Sunday, September 2, 2012
A SAFE PLACE (1971)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *irony*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological*
Given the arty ambivalence of Henry Jaglom's A SAFE PLACE, it's true that viewers can never know absolutely whether or not its metaphenomenal aspects have any reality beyond the mind of the film's erratic young focal character, Susan (Tuesday Weld). However, as I noted in my essay on LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, I tend to think that even when there's an ambivalence between one phenomenality and another, the work's creator(s) will tend to weigh the narrative toward one phenomenality than the other. PLACE, like JESSICA, never furnishes any substantial evidence that its potential "marvelous" aspects have any reality.
PLACE's direction, acting and cinematography are above-average, but most viewers won't get much out of the free-flowing, anything-that-comes-to-mind storytelling. Jaglom focuses upon Susan, a young woman who seems to exist in a dreamlike world. though no one else in her circle shares her dreams. The most fantastic figure in her world is a street conjurer known only as The Magician (Orson Welles). He's occasionally seen performing feats of apparent magic, such as levitation, but he undercuts his own miracles-- perhaps even his own identity as a figure from her dreams-- by constantly claiming to be no more than a fake magician, incapable of working true magic.
There is no plot as such: by one interpretation, Susan is increasingly pulled out of her dream-world by the influence of two rivals: predictable Fred (Phil Proctor) and wild Mitch (Jack Nicholson). The ending, as Jaglom says in his commentary, may indicate that Susan has somehow escaped our dull round of existence, but it may also mean that she has committed suicide.
I've occasionally enjoyed nonlinear cinema, but I enjoy it best when I feel that the author has some deep metaphysical theme that would be frustrated by linear storytelling and expectations. The ramblings of Jaglom's characters aren't without interest, but when he devotes a long dialogue to Susan and Fred discussing the alienation Susan feels because current phone numbers don't use prefixes any more, it's evident that Jaglom's *raison d'etre* for this film is more confessional than universal. He confirms in his commentary that Susan's alienation here is his own.
Worth seeing only if one happens to be in a venturesome mood. I label this film an "irony" given that the focal character seems to have no chance of prospering or even surviving.