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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Lions Love (...and Lies)

The penultimate film in my ongoing Agnes Varda film festival (her latest, Oscar-nominated film Faces Places comes out on home video next month) is Lions Love (...and Lies), from 1969. Varda went to Hollywood, and this is what she created. It's a classic example of '60s self-indulgence, but also has a poignancy to it that makes it worthwhile.

The plot, such as it is, centers around a menage a trois featuring three of the biggest cultural people of the age. Viva, one of Andy Warhol's stars, is the girl, and Gerome Ragni and James Rado (here called Jerry and Jim) the creators and co-stars of Hair (still the best rock musical), are the boys. They are renting a house in Hollywood, hanging out, watching TV, and swimming in the pool.

Into this little idyll comes Shirley Clarke, playing herself. She was an important New York indie film maker, and she has come to Hollywood to make a movie about it, and crashes with Viva. The joke is that we see studio heads talking about deals, and finally the head muckety-muck says she can not have final cut.

This prompts her to try to kill herself with pills. During the scene, Clarke breaks and cries, "I'm not an actress!" Varda enters the shot and shows her how to do it. "I'm trying to make a movie here," Varda says.

Like Le Bonheur, Lions Love (...and Lies) is full of bright colors. If you wanted to show space aliens hippie behavior, this might be the vehicle. The three don't work, and when they talk about having children they bring someone to practice with.They become exhausted and end up giving the kids "candy" that makes them nod off.

Rado and Ragni were trained actors, and they are quite good. Viva is also surprisingly good. At the end of the film she addresses the camera and says that she was hoping for a script, but had to improvise her lines (some of them are good, like "Being in love is like dreaming with your eyes open").

A great deal of the film deals with the Robert Kennedy assassination, and a lot of news footage is included. Interestingly, and I didn't know this, but Andy Warhol was shot by Valerie Solanis almost on the same day. Viva was on the phone with him when he was shot.

While I wouldn't call this film great, or even good, it is a fascinating time capsule that shows a glimpse of what life was like back then, or at least how Varda viewed Hollywood.

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