Monday, August 30, 2010

The Pyx

(Harvey Hart, 1973)
This movie milks the new-cinema tricks of wandering camera, dominant foregrounds, and overheard inarticulate dialogue for sheer malevolent atmosphere: its fantastic