Saturday, 22 April 2017

Scott too… Joanna (1968)

A quirky piece of flowered-up whimsy which just so happens to have a score of sorts from Rod McKuen and, more importantly, a song from Scott Walker who, even on the album, Scott 2, that featured it, was reaching far beyond the pop culture he sprang from and which this film partly celebrates. Plastic Palace People would have been a much braver choice of song than When Joanna Loved Me… strange swirling strings, a dreamy take on social mores… a song that floats you along its drifting narratives with dislocating ease.

So it is that Joanna can be also conflicted and disconnected from itself and from any simple narrative explanation. The lead character, played by Geneviève Waïte, is frequently caught in fantasy, and you’re occasionally caught out although, when at the end she reaches up to kiss the director Michael Sarne and his crew before leading a full-cast song and dance routine at Paddington Station, you know there’s something arch going on…

Geneviève Waïte
Joanna is picaresque psychedelia in much the same way as say America’s Candy although it’s far less secretly earnest and much more delicate in its treatment of sex, power and, indeed, race. Joanna uses her sexuality but almost in a casual way whereas there’s something far more sinister about the sex forced upon Ewa Ulin in Candy: a stranger from a higher plane, or whatever she is, she rises above the petty abuse of men but has to endure it all the same. No, for Joanna, it’s just something she chooses to do and the film doesn’t even think enough of her promiscuity to show it.

Scott sings and Wally arranges...
Instead Joanna is shown as a chameleon, literally wearing a different costume in almost every scene and always co-ordinating with the colours around: she is literally “fitting in” waiting to find her own direction. The movement she needs, is undoubtedly on her shoulder…

Joanna begins in deary monotone as trains draw into Paddington in late 1968… her train arrives and she pokes her blonde head out and suddenly the film is in colour. She has come to London to study art and will be staying with her Granny (Marda Vanne) who whom she delivers several dozen bottles of mummy’s home-made jam. Granny lives in the whitewashed Georgian townhouse of a Kensington or a Knightsbridge although Joanna is a little cockerny…

Michele Cook and Geneviève Waïte
At art college she is soon admiring her teacher Hendrik (Christian Doermer) along with her pal Margot (Michele Cook – also in That Smashing Bird… reviewed last month). Hendrik is a serious painter and senses no commitment in Joanna; he won’t be the last to tell her to find what it is she must do.

Joanna’s relationship with men is revealed as cutting both ways as, in flashback, we see her morning going very badly when she comes in to find her lover Bruce (Anthony Ainley – the third Master in Doctor Who!) has an attractive blonde in the house, Angela (Jane Bradbury), even those he’s singing the Scott Walker song in the shower! Joanna offers her a cup of tea and is very British about it before cutting and running.

Geneviève Waïte and the very cool Glenna Forster-Jones
She meets a cool black girl called Beryl (Glenna Forster-Jones) at Hendrik’s digs and instantly has a fantasy about Beryl being her maid whilst the latter turns to camera after lying to her new pal about her brother living in a house full of dozens of immigrants: “they still believe this stuff” she says, or words to that effect.

Of course, when we do get to meet big brother he is the impossibly cool Gordon (Calvin Lockhart), a business man in a groovy American motor!

Christian Doermer and Jimmy Dean: posters of movie stars adorn the sets throughout
Beryl takes Joanna “clothes borrowing” from chic-shops and introduces her to her boyfriend Lord Peter Sanderson, played with just-about-acceptable posh-English by the mighty Donald Sutherland who manages to express so economically he really does distract from the rest.

Joanna takes a trip to Morroco  with Lord Peter and Beryl along with her new boyfriend, the rather shallow and ambitious Dominic (David Scheur). As Dom asks Peter for business advice Joanna enjoys the most lovely sunset with Peter who, in addition to telling her she must find herself, advises that he has a terminal illness and has not long to live.

Calvin Lockhart
For the first time in the film, Joanna’s happy-go-lucky carelessness is jolted from her and she begins to mourn the ending of her wonderful friend.

Dominic is soon discarded and Joanna starts seeing a man of considerably more means… Gordon is everything that the investment banker was not and is not just charming but dangerous too. In his plush, ultra-modern penthouse, he finds a man spying and is then confronted by a group of handy-looking business men. It’s a warning but he can look after himself and, after a reprisal has been made, he has to go on the run…

Reality bites for Joanna and in more ways than one.

Dusty verdict: Joanna is a very interesting film with a few dainty flaws here and there depending on how much you like the lead actress although I thought she did very well.

Overall the cast more than pass muster, none more so than the imperious Donald Sutherland and, whilst the story may meander, unlike others of the age, especially Candy, there is a point to all of this and it’s a rather fundamental of not mundane one. It’s also worth noting Walter Lassally’s crisp cinematography which captures the fashion, sooty London streets and magnificent Mediterranean light with equal aplomb.

Amazing colour and depth of field!
At the end Joanna promises her director and crew and the audience in general that she’ll be back… well, she is now.

Joanna is available as part of the BFI Flipside series in both BluRay and DVD, available direct or from Amazon.

The big finish!
The dull start...
Jenny Handley

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