Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Driver's Seat

Ah, Elizabeth Taylor, Empress of Batshittery.

"Who asked you for a stain-resistant dress!?"

And I say that with absolute love and respect. Elizabeth Taylor is the definitive movie star in many ways: She starred in film classics such as A Place in the Sun and National Velvet and big-budget blowouts like Cleopatra and Giant. Hell, she was denounced by the Vatican and in the United States House of Representatives and she was just like, "Whatever. Me and Richard Burton are going back to our yacht to eat diamonds." La Liz was one of the great film queens gifted with an abundance of beauty and a dearth of fucks to give: Louise Brooks, Kay Francis, Ava Gardner, none of whom cared that much for their careers, but saw glamour as a means to an end, to live, live live! (Usually in a way that involved lots of handsome men and top-shelf liquor and gorgeous clothes and five-star hotels.)

"In her walk, in her look! There was something about her that made you notice her right away. Something unseemly!"

But, anyway, long after Cat in a Hot Tin Roof and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf--hell, long after Butterfield 8--she made an array of weird-ass 70s movies like Boom! and Hammersmith Is Out and The Only Game in Town (which might have worked if it had been shot in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra as originally planned, rather than faking Vegas in Paris with Warren Beatty). The Driver's Seat, also known as Identikit, is one such odd entry in the filmography.

The Driver's Seat is based on a short novel by Muriel Spark and has a plot best described as "stuff happens." It feels like an improvisational film or at least one made by someone who'd never made movies before--scenes of phone calls, letter writing, scarf buying, etc. go on and on in real time. Choosing a book involves a long, slow pan of paperback mystery novels. When characters go form one place to another, we watch a bunch of scenery go by and a few establishing shots.

"Not a presence, but a lack of absence. That's what it is."

I mean, I don't like spending time waiting for takeoff when I'm on a plane, much less watching someone else wait. Have you ever wanted to be trapped in a car with a guy who can't stop ranting about his macrobiotic diet? Me neither, but you get to in The Driver's Seat. The only time this time-consuming, time-wasting method of filmmaking is at all worthwhile is when we get to watch Taylor do her eye makeup in closeup, which is better than any YouTube tutorial.

"When I diet, I diet. And when I orgasm, I orgasm. I don't believe in mixing the two cultures."

There is a scene where she leaves her apartment in a crazy, mixed-pattern ensemble, looking for all the world like Jennifer Saunders as Edina Monsoon. then, as though the movie can read your mind, a little Italian lady jumps out of the shadows and crows "Are you going to join the CIRCUS in that outfit?!"

"Excuse me, which do you think would be more exciting? More sadomasochistic?"

So she has a shitty plane flight--middle seat, lecherous creep on one side, panic-attacking basket case on the other. Although we are reminded of a more innocent time, when you could buy knives at the airport gift shop and joke with security about having a bomb in your purse. And she lands and some dude gets shot and there's a lot of running and screaming and then Andy Warhol shows up with a white suit and a dubbed British accent to return the paperback she dropped--and, for all the noise made about his appearing in this film, it amount to three 60-second bits with someone else's voice. She carries the paperback everywhere, cover facing out, like a spy meeting a contact or a Tinder date that actually reads books (the former being more likely).

"It was as though something came out of her, some force that all women feel latent within themselves, stifled--a potential for catastrophe!"

At one point she and some weird old lady go to a deserted art deco department store with entire floors of grand pianos. They buy slippers and letter openers, there's a random act of terrorism that makes it hard to get a ride back to the Hilton..

This is not a picture of Divine.
It is a picture of Elizabeth Taylor in The Driver's Seat. For reals.

She spends a of of time smiling vacantly and then yelling at people. It's supposed to be a nervous breakdown, but it looks more like pills. Or perhaps just diva fits. And it seems Interpol is looking for her. Or will be looking for her: We get footage of various people being interrogated about Liz--or Lise, as she is called here--and even a few Rashomon-like revisions, which only add to the intertia and confusion. Also, everyone talks about going to the Hilton like the movie is a damn ad.

"I am an idealist."

Taylor may be having some kind of meltdown but you feel no sympathy for her. Mostly because she's a raging cunt to the help--dress shop salesgirls, hotel doormen, maids, she hollers at them all about stain-treated dresses, unwashed glasses, etc. She snaps her fingers at waiters, when she wants to know what time it is, she just shouts the question until someone answers....

She also keeps hanging out with the macrobiotic MRA creep she met on the plane who keeps talking about his need for a daily orgasm and how he can charge her hotel room "to the company." But, like every other man, she flounces off, shouting about how he's "not my type!" I'd say a good 25% of Taylor's dialogue consists of "Are you my type?" or "You're not my type" or "He wasn't my type." See, what Lise/Liz wants is to find a man who will kill her and the problem of the film is that she's looking for a murderer but she keeps meeting rapists. (Maybe she should asks one of those salesgirls she bitches at to gut her like a flounder. Pretty sure they'd be happy to.)

"I want to go back home, to feel all my loneliness again."

The Driver's Seat makes me think of that incredibly stupid movie with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp wandering around fancy hotels in Venice and running yachts into people. (Which may or may not be worse than the movie with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt wandering around fancy hotels in Malta and sighing a lot.) If you want to see a suicidal, clothing-obsessed diva have a nervous breakdown amidst European scenery, The Scarlet Lady is far more enjoyable. If you want a confusing story about a crazy woman loose in a strange city, Daughter of Horror has more giggles and more panache.

"After you stab, make sure you twist the knife upwards to penetrate deeply enough."

Overall, The Driver's Seat is just a bad movie. But gawd knows it'd be worse without Elizabeth Taylor.

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