Suffice it to say that history remembers Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)—a movie that Harris helped to set up before blanching at his partner's idea to turn it into a comedy—more vividly than the foursquare nuclear-sub drama The Bedford Incident (1965). Splitting from Kubrick on the eve of the director's greatest popular success rendered the New York-born Harris as the proverbial footnote in a world-beating auteur narrative, a marginalization seemingly borne out by the fact that he only produced five features over the next forty years, three of which he also directed.
The most striking of these is Some Call It Loving (1973), a stylized erotic drama privately financed via a tax break scheme for $400,000. In a superbly written and researched essay included with the recent two-disc set from Etiquette Pictures, Kevin John Bozelka explains that Harris brought Some Call it Loving to Cannes in 1973, where it was critically admired (including by Pierre Rissient, who bought it for French distribution) and then destroyed by American reviewers later in the year. The film's slow, stately style and baldly symbolic content were laughed off on contact: "a rambling, contemporary fable that is merely pretentious," was the assessment of The New York Times.
Luis Buñuel's shadow falls over Some Call it Loving, particularly the scene in Viridiana (1961) where the angelic novice played by Silvia Pinal is drugged by a servant and served up to the unscrupulous Don Jaime (Fernando Rey); Bunuel luxuriates in the necrophilic aspects of the scenario even as his villain holds back from ravishing the unconscious virgin (a decision that plays as a pious hypocrite's moment of grace). In Harris' opening, Robert gazes uncertainly at Jennifer's supine body and refuses to join the other carnival-goers in paying for a kiss; when he makes his offer of $20,000 to Jennifer's handler, he shakes off the implication that he's buying her for sex. Like Don Jaime, he's powerfully attracted to the younger woman's sleeping form, which also rhymes with the plight of Humbert Humbert (James Mason) and his botched motel-room rape of his sleeping charge in Lolita—the difference being in Kubrick's film, it's bad luck rather than a guilty conscience that keeps him from following through.
"[Robert] sees [Jennifer's] potential for openness and authenticity and grows frustrated that she willingly submits to an abstract notion of freedom which effectively restricts those qualities," writes Nathaniel Drake Carlson, incisively honing in on just how devastatingly Some Call it Loving frames the feminist identity politics of the 1970s. Because Jennifer stubbornly refuses to raise her own consciousness—instead choosing to embrace her designer-object status—Robert pre-emptively anesthetizes it once and for all. The ending, where Robert drugs Jennifer back into a comatose state—while she's wearing a nun's habit, recalling Viridiana—is heartbreaking as it juxtaposes the figurative "death" of one character with the emotional paralysis of another. With this in mind, the coda, which sees Robert re-invented as the carnival barker hawking his prized possession to a midway crowd, is not merely cynical but deeply sad. Harris' achievement was to cloak his critique of vain male control-freakery in the vestments of sexploitation, a disguise hat succeeded all too well, as Some Call It Loving's judiciously staged and edited longeurs were mistaken for simple pervy indulgence.
Critics were split on the efficacy of Leigh's visual style in Sleeping Beauty, which deliberately riffs on the stark, master-shot elegance of Kubrick (and Michael Haneke), as well as whether or not showing what happens to Lucy while she's unconscious—in repeated scenes that have Browning lifted and buffeted about by male actors—added or detracted from her attempt to reclaim the material from a male gaze. In a wonderfully written post at Mubi, Dan Sallitt writes that "organizing image of the film, unconscious Lucy awaiting her predators in a luxurious bed, is photographed from such a distance and with such symmetry that her body suggests nothing other than a corpse laid out for viewing," a Viridiana-ish arrangement which complicates the underlying sense of prurience. With this in mind, the final scene, in which Lucy tries gamely to fight against the sleeping drug in her system in order to set up a hidden camera to capture evidence of her "non-existence" (as Sallitt puts it), can be seen as much as being about Leigh, as a female director, wresting control of the image as her heroine's attempt at solving a sinister existential mystery.
That the visitors in Sleeping Beauty all follow the "house rules" doesn't mean that they exercise restraint, exactly: one recklessly throws Lucy around like a rag doll, while another cruelly burns a cigarette butt against the back of her neck. In this way, Leigh is perhaps less sentimental than Harris (or Buñuel) in implying that men desire a form of control or superiority over an oblivious partner, a context that transforms their weakness—and given the non-penetrative mandate of the establishment, their impotence—into a pathetic form of strength. Lucy's need to know what's happening to her while she's asleep echoes Jennifer's monologue in Some Call it Loving where she hazily struggles to recall being kissed by many men in succession, a subconscious acknowledgment of her past as a paid attraction. (Another coincidental but apposite parallel: Nicole Kidman recounting her nightmare to Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut.) But where Harris locates tragedy in Robert's inability to truly let Jennifer wake up, Leigh goes for a more overtly sociological form of horror. Lucy's realization that one of the clients has died during the night beside her is both a monstrous visual pun on "let petit mort" and a reprimand to her complicity in her own peril. (Her hysterical reaction upon watching the videotape turns her into Amy Irving at the end of Carrie, another young woman who can't seem to extricate herself from a nightmare.)
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