• BurgundySuit

    Want to be as cool as Tom? Then join us for Year of the Month (from an idea by Elizabeth Lerner)! Here’s just a few of the things you can write about:

    https://letterboxd.com/films/popular/year/1968/size/large/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_in_music
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_in_literature

    And here’s who’s gonna be writing!

    September 12th: Pico79: The Queen
    September 13th: BurgundySuit: Chartbusting!
    September 14th: The Ploughman: High School
    September 15th: Belated Comebacker: Rosemary’s Baby
    September 18th: Drunk Napoleon: Yellow Submarine
    September 19th: John Bruni: Faces
    September 21st: Wallflower: Bullit
    September 22nd: Gillianren: The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit
    September 25th: Bhammer100: Prescription: Murder
    September 26th: Miller: Hell in the Pacific
    NO DATE: Son of Griff: Once Upon a Time in the West
    NO DATE: Julius Kassendorf: Vixen
    NO DATE: Silverwheel: Anthem of the Sun

    • Son of Griff

      I’ll probably shoot my draft over to you no later than Thursday. You can schedule it whenever you have an opening, but it looks like the 20th might work at the earliest, but anytime in the final week will work as well.

  • I hope I’ve done this justice! Following on from discussion on the Prisoner article, I’ve indicated above when I start to get into spoiler territory, but the TL;DR version is: if you haven’t seen this, give it a shot! It’s a stunning, unusual film!

    • Balthazar Bee

      Great write-up, vomas!

      Not only was it a pleasure to read, it succeeds in what I regard as the single most important intangible element of a piece like this: I need to see this movie again, now.

      • Thank you! I’m glad this project got me to rewatch it, as I’ve been meaning to do so for a long time.

    • Rockingoodfun

      I really like this film, and that was a great write-up. Still not sure if I think the choice of filming the last scene on a sound stage while everything else is on location was the right one though. As you say it adds a bit of a gothic feel to it, but also takes the viewer out of the film too much for my liking.

      • Thank you also! I know what you mean, but I quite like the way it seems to recall the mysterious opening sequence with the owls and rabbits watching as we sweep through the woods – the gothic bookends to an otherwise modern (for the time) story.

      • John Bruni

        As I stated above, Lancaster practically sabotaged the movie. He insisted on making Ned more sympathetic, which creates a tonal clash, at the very least.

        • It’s a shame there were disputes on set but the end result works perfectly for me. Lancaster’s portrayal of Ned is just sympathetic enough to make his downfall incredibly affecting – you can see how his charm and enthusiasm made him a success, and his flaws and arrogance show exactly why that success didn’t last. Obviously there’s no way to know what the “unsabotaged” version would have looked like but it’s the contrasts that make this such a compelling film to me.

          • John Bruni

            I do think the film does succeed on the level of late-60s weirdness–I really like your astute analysis of the creepy scene with Julie. Overall, however, the film promises (check out that provocative tagline on the movie poster) to dive deep into a certain social strata but ends up spending too much of its running time in the shallow end.

  • John Bruni

    A chapter in my Cassavetes book looks at The Swimmer and Petulia (starring George C. Scott) as precursors to Husbands. They all deal with white middle-aged male identity crisis. None of them were a commercial success.

    Like Lancaster did with Cassavetes, whom he conspired to get fired as director of A Child Is Waiting (where Lancaster stars as a doctor in a children’s mental hospital), he undermined the direction of Frank Perry, the director of The Swimmer. As a result, the scene with Ned’s mistress was reshot by Sydney Pollack.

  • Man with a robot arm

    Great write-up. If Antonioni had adapted Heart of Darkness it may have looked like this just with more architecture. Burt Lancaster (“I’m Ned Merrill”) is swimming up the river that is his life. Along the way he encounters past mistakes and regrets. Each stop chips away at the facade he’s built up for himself. It becomes more surreal and oneiric as he goes upriver. Lancaster becomes more delusional as he reaches his house of broken dreams, a decaying upper middle-class Inner Station or Kurtz compound. This is the Apocalypse Now of upper middle-class ennui.

    • Cheers! That’s a great comparison. It elevates a personal conflict to something more mythical and strange, and I love that.

    • Balthazar Bee
    • Fun fact: Nic Roeg did adapt Heart of Darkness for TNT. It’s actually pretty good.

      • Balthazar Bee

        Was that the Malkovich/Roth one? I had absolutely no idea that was Roeg. It’s been a while, but I remember enjoying it.

        • ‘Twas. It suffers from not being Apocalypse Now but Roth is a great Marlowe, Malkovich gonna Malkovich (which makes him a strong Kurtz) and Roeg’s nonlinear editing is perfect for a story that’s remembered and retold.

          • Balthazar Bee

            More than just about any role I can think of, an actor really has to be able to sell intelligence to play Kurtz — it’s as though it was his heightened level of awareness that made his eventual trip off the deep end a foregone conclusion. The whole “nothing is true; everything is permitted” trip.

            In that sense, I’d say Malkovich is basically the ideal Kurtz. It’s the same thing that made him such a delightful Tom Ripley.

            In Hearts of Darkness there’s a vintage audio recording of Coppola running down a few potentials if Brando won’t come through — I think it was Nicholson and Redford. I can see the former, but (and this is not to say Redford’s not intelligent) I think the latter would’ve been a disastrous misstep.

          • Exactly. Heart of Darkness has, among everything else, a vicious critique of progressivism. Kurtz is the wokest bae of his time, the deepest, kindest humanitarian of his civilization, and this is what happens when that man goes to the border of that civilization, to the place where the work of the civilization truly gets done.

