Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Remembering Candy

In 1968, a movie appeared called “Candy”. It was sort of a hippy dippy take off of the book which became a best seller “dirty book” in the late 50’s. Everyone read it. Like “Lolita”, it used children to explore the sexual revolution of the time. Morals were changing in the late 50’s to the explosion in the 60’s, but this was taboo.

When the movie came out, my apartment was decorated with Playboy centerfolds. Viva the revolution. But what made me want to see the movie, since I had read every “dirty” book I could find, was Ringo Starr, the Beatle drummer, was in it.

I don’t remember if I went with someone else, but I plopped down my buck (movies were cheaper back then) and entered the Capitol theater, which has now been demolished.

What caught my eye (and ear) was the psychedelic beginning. Drifting light with these strange electric guitar sounds. The soundtrack written by Dave Grusin (later saw him with Joni Mitchell) and the Byrds. The soundtrack so impressed me I bought the record. The power force of the soundtrack was a new breakthrough band, Steppenwolf.

The book dealt with a teenager’s exploration into a physical world. The movie was short vignettes for famous stars to appear in early soft porn.

But before I go too far, let me give you the plot.

Candy Christian (played by newcomer Ewa Aulin, a Swedish beauty champion) is an innocent young girl when she first hears MacPhisto (played by Richard Burton with air blowing only on him to make his scarf wave in the breeze), an alcoholic Welsh poet, talk of love and self-sacrifice. Candy narrowly escapes MacPhisto's attempt to rape her, only to succumb to her father's Mexican gardener, Emmanuel (sadly played by Ringo Starr – stick with the drum sticks). When her father ( played in a dual role by John Astin - remember the Adams’ Family) catches her with the gardener, he banishes her to a trip with his twin brother, Uncle Jack, and Jack's wife Aunt Livia,(very sexy role for Elsa Martinelli) who are headed for New York City. As Candy makes her way to the airport, Emmanuel's three sisters attack her because she has corrupted their brother. Because of Candy, Emmanuel has now forsaken the priesthood. During the scuffle, Candy's father takes a blow to the head, resulting in a serious head injury. Candy nearly gives in to a General Smight (by a smirking Walter Matthau – remember the Odd Couple ) on the plane in exchange for a blood transfusion for her father. In New York, an ego-maniacal brain surgeon Dr. Krankeit (by James Coburn – check out In Like Flint) operates on her father, while Uncle Jack pursues his own operation on Candy. When Candy bashes him with a bedpan, Uncle Jack is put in her father's hospital bed, while her father wanders away without notice. Candy is now free to visit Greenwich Village where she takes part in a film by an underground movie director Jonathan J. John.(Enrico Maria Salerno) It's a pornographic film, shot in a public restroom. Next, Candy becomes the pet of a benevolent hunchback (Charles Aznavour) in Central Park, but she escapes from his arch criminal into the truck trailer of Guru Grindl (Marlon Brando). During the drive to California, Grindl initiates her into the mysteries of the Seventh Stage and other secrets of life. In California, Candy seeks the Great Buddah, who will reveal to her the ultimate stage. In her search, she encounter a filthy hermit who leads her to a temple. There Candy and the hermit have sex. When a deluge destroys the temple and washes the hermit clean. Candy recognizes that the hermit is really her wandering father. Again Candy runs away to more trouble. The final time, however, she finds herself in a hippie orgy, reunited with her past sexual partners.

Also in the movie was Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richard’s girlfriend, Fabian Dean, a former hot throb singer as a police sergeant, and Buck Henry as a mental patient.

Buck Henry was also given screenplay credits with Mason Hoffenberg and Terry Southern from the novel. The next year Southern went on to write Easy Rider with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda

And the reviews? Here is a typical one.

