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January 28, 1971 - Image 2

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1971-01-28

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THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Thursday, January 28, 1971W

i ,

cinema
'Diary': A study of the phonies

By NEAL GABLER
If Kafka and Dreiser had col-
laborated on a screenplay about
Mammon American Style, and
if Stanley Kramer had been
hired for a rewrite, the final
product would probably be
something like Diary of a Mad
Housewife. Dreiser's contribu-
tion would have been the mi-
lieu: the circles of New York's
on-the-make p s e u d o -society
where knowing the right people
and the vintage years of wine
are all one needs to be really
successful. This is the all too
familiar world of back-slapping
and throat-slitting in the w 11 d
clamber to be one of the "in"
people. This is the world where
humans aren't much more than
ornaments of the setting -
phonies all, with unctuous smiles
and erzatz sophistication.
Poor Tina Balser (C a r r i e
Snodgrass) has the misfortune
to be married to one of these
hopeless clods (a graduate from
the Harvard Law School, no
less), and to be living a shallow,
competitive, nerveracking hor-
ror in the hopeless upper reach-
es of the middle-class. We don't
need Women's Lib to tell us
that the Phi Beta Kappa from
Smith has had it with the
house-cleaning and food-cook-
ing and mechanical love-mak-
ing. "I'm mad," she proclaims,
and here's where Kafka would
have come in, because Tina isn't
just the victim of ordinary
household drudgery or of the
society her husband pushes her
into; Tina is the victim of a
kind of upper middle-class sad-
ism, Kafkaesque in its crazy in-
tensity. Her husband, Johnaton
(Richard Benjamen), shoots a
continuous string of criticisms
and demands. He is vapid, in-
sensitive, repulsive - more than
enough to drive a woman batty.
And her two children, obnox-
ious little creatures that bring
Swift's Modest Proposal to mind,
carry on their father's assault
-one verbally, the other by
being fat and wearing glasses,
which is moviespeak, I guess,
for "brat."
Tina is being nudged closer
and closer to the percipice's
edge when she meets pretty
George Prager (Frank Lang-
ella), a writer. Prager is not
just a writer, though, but a
writer "so good it doesn't bear
thinking about," to use Tina's
words. Predictable, since it's
part of the mythology about ar-
tistic inspiration that the geni-
tals are the fount of all creativ-
ity (measure a fellow's organ
and chances are you'll be able to
predict whether he's a Mailer or
a Segal), Prager is a good stud
and Tina is a willing partner.
She steals up to his cold, white,
sparsely furnished apartment,
escaping her husband's invec-
tive, and hopes behind her mask
of hard-bitten realism that
Prager will bring true romance.
At least we think that's what
she hopes. But Johnathan be-
comes more unbearable and the
true romance becomes less pre-
dictable, alternating between
brute affection and cruel taunts.
So enter Kramer, like a deus

ex machina, with the psycholo-
gical explanation: Tina t a k e s
all this crap because she's got a
martyr complex. That's right,
she likes to be kicked around
by lawyers on the make and by
writers too good to think about.
And her husband is such a creep
because John Kennedy was as-
sessinated and his idealism lit-
erally went up in gunsmoke: "I
used to wake up at three o'clock
in the morning because it wasn't
there anymore." A d Prager?
Well, Prager is a quer or jerk
or maybe writers are naturally
bastards; those long organs do
something to their emotions.
Anyway, as the picture ends
in a Kafkaesque note, Tina is
sitting in group therapy suffer-
ing the gibes of other patients.
She has everything she could
possibly want, they say. "I don't
understand your problem." So
she bites her lip and puffs on
her cigarette, and someone
shouts, "Get a lawyer." B u t
isn't that where it all began?
Needless to say, neither Drei-
ser nor Kafka nor Kramer lent
anything but spiritual guidance
to Diary of a Mad Housewife. It
is another project by Frank and
Eleanor Perry, who are one of
the few film-making t e a m s
to probe our middle-class in all
its gaudy superficiality. F i r s t
it was David and Lisa - a film
that grows less and less impres-
sive in retrospect - about the
young mental misfits of the
class. Next, The Swimmer about
the sterility of suburbia. Then,
Last Summer about the class's
mixed-up adolescents. And now
in Diary, the Perrys have con-
cocted a Ben Hur of the genre,
toughing every possible base of
shallowness and some impossible
ones too.
I find this rather sad because
the Perrys aren't bad film-mak-

ers. Most of their pictures have
sharp dialogue and Frank Per-
ry's eye is keen. But while they
may be good technicians, I get
the feeling that they are only
a half-step removed from the
milieu they've spent their ca-
reers condemning. As a result,
their films aren't bad enough to
be schlock (there is that half-
step) but aren't good enough to
be art.
Diary is the case in point. The
situation - an intelligent wo-
man capitulated to her hus-
band's outrages - is certainly
relevant and might very well
have made a good film about
woman's degradation in a man's
world. Or the phoniness of her
life could have been used to
say something new - if there
is anything new to say - about
how we often get chewed up by
our dreams. Sadly, after pre-
senting us with the situation,
the Perrys give us worn-out
stereotypes, dumb psychology
and bungled tones. Was Johna-
than realy an idealistic good-
guy before John Kennedy was
murdered? Did Tina really take

all of her husband's and lover's
crap because she was masochis-
tic?
I might have been able to find
some answers if I could h a v e
figured out whether Dreiser,
Kafka or Kramer was in charge.
If this were a subjective diary.
Johnathan's behaviour could be
understood as Tina's neuroticj
perceptions; his harping and
silly smile ("How about a roll
in de hay?") could be Tina's vis-
ualization of a maddening pre-
dicament, instead of overblown
boorishness. At times it seems as
if Kafka triumphs, and we get
a household Trial. But then
Kramer intrudes, and we're
right back on the dime-store
Freudian path. Carrie S n o d-
grass copes with the inconsist-
encies as best she can, manag-
ing to be convincing even when
the film isn't; but game as she
is, when the film ended my only
reaction was empty neutrality
and the gnawinng thought that
something might have been sal-
vaged if only the Perrys had
taken another halfstep.

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ATTENTION: Look for the
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THURSDAY, FRIDAY, JAN. 28,29
Johnny Guitar,
Dir, NICHOLAS RAY (1954)
STARRING: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Scott
Brady, Mercedes McCambridge, Word Bond, Ernest
Borgnine, and John Carradine.
Joan Crawford plays Vienna, the saloon owner
who sits at the grand piano in a white evening
dress, telling old recollections to Mr. Guitar
while he waits for the lynching party.
"Offbeat western"
"Baroque, pure baroque"
"Straight sulfuric acid"
7 & 9:05 ARCHITECTURE
662-8871 75c AUDITORIUM

The University Players stage
an inventive production of
Shakespeare's Timon of Athens.
Unfortunately, Timon is not the
most, interesting or complex of
Shakespeare's plays.
It is the story of good-natured
rich man' Timon, who gives his
fortune away to an ungrateful
bunch of friends. When they let
him down - he goes broke -
Timon becomes a cynic, hating
all men. He becomes incapable
of seeing that some men are
good, like his own faithful ste-
*ward, and dies embittered.
Timon is the man of extremes,
and in this he loses the human-
ity of a Lear or a Hamlet. He
is always one thing or the other,
and nevet achieves the tragic
intensity of a man facing the
complex problems of life.
Timon - and everyone else -
always considers himself a good
man. His goodness remains un-
questioned; it is the evil of
others which overwhelms him.
But one of the problems with
the play is that Timon never
recognizes his own evil, and so
remains a shallow, if some-
what tragic, character. He
achievesno universality; most
of us feel no Timon in us. It
is a wholly external tragedy.
What the Players are at-
tempting to do is put Timon

But the costuming did not al-
ways come off well. There was
too much mixture of 1910 eve-
ning dress, hippie garb and
spectacular futuristic costumes
for the household servants. The
result was confusing, and often
detracted from the action of
the play.
Another problems was the use
of extremely gaudy and exploi-
tative costumes on five women
who entertain at Timon's par-
ty wearing slightly less than a
Playboy bunny. They also per-
fornied bump and grind dances,
which are never seductive and
probably not at all in the intent
of the play.
These costumes suggested that
Timon was a playboy athlete
type and did not help to estab-
lish him as a good character,
although his generosity was em-
phasized. During the first part
of the play Timon even looked
like a playboy athlete.
Until midpoint the play mov-
ed very slowly, with little con-
flict developing as Timon dis-
covered - as we all knew he

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The Players made good use of
rotating sets. However', at times
the production overdid it on
props which distracted from the
play, as when the elaborate pre-
parations for the banquet were
brought in. And once again they
insisted on using miserable can-
ned martial music where a
simple drum would have been
much more effective.
Altogether, the production is
an interesting attempt at stag-
ing Timon in modern dress, not
the best thing the Players have
done, nor the worst.

Were in debt
to
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floods,
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services,
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and
blood banks.
lb. Amerx~n Red Q~s&.
Uirtnintriq~utded for the public goo"

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FEBRUARY 5, 6 & 7
2500 PEOPLE (with sleeping bags)
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FRIDAY, JAN. 29:
$1.10 6 P.M.
DINNER-French Cuisine
followed by poetry reading,x
J. EDGAR EDWARDS
"Environment and the Citizen !"
to sign up for dinner call
662-5 189 by Friday noon
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also
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includes Baked Potato, Salad, & Texas Toast
STEAKBU RGER-.79
includes Baked Potato & Texas Toast
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NEXT TO STATE THEATRE)
CINEMA II
Walt Disney's
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Saturday, 1 p.m. and 9 p.m.

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}

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