BR: Model Shop (1969)

May 30, 2018 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  April 17, 2018

Genre:  Drama

Synopsis: An aimless architect has 24 hours to face a draft call and the sudden attraction to a French woman in a cheap L.A. photographic peep ‘model’ shop.

Special Features: Isolated Mono Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 


 

Review:

After the success of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and its sequel Les desmoiselles de Rochefort (1967), Jacques Demy took the offered carrot from Columbia and settled in Los Angeles for his first & only U.S. studio picture, but what emerged was a film that may have reflected the tone of the time – cynicism, and anti-war rumblings – but didn’t fulfill the studio’s hope for an accessible commercial product.

Among the top-level talent, everything sure looks good: a praised international director; Anouk Aimée, the striking, demure actress from A Man and a Woman (1966); and Gary Lockwood, the co-star of Stanley Kubrick’s art house hit 2001:A Space Odyssey (1968).

The story itself is quite novel, bringing together two lost souls whose fleeting encounters lead to more direct interaction at the end of 24 hours. After moving to L.A., architecture graduate George Matthews (Lockwood) quits his banal job and bums off his parents, his friends, and long-suffering girlfriend Gloria (Alexandra Hay) whose own career as an actress is barely advancing.

Three things cause George to wake-up from his daze: the finance company gives him ‘til the end of the day to cough up $100 so he can keep his vintage MG for another month; Gloria leaves him for a mutual friend who apparently can afford to drive a sexier car, a convertible Porsche; and like Scotty Ferguson in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), George spends much of his day driving aimlessly until a striking woman (Aimée) catches his eye, and he starts to follow like a creepy stalker.

He eventually finds her day gig, posing for erotic photographs at a ‘model shop’ where clients take pinup shots. Now, George just managed to get $100 from an old pal & musician whose own career with the (real life) band Spirit is starting to take off, so dropping $25 for his irrational obsession makes it clear he’s going to lose his car, his girl, and maybe his home very soon – and he doesn’t seem to care.

A less reckless ennui affects model Lola / Cecile, a character writer-director Demy revisits from his 1961 classic that also starred Aimée as the titular character. Eight years later, Lola is divorced from Michel after a disastrous move to NYC, and she’s working in the shop to earn enough cash and return to France to be with her now teenage son Yvan.

Where the film shifts from ennui to slight desperation is after George is told by his estranged father that he’s been called up by the draft to fight in Vietnam, making Model Shop a bit of a precursor to Spike Lee’s 25th Hour (2002) in which a convicted drug dealer has 24 hours of freedom before serving a 7 year prison term. George’s instincts seem to have inferred the end is near – the only thing left is to die in an unpopular, never ending war – but his own period of reflection only occurs when he returns to the model shop and makes a proposal of sorts to Lola, shifting the film from largely silent wandering montages to a pair trying to connect emotionally at a pivotal point in their aimless lives.

Demy’s film has been praised by more recent critics as a maligned gem, and his widow / filmmaker Agnes Varda (Cléo from 5 to 7, Jane B, pas Agnes V) was quoted as saying Columbia dumped the film in a double-bill and allowed it to die quietly.

The trailers on Twilight Time’s disc certainly hint at the studio’s bafflement with Demy’s pretty dour drama, calling it “A new kind of now” – a positively feeble, lazy attempt to hype the film an erotic drama with clichéd branding to attract younger audiences. The trailers are very short because the characters’ most vital encounter happens in the last 30 mins., and studio marketing departments tended to avoid the inclusion of dialogue when actors had heavy accents (unless it sounded sexy).

Model Shop is a peculiar work, but it might have found an audience in 1969 had it been better treated. George’s back & forth drives through L.A. are fascinating, more so today for capturing the city as a sprawling, low rise tract whose oceanic limits feature sand, ramshackle beach homes, and bobbing oil pumps.

George and Gloria’s shared home has bright sunlight and is within reach of the beach, but neither care for such natural luxury, and Michel Hugo’s cinematography characterizes the sun as almost oppressive, bleaching the area instead of boosting its colours. (Lockwood’s first scene also shows him going through serious sunburn, suggesting their early dialogue scenes were shot after the driving montages.)

