

From a structural standpoint, the film was a punky success. It opens with a very brief scene in a restaurant/night club where some men are macking on a group of three well-dressed women (incuding a very young Marsha Mason). Then the next HOUR (approx.) of the film is devoted to a frequently nightmarish series of interrogations at a police station. D.A. Pennebaker contributed to the claustrophobic camerawork which makes sure we never gain a distinct sense of where we are in the station (or where the station is in the world, for that matter). Several men have been taken in on apparently trumped up charges - few of them know what they're doing there. They are perpetually battered with questions, often courtesy of Mailer himself in a wavering Irish accent. Late in the film, it seems as if some hippie types (one played by Rip Torn) will overthrow their captors, a scene occasioning some remarkable editing which makes the film look as if it is being pulled through the projector horizontally.

The last third or so of the film returns to the first scene at the restaurant. It seems as if the entire restaurant sequences occurred before the interrogation scenes in narrative time. Some of the cops from the latter scenes are at the restaurant (including Mailer, of course). They brag about how brutally they treated their prisoners. The Marsha Mason gang have a meeting in the ladies room. One gal is fed up with the guys' freshness. Mailer's wife appears in a scene (same time/place?) and excoriates him for never spending time with their children. Later he is putting the moves on a heavily eyelinered minx who he winds up hitting on the head playfully (although it looks like it really hurt and in this, it reminded me of Ondine's extremely disturbing freakout in THE CHELSEA GIRLS when he hits some poor gal upside the head). Soon afterwards, the wife returns and throws a drink on the minx and both Mailer and wife cast her out of the restaurant. He orders a coke for the wife and gets himself a bourbon ("double bo bo on the ro ro" as he calls it) The film ends with Mailer babbling to two buddies at a bar (again, same time/place?) about Ireland saying "Down with the feds" and someone else finishing "Up with meds." lists the film at 110 mins. but that's wrong (unless other versions are floating around, gawd forbid). Reviews online state 87 mins. and that sounds about right. Edited by Lana Jokel whose name I recognize from a Warhol documentary.

The main problem with the film was the hideous sound recording. I got the impression that much of the language was characteristically (for Mailer) showy which would have provocatively undercut the gritty cinéma vérité camerawork (and subject matter). But much of the dialogue got lost up whoever's asshole into which the mic was clearly inserted. Another Warhol film serves as a parallel here: OUTER AND INNER SPACE. Until someone comes up with a better sound mix (heresy? or did I hear a crappy print in Chicago about five or so years ago?), I'll never know what Edie Sedgwick thought about her televised image (and this is why it baffles me when people like Hoberman and Taubin call this film a masterpiece - is their hearing THAT much better than mine? maybe...). In short, with only half (or maybe even less) a film before me, BEYOND THE LAW will (probably forever) remain an extremely difficult curio.

One more thing to note: a preponderance of ridiculous wipes (the funniest made the image burst forth like a opening flower).

Over the next three weeks, I can see WILD 90 and MAIDSTONE (capped off with my beloved TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE which I think is just a hair away from a masterpiece). Any thoughts on these?