Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Married Couple at NWFF

After having made Warrendale [68], a documentary about emotionally disturbed children, Toronto director Allan King wanted to make a film about married life. Inspired by the breakdown of his own marriage and the fact that his parents, "seemed incapable of talking to each other," he wanted to explore the nitty-gritty of what goes on between a husband and wife. Not being able to find any couples willing to expose their dirty laundry on film, he asked his friends, advertising copywriter Billy Edwards and his wife, Antoinette, to do the picture. Billy and Antoinette were a little flamboyant and exhibitionistic, so they seemed like a good choice. Plus, Richard Leiterman, the cameraman and Chris Wangler, the soundman, were also friends, so an intimate rapport seemed assured.

King and the crew spent ten weeks documenting Billy and Antoinette, along with their three-year-old, Bogart, and the dog, Merton, and got more than they bargained for. The film begins with an exterior shot of a house nice enough to remind you of what a single"ncome family could afford in 1969, as a pleasing guitar ditty is strummed by Zal Yanovsky of the Lovin' Spoonful. A pair of dinner guests are said goodnight to and, privacy regained, Billy begins complaining that his expensive new shoes pinch his feet. Antoinette tells him to just throw them away but he protests that he paid $40 for them! A discussion on home improvements ensues, somehow prompting this exchange:
--Where do you think we should put the harpsichord?

--Same place we're going to put the rock band. What harpsichord?

--That I'm going to buy.

--You're not gonna buy a harpsichord.

--Oh yes I am, with my pocket money.

--You don't need a harpsichord. I'll get you a harmonica. The money has to go for things that we need.

--Well, we need a harpsichord.

--We need a harpsichord like we need a hole in the head.

Ah, but it's never about the harpsichord. If one gets the sense the Edwards are acting a tad too much like the Kramdens, it's an impression they appear willing to give. Things aren't helped by the fact that Antoinette has a voice remarkably similar to Audrey Meadows and, if Billy doesn't resemble the Great One, he could have easily have been separated at birth from fellow Torontan, Graham Jarvis.
However, the marital discord soon escalates to a level that would have had Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margret thinking they had a pretty good thing and nobody is saying, "Baby, you're the greatest." It's not so much that they argue with each other, it's that they argue at each other. Each seemingly vying to win the 'most put-upon in the world' sweepstakes. After ten minutes of "You shut up!" "No, you shut up!" you feel like screaming, "Hey, you live in a nice house with a nice kid and a nice dog in a nice country where you don't have to worry about war or crime or dirt and shoes are only $40 a pair. So, the both of you, shut the fuck up!"
Their son, Bogart, seems to spend most of the film in bemused detachment, though whether that's from an unusual sense of restraint or a general state of shock is anyone's guess. And Merton? Well, he's just along for the ride. In any case, what does it say about a family where the most well behaved members are the dog and kid?
If the arguing isn't enough to make you want to flee the room, there's the additional deal-breaker of Billy's habit of lounging about in the nude or, worse yet, strutting about in a pair of red bikini-briefs. As of this writing, I still haven't determined if I should rip my eyes out.
If the film provides one thing that is usefully illuminating, it's a depiction of the state of gender-relations in the pre-feminist era. Although neither is likeable, Antoinette is more sympathetic, mostly because, as a housewife, she doesn't seem to be trading away a few years till her son gets into nursery school so much as she seems to be serving a life sentence chained to the vacuum cleaner. When she makes the point that she does all the shopping, all the cooking, all the cleaning and raises the kid and gets nary a compliment for it, Billy explodes that he's the breadwinner and everything she owns is because of him. Witnessing this, you can't help but realize why there was a Betty Friedan. Adding injury to insult, Billy displays the kind of nasty behavior that wasn't even regarded as abusive back then. Despite this, Antoinette remains committed to the marriage, mostly because she can't seem to comprehend any other alternative.
So, unless you're dying to see what a tastefully decorated home looked like in 1969, rent Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Married With Children, but if you really want to see what Norman Mailer called an 'excrementious relationship' watch A Married Couple.
A Married Couple [96 min.]
NWFF, April 24-25, Tues-Wed. at 7, 9pm

No comments:

Post a Comment