The pair is also oblivious to the recurring racket from screaming overhead planes, and Demy contrasts their low-rent locale to the silent, sterile nouveau estate in the hills where George tracks Lola for a client visitation. It’s a new mcmansion development, but the stillness and cleanliness of the street has that eerie sterility of virginal housing tracks featuring gleaming homes, freshly paved roads, unblemished cement curbs, and newly rolled grass that has yet to embed its roots into the padded earth.

It is easy to argue Demy’s film is shallow, overtly minimalist in design, and espouses to be social commentary on a lost generation in a city of hand-cranked dreams, but its present day supporters view it as a love letter to L.A., being piquant in a more subversive style by experiencing George’s dull routine to show that not all options have merit; and perhaps doing nothing is a passive form of protest against his boss, his peers, and his parents, of which his father is clichéd pro-war, feeling combat and discipline will do his younger son some good.

The driving becomes hypnotic, and although the sparse score is credited to Spirit, much of what’s heard comes from snatches of a classical radio station to which several cars are tuned. It works quite well, adding contrast to the harshly lit, car fumed streets.

SPOILER ALERT

 

Like the ending of Lola, it’s quite logical: George’s sudden infatuation can’t erupt into a relationship because he’s met someone who’s not only more desperate to escape, but her exit strategy is more proactive: get the cash, pack a suitcase, hail a cab, and she’s en route to France.

Demy’s use of sudden fadeouts is a bit jarring – the pair’s lovemaking and the end shot give us a sense of suddenly passing out and regaining consciousness – but it’s an efficient way to leap past clichéd scenes, if not wink at audiences, telling them ‘You already know what’s coming, so let’s move further on.’

 

END OF SPOILERS

 

The French / Dutch campaign, placing sex front & centre, but sticking with the two leads…

 

… And the German campaign, featuring an actress not in the film (which itself lacks nudity and boobery), and some guy evoking art from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966). I call voluptuous bullshit!

 

The script by Frenchman Demy and American Carole Eastman (Five Easy Pieces, The Fortune, Man Trouble) is a bit wonky – some dialogue sounds natural, other exchanges feel clichéd – but most surprising is George’s character design, because he never becomes a creep. The expectation is to see sleazy behaviour once he enters the model shop, takes lurid shots of a naked Lola, and that their major scene in the finale will involve some huge emotional explosion or physical collision, but Demy, however, has made George too articulate to be a predator: he lies to get money and avoid work, but he’s also an observant soul. Gloria and George’s arguments are more conversational, and Demy has Lockwood often standing quietly and listening, sometimes with a bemused smile – the opposite of what should happen when a lead character’s life is disintegrating by the hour.

The lack of directness, the wandering, and leaving the meat of the drama to the very end probably baffled the studio, and Demy’s American period was cut short, causing him to return to Europe with few subsequent English language films. There’s also a sense Hollywood didn’t know what to do with Anouk Aimée: George Cukor’s Justine (1969) received a lukewarm response from critics, and Sidney Lumet’s The Appointment (1969) went through a very messy post-production phase of losing its original score, getting barely released with a new score, and being further recut and rescored for TV. Aimée didn’t return to film until 1976, and not unlike Model Shop, she reprised another familiar role when she reunited with A Man and a Woman director Claude Lelouche and co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant in 1986 for A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later.

Gary Lockwood’s film career never developed steadily, perhaps because he was too identified with stoic, emotionally restrained roles in films like 2001 and Model Shop, although he was great playing the dramatic shift as Lt. Commander Mitchell moves from genial to noxious wannabe God in the Star Trek episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (1966).

Also in the cast are a few surprises. Besides a brief recording session with Spirit (which includes future film composer Jay Ferguson), Fred Willard (Fernwood 2-Nite, Waiting for Guffman) appears unbilled (and dubbed) as a very diligent gas station attendant, and prolific TV actress Hilarie Thompson (The Fury) plays a hitch-hiking hippy whom George picks up.

Twilight Time’s Blu features a lovely transfer that flatters Hugo’s lush cinematography and Demy’s fantastic use of colour. The disc also includes a mono music track with cues of Spirit’s unreleased score (there are no dramatic volume dips, but the cues cut out as in the final film mix), and Julie Kirgo’s liner notes flow with affection for the film, its maker, and the Los Angeles of her own youth that no longer exists – a lament felt by any big city local who’s seen the evolution of sleepy environs evolve / devolve into overpriced clamor.

 

 

© 2018 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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