Friday, January 07, 2011

Murder in a Blue World

Take a look at these three shots from Eloy de la Iglesia’s 1973 oddity ‘Murder in a Blue World’. The first shows a group of rather anti-social young men driving around at recklessly excessive speeds late at night. In the second, these selfsame gentlemen have paid a surprise visit to a middle class family and gearing up to do some unspeakable things. The last one shows a recidivist undergoing a radical experiment in aversion therapy.

Remind you of anything?

Or should I say: remind you of anything you might have viddied at the old sinny, o my brothers?

Fifteen minutes in, I was ready to write off ‘Murder in a Blue World’ as a stylish if incoherent rip off of ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Then, just as the gang are gathering outside the home they are about to invade, de la Iglesia not only acknowledges Kubrick’s controversy-magnet but gets all meta about it. He cuts to the family watching TV. The announcer discusses the next programme: a screening of ‘A Clockwork Orange’, namechecking the director, studio and year of release, referring to it as “a symphony on the theme of violence”.

Later, de la Iglesia has his central character, Anna (Sue Lyon), read ‘Lolita’ as she sits in a bar. These are the only two Kubrick references in the big and they’re about as unsubtle as a falling anvil, but they’re nonetheless telling. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ informs the film’s aesthetic, from concepts (youth out of control; a government who resort to totalitarian methods; an aversion therapy programme finally revealed as a failure) to set-pieces (violence against a family; a retributive beating doled out to a gang member who questions the leader) to production design. The ‘Lolita’ reference inverts the concept of Lyon playing a 14-year old nymphet in Kubrick’s earlier film (she was 16 at the time of shooting) by having her disguised as an older woman for a key scene in ‘Murder in a Blue World’ (she was 27 when de la Iglesia’s film was made).

In this scene – and I’ll hoist the jolly SPOILER ALERT at this point and let it flutter proudly for the rest of the article – Anna is passing herself off as a spinster (not very convincingly) in order to persuade a gigolo to accompany her back to her place. Anna’s pad (she’s a nurse, by the way) is a sprawling mansion in its own grounds. It’s also the same house ‘The Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll’ was filmed in …

… and there’s no way anyone on a nurse’s salary could afford to live there. Even if she worked in the private healthcare sector. Christ, I doubt even Victor (Jean Sorel), the doctor who fancies Eva and is secretly running the aversion therapy experiments in collusion with a shadowy government minister, could afford the mortgage payments.

But I digress. Anna is in the habit of picking up young men, taking them back to hers, making out a bit and then stabbing them in the heart. Casual sex and casual murder all rolled up in one. In addition to disguising herself as an old maid to snare a gigolo, she also passes herself off as a lesbian and visits a gay bar where she picks up a gay guy. Yeah, I didn’t make much sense of that either. Incidentally, gay bars in Europe in the 70s apparently looked like this:

So anyway, while Anna is happily nursing people by day and stabbing them in the heart by night, and Victor (hmmm, wasn’t there another bonkers medico who went by that name?) is happily fucking up sociopaths for the greater good of science/society/the minister’s re-election chances (delete as applicable), the droogs gang of anti-social youths are happily running around causing maybe. Then one of them, David (Chris Mitchum) pisses off the head droog youth and finds himself ass-whupped and exiled from the gang. Licking his wounds, he witnesses Anna dumping a body. He invades her home (maybe she was just house-sitting for the three weird sisters from ‘The Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll’), spurns her advances (thus avoiding a blade in the old ticker) and blackmails her. Later, after a motorcycle chase lands him in traction and guess who happens to be on the ward, he kind of wishes he hadn’t.

‘Murder in a Blue World’ was almost a candidate for “Viva la Revolution”. There’s a clear theme of rebellion. The dr—shit, gotta stop doing that. The youths are rebelling against a government that automates everything and disseminates propaganda through commercials: constant soundbites interspersing TV programmes exhort the audience to seek useful enjoyment. Everyone drinks a concoction which is simply called Blue Drink (hence the film’s title) – whether this is some kind of mild narcotic designed to keep citizens stupified is something de la Iglesia never explains, which is a shame: it’s an interesting concept.

Elsewhere, David rebels against the gang he’s in. Anna rebels against the Hippocratic Oath, killing people during her off duty hours and, finally, in the hospital itself. Even the recidivists indoctrinated by the aversion therapy rebel, in the film’s out-of-nowhere but viscerally memorable final scene, against pretty much everything and everyone.

So why didn’t I feature this in “Viva la Revolution”? Simply because it’s never made clear why they rebel. For all that it’s insinuated that the government controls the populace, the iron fist of authority is curiously absent from the film. Even the minister who sanctions Victor’s experiments on felons appears only briefly on a videophone. Most of the characters seem to live an affluent enough life – particularly Anna (maybe the house was an inheritance. But even then, the rates, the upkeep, the insurance!) No-one seems to be oppressed.

‘Murder in a Blue World’ is full of intriguing (if only partly explored) concepts, and its three distinct narrative strands are, individually, quite absorbing. The problem is, it never really seems to cohere. Scenes are ordered as if at random. Subplots are either arbitrarily curtailed (such as David’s blackmail of Anna) or just plain forgotten about (such as the crusading journalist irate at police inefficiency during the murder investigation). If it weren’t for that (quite literally) killer last scene, the film would have been, at best, a nicely shot failure. As it is, it’s a quirky also-ran. I can’t help thinking that if the immediacy and focus of its last two minutes had been applied to the preceding ninety-six, it could have been some kind of demented masterpiece, Kubrick rip-offery notwithstanding.

No comments: