(directed by Michael Sarne, 1970)
***** (out of 5)
> This whacky, freaked-out kaleidoscope of a movie was one of the most celebrated misfires of film history. I haven’t read the book yet, but Gore Vidal’s gender-bending novel made a big splash at the time, despite being labeled pornographic by unctious conservatives and other people who probably never read it.
. Hailed as an unfilmable novel at the time, they may have been right. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it, paraphrased: “Upon its release, the film was a commercial and critical flop. Time magazine (called) the film: ‘About as funny as a child molester. It is an insult to intelligence, an affront to sensibility and an abomination to the eye.” It’s even cited in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. Gore Vidal himself disowned the film, calling it ‘an awful joke’. Critic Leonard Maltin called the film ‘as bad as any movie ever made’. But I’m with those who see something different, something more. I’m with those who consider this a cult treasure.
. MYRA BRECKINRIDGE is brilliant trash, puerile intelligentsia, low art masquerading as important social commentary, in short: it’s a mess. It’s also a blast! Raquel Welch (who remembers the experience as among the worst in her artistic life), is actually very good here, despite being way over the top- as is… well, everybody in the film. She’s smart, sassy, sexy. The great John Huston hams it up shamelessly, as does a thoroughly amateur Rex Reed and a strange but wonderful Mae West, in her final film performance. (For an old gal in her 80’s, her production number was pretty damn good.) It’s an exercise in broad parody, goofy camp, sublime, and occasional insipid satire. I suspect the book was rife with pithy ideas- most are lost or hopelessly muddled here.
. The filming of MYRA BRECKINRIDGE was an infamous string of disasters. The poor director was so vilified for being in over his head, he never made another film. But even though his efforts went unheralded at the time, Michael Sarne contributed at least one highly effective and- as it turns out: visionary technique. This film could be the first “mash-up” in film history, incorporating scenes from various Hollywood films, usually to great effect.
. Myra begins as Myron, receiving a surreal sex-change operation at the beginning by a twitchy chain-smoking surgeon, played by the wonderful John Carradine. From there, the flat, mousey film critic turned movie actor Rex Reed becomes Raquel Welch (?!) who sets out with her new killer body to exact revenge on the male of the species. There is a nasty scene here, where Raquel dons a strap-on phallus and brutally rapes a hogtied pretty boy, and it’s played for laughs! (What do you know? Even when the victim is male, there is nothing funny about rape, simulated or otherwise.) Another annoyance: constant gay “jokes” that are not funny or enlightening in the least. It’s hard to imagine these offensive stereotypes being written by a gay man like Gore Vidal, but one has to remember the context of recent history. Gay themes were dangerous taboo. Millions of people who live their lives in the open now were closeted then. As such, it’s inappropriate to apply today’s standards of political-correctness to yesterday’s art. Nonetheless, the way gayness is used as an insult here (again and again and again) reminds me of a grade school ignorance that is ugly indeed to watch.
. It’s hard to affix a rating to this singular oddball. It’s not a good film. In fact, it’s pretty darn bad. But with the benefit of decades of hindsight, it’s apparent that MYRA BRECKINRIDGE is so bad… it’s great! This bizarre curiosity is that rarity: an oxymoronic 2-star classic.
> If you love crazy kitsch and enjoy timecapsules of the psychedelic era, you need to see this loopy film.
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