reviewed by Shane Burridge

Oh, those 60s. Extravagant version of the novel by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg is a lot of fun when seen with an audience in a theater; on television it may seem fairly pointless. It has great curio value because it is so patently a product of its time - witness its wild editing, camp atmosphere, and rock soundtrack. But more importantly notice its playfulness - we really don't care that the entire film crew is reflected in a giant mirror near the end, because it seems so appropriate for the era. At a time when directors and actors were turning the lens back on to themselves to deliberately break through the 'fourth wall' of the cinema and remind us all that 'it's only a movie' it was inevitable that several 60s productions would turn out embarrassingly trite or pretentious. Not so CANDY - like its heroine it is infused with a sense of reckless innocence. Sure, it's self-indulgent and paints its satire with a broad brush, but if anything it's even more fun to watch now than it was in its own time.
Both novel and film are slim reworkings of Voltaire's 'Candide', which dealt with the misadventures of a youth in a society of dubious philosophy, religion, and morality. The update is irrelevant for the film experience - as a screenplay CANDY could have been invented purely for the cinema (it certainly had to abandon the more pornographic elements of the book). Swedish teenager Ewa Aulin plays the title character in a suitably vacant manner (it's hard to tell whether she can act or not because she is only given one sentence at a time, and it is nearly always a reaction or a question); consequently it's easy to pass over how well she fits the role. She really does capture an oblivious aspect of Candy that prevents us from being truly annoyed with her. It's just as well, because take a look at who she's up against - a bombastic, lecherous Richard Burton, an egotistical, lecherous James Coburn, and guru-like, lecherous Marlon Brando. Throw in John Astin, Ringo Starr, Walter Matthew (all lecherous) and a few extras including an Italian director and a hunchback, and you'll see that Candy barely manages to get a word in edgewise. At the time of CANDY's release some critics saw the involvement of big-name stars as an embarrassment worth celebrating in their columns, but as is most often the case with such things the film has endured while the notices have been forgotten - modern audiences don't mind seeing Brando and Burton play-acting instead of method acting.
Of course, Candy is no spokesperson for any women's movement, and with very little correlation between her constant disrobing and the story's satirical comment (against the military, the police, the literati, religion, the medical profession, and even film-making) she appears as a very doubtful heroine indeed. In some ways she is like BARBARELLA (also released in 1968, and with a screenplay by Southern) and the cosmic visions that open and close the film allude to her as a traveler through space and time, journeying from one outlandish event to another, sampling each in turn. For this reason I don't see Aulin's Candy as being a victim but rather an observer - most importantly, she appears unchanged by any of her liaisons except the last, at which point she has seen enough and transcends her own status of a character, almost literally walking out of her own movie to find re-invention elsewhere. Is Candy an extra-terrestrial visitor? It would explain her naiveté but not her background - unless her family and school are also fabrications. Fortunately such speculation is brushed over lightly, sidestepping likely charges of pretension against the film (I don't know if this idea is presented in the novel). This is less brain candy than it is eye candy. It would make a good double bill with THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN, if only because of the involvement of Ringo and Southern in both, but then again that might be a tad too much for one sitting! Energetically directed by Christian Marquand. It looks and sounds great in a cinema, so watch for prints in revival houses.


Sixties Filmmaking is Decadent and Depraved: Candy
By J. Lawrence Scholer Monday, May 13, 2002

Take a twenty year-old Swedish beauty queen with minimal acting experience and cast her in the role of the All-American high schooler. Take a novel by the man who wrote the screenplays for movies like Dr. Strangelove, Barbarella, and Easy Rider. Add an obscure French director making his directorial debut. The result is Candy, the 1968 film based on the novel of the same name by Terry Southern. The film was released on DVD last year, having been virtually extinct for three decades.
When Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg published Candy, controversy ensued to no one's surprise. Southern, who was working on a children's book at the time, and Hoffenberg, both expatriates in Paris, wrote under the pseudonym Maxwell Kenton, whom Southern described as an 'American nuclear physicist.' The deviant content of the book drew it both praise and scorn—Candy was initially banned in England. Nevertheless, it made Southern famous, selling thousands of copies.
Christian Marquand adapted the novel into a motion picture ten years later. The film, however, was received coldly and largely ignored by audiences. Audiences criticized the lack of a coherent plot and bashed the embarrassing roles played by respectable actors—like Richard Burton slurping whiskey from the floor of a limousine and Marlon Brando as a sleazy guru. Candy was a by-product of the psychedelic Sixties, done by filmmakers immersed in the prevailing culture and, according to rumors, high on acid.
Candy Christian (Ewa Aulin) is the blond, blue-eyed All-American girl—one must ignore her Germanic accent. She exudes innocence and naivete, incredibly attractive but not too bright. Highly impressionable, Candy adopts the philosophy of the famous poet McPhisto (Richard Burton)—'to give myself...to whatever needs me.' And, with a cast of lusty men, what Candy gives to nearly everyone she meets is no surprise.
The great poet McPhisto spots Candy as he prepares to recite poetry at her high school auditorium. He invites Candy into his limousine to give her a ride home. There it is established that a drunken McPhisto 'needs' young Candy and he forces himself upon the poor girl despite her pleas of 'I'm not ready.' Candy and McPhisto struggle on the glass-bottomed limousine—glass-bottomed for no reason other than to provide some interesting cinematography and some shots up Candy's dress. Candy thrives on the unnecessary; the filmmakers seem to bask in their power, suggesting, 'We'll have a glass-bottomed limousine because we can. Plus, it looks cool.'
Moments after escaping from McPhisto, Candy again must give herself—this time to her Mexican gardener, Emmanuel (Ringo Starr). This was Ringo's first role outside of his films with the Beatles, and that he was cast as a Mexican gardener must be some kind of inside joke. His attempt at a Mexican accent is no match for the prevailing Liverpudlian drawl. When McPhisto identifies Ringo as 'You with the face of an Aztec,' one can't help but grimace and laugh uncomfortably. McPhisto urges Emmanuel to give himself to Candy, and he does, yelling 'La Revolucion,' throwing her onto a pool table, and violently attempting to remove her dress and undergarments. Candy urges Emmanuel to relent to no avail, but she relents and appears to enjoy Emmanuel's advances.
Such is the progression of the movie. Candy travels across the country never failing to give herself to whoever needs her. She encounters an extremely frustrated general (Walter Matthau), an insane physician (James Coburn), a hunchback (Charles Aznavour), and a false guru (Marlon Brando), all of whom partake of Candy's generosity. Candy also gives herself to her uncle (she's sleeping), her father (he's disguised in a robe and plaster), and a statue of a Hindu god.
Candy is a satire of the prevailing culture of the 1960s—strange for a film that sates itself with the excesses of the period. The cynicism of the film is overwhelming. The public schools are framed as patriotic citizen builders—Candy is assigned an essay on 'the citizen's responsibility to his government, his church, his school, his parents, his community, and his local police force.' Artists are portrayed as publicity hungry and drunken fools. McPhisto (inspired by Dylan Thomas), upon hearing Candy's name, says, 'Candy, beautiful name. It has the spirit, the sound of the Old Testament.' The medical profession is portrayed as exploitative and experimental. Candy's father has an operation in front of a crowd of New York's finest where the surgeon says 'We're going to throw the book away and dig in,' before prodding recklessly in the man's skull. Even filmmakers take a drubbing. Candy meets a Cuban filmmaker named G3, who is busy gathering material for his new work of people saying 'no.'
After an hour and a half of watching Candy fall victim to every male she encounters, the episodes become somewhat tiresome and one begins to feel bad for the poor girl. The film is relentless as Candy becomes a student of a guru who resides in the trailer of a eighteen-wheeler. The guru, Grindle, wants to lead Candy to the 'void' by taking her through the necessary steps—the 'seven stages.' Stage one attempts to locate the center of all breath—not Candy's lungs—and stage two is the removal of Candy's clothes. The rest of the stages follow a natural progression.
Critics and audiences panned Candy for lack of a coherent storyline, and, at one point in the film, Candy asks rhetorically, 'What does it all mean?' as she faces a underground chamber of Hindu icons. Is this a question for the director? Did Marquand just piece together a series of random acts with the theme of Candy getting violated in each? Or, is the film suggesting something? Perhaps, Marquand is indicting his society, one where the most innocent of people is corrupted by hungry monsters. Marquand's is a society where no remnant of idealism can survive, except for Marquand's idealism as portrayed in this film.
Candy is distinctively Terry Southern—quirky with strange sexual mores. Anyone who has seen Barbarella (which Southern adapted to the screen) can immediately connect these two films. Both feature extremely na've and attractive female leads who end up mingling with strange men and eventually sleeping with them. Barbarella takes place in space while Candy takes place on earth.
One's first impulse is to think, 'What sluts!' but that really doesn't seem to fit. Both Candy and Barbarella, however, seem to have transcended traditional morals in their search for themselves. All the men who take advantage of Candy are real scumbags, but Candy's virtue is unquestionable.
Marquand, while getting Southern's main point, often neglects Southern's voice in the film. In the novel, Southern scatters throughout the dialogue small details that recall Southern's earlier work—such details that reflect very much on Candy's character and basis. In the novel, Candy frequently remarks, 'N...O...spells NO!' Not much of a detail—except that it is drawn from Southern's Gonzo piece (done years before Hunter S. Thompson coined the term), 'Twirling at Ole Miss,' in which he observes a baton twirling camp in Oxford, Mississippi. The phrase was uttered to Southern when he offered one teen baton twirler a bottle of moonshine. Could these five hundred pubescent girls in skimpy baton twirling outfits have inspired the character Candy? They might have done just that, and it is unfortunate the filmmakers neglected this.
Despite its shortcomings Candy provides for an strangely enjoyable two hours. What many viewed as lack of coherent plot can be attributed to the influence of Voltaire's Candide. So when someone asks, 'How can those cops be racing across the California desert—I thought they crashed into that bar of transvestites back in New York?' just remind them of all the strange places that Professor Pangloss appeared. The film, by naturem, is not supposed to be rational—it is anti-rational.
Candy is a deeply cynical film, bashing nearly every American establishment possible. The characters in Candy are incredibly depraved and selfish (except for Candy, of course). The filmmakers, however, are conscious of what they are doing—conscious of their excesses. In the final sequence, the crazed filmmaker G3 stands in a grassy meadow and begins filming himself in a giant mirror that rises out of the grass. The film crew is seen behind him—cameramen, grips, gaffers. Yes, Candy pokes fun at Sixties establishments and excesses, but, at the same time, Candy is guilty of the same things. But the filmmakers don't seem to care—after all, it is the Sixties.

So last night, I opened the DVD I had found on Amazon and watched this 40 year old film again. It still made me laugh. And the music holds up nicely.

And it’s still hot. Just enough voyeurism to entice the imagination. A brief show of tush, soft skin, and a flash of pink under long blond hair, behind gaze and suggestive positions. Ah, what a wonder world it was then. Barbarella should arrive tonight.

At least the soundtrack got “There’s No Business Like Show Business” by Flo and Eddie out of my mind.


Rus Wornom said...

tushy, tushy, tushy.

Art said...

You saw Candy with me, dude.