          • Belated Comebacker

            Not to mention it takes place in the same time period as the novella. If there was ever an underrepresented time period for movies…

      • Man with a robot arm

        I recall seeing parts of this at the time. Good lord it’s almost 25 years old! I didn’t know Roeg directed it. I may need to rewatch it.

        Welles’ script for HoD is readily available online as is the radio play he did.

  • We were talking about this over scb0212‘s piece on The Prisoner: this is another 1968 work that has that real Harold Pinter feel, of how effective a story can be when you drop all exposition and backstory. We see how everyone reacts to each other but we don’t know the why; and it turns out we didn’t need to.

  • Babalugats

    Once when I was a child I had a fever, and I fell asleep with the TV on and woke up in the middle of the night to this movie. Burt Lancaster was trying to swim home across everyone’s swimming pools. It was strange and tense and I fell back asleep almost immediately. Years later I was shocked to discover that it was a real movie and not just something I had dreamt.

    So when you ask, “When you talk about The Swimmer will you talk about yourself?” The answer is yes. Yes I will.

    • OR did I make this movie up and write this whole article just to mess with you?

      • Babalugats

        I bet vomas isn’t even your real name!

  • Son of Griff

    I have a friend who has made THE SWIMMER pretty much her litmus test as to whether or not you share her tastes in movies and pop culture. Even though I failed it (the film both aesthetically and thematically pushes my buttons in all the wrong ways) I’m honored that she still seeks out my opinions. It’s a weird little movie that, with a subtler, less art damaged approach, could have used the elliptical nature of its dialoque and background into a richer, genuinely tragic movie.

    • John Bruni

      Yeah, it’s a form of what I call Hollywood middlebrow modernism that hasn’t aged particularly well.

      • Son of Griff

        In the parlance of our times, I’d call it “tragic phallo-centrism”.

        • John Bruni

          Many of Woody Allen’s films could be categorized as a mixture of tragic phallo-centrism and cynical urban realism.

          I haven’t seen PLAY IT AS IT LAYS but I’d imagine it would be tough to capture on screen Joan Didion’s style, that feels almost telepathic, which makes it one of my favorite novels.

          A film directed by Perry I like is DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE, which features a stunning performance by Carrie Snodgrass. When Perry, and co-writer, Eleanor Perry adopted the film from the bestselling novel of the same name, they discarded the novel’s diary-like structure that traditionally in a Hollywood film would be reproduced as voice over narration (which would have granted more direct access to the protagonist’s thoughts) and constructed a different ending, one that profoundly suggests we cannot be sure of what we have observed.

          • Didion is in the Enya/Morrissey/Malick category of being great but so very close to being awful; if she let one comma slip out of place, it wouldn’t work. (John Gregory Dunne has a lot of bad writing that feels like imitation Didion. Whether this was intentional or just because they were editing each other all the time, I couldn’t say.) I can’t think of any filmic equivalent to her writing (maybe Wes Anderson with all the tweeness surgically removed?); her closest analogy in music is Warren Zevon.

          • Son of Griff

            The problem with seeing so many 70s films on TV in my teens is that I was exposed to them without knowing what the hell they were about. In short, I need to see DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE again

  • DJ JD

    I haven’t seen this, but I read that short story after reading this article and I was struck by how much more expansive its ambiguity is than (it sounds like) the film’s is. There’s a clear descent (of sorts) into surrealism, but the story opens up with conflicting information: he woke up, bounded down to the pool (smacking Aphrodite’s rear by statue proxy)–and he’s at a party at someone else’s house, eight miles from home. His wife starts out at the party (she asks him where he’s going when he leaves), and the story is very upfront about his concerns that his ability to reject unwanted facts are getting the better of him. I also found myself sadly flummoxed by being so separated by time from the norms at work here: his behavior struck me as unutterably boorish, entitled to the core, but while that reading shows up in places in the text, it’s hardly uniform. I’m certain an unreliable narrator is present here (obviously), but it’s still tough for me to suss out the nuance involved.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the story as a quick read that sticks with you, but I did find myself wanting to nail down the basic facts of the tale a skosh. Still, it stuck with me like an Ambrose Bierce short: haunting and sharp.

    • It’s an odd little tale. Apparently it was written as a novel but condensed down to short-story length which makes sense in the way the story unravels (and it works well for leaving a lot of its questions unanswered I think). The film expands from that odd outline quite cleverly, I think.

      • DJ JD

        Do you know if the filmmakers had Cheever’s input or blessing? The story seemed like it could’ve just as easily “really” been about getting old in general, entitled classism or man’s self-destructive pride based on what details he filled in there. I mean, just his wife: we start out with her and him together at the first party, he wanders off while she asks after him, he names his “river” after her…and then she’s just out of the picture. Several possibilities support inference but the story doesn’t much seem to care which is the “real” one.

        (Also, I failed to mention this but I enjoyed the article, and I doubt I’d have crossed paths with this work if you hadn’t written it up.)

        • Thanks! Hope you enjoy it, if / when you do get to see it. I can’t remember if I’ve already mentioned this somewhere but there’s an excellent well-stocked blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing that includes a lot of extras (that I mostly avoided until I’d written this, as I didn’t want to just be repeating things other people had said about it, but will be fully exploring soon).

          Cheever was frequently present on set and apparently has a brief cameo appearance in the pool party scene, so it would appear he was fully on board with the way they expanded on the story. Agreed on the written version – it’s fairly open as to exactly what exactly its commenting on, whereas the film does (eventually) go into more specifics.