A shot I love: Petulia (1968)
I watched Petulia again today in advance of talking about it for a podcast on Monday. It’s one of my favorite films, as anyone who’s ever been to my place knows since a giant poster of it hangs in my hallway. I don’t think I’d ever noticed how gorgeous this shot is, with a melancholy Julie Christie leaning on a sousaphone as George C. Scott looks on, all the “kook,” to use the film’s preferred term, drained out of her demeanor. To get the full effect, you have to see the scene, which begins with Christie appearing only as a reflection in the horn’s bell as Scott walks up toward the front of the frame, and into focus, before the camera pans over for the composition seen above.
Richard Lester used Nicolas Roeg as his cinematographer, and it’s the last film Roeg shot before becoming a director himself with Performance. On a doc included on the DVD, producer Raymond Wagner takes credit for the film’s innovative use of flash-forwards, which seems a little suspect since it seems such a Lester-like (Lesterian?) device (and Wagner’s most famous producing credit is Turner & Hooch). Whoever’s responsible, Roeg was paying attention, since it’s a trick he’d use to great effect in Performance, Walkabout, The Man Who Fell To Earth, and Bad Timing (if I’m remembering that last one correctly).
This doesn’t have much to do with that device, though. It’s just a moment out of time beneath a gloomy San Francisco sky. Somewhere nearby the promise of the Summer Of Love is unfolding, but these two will only get to look on from a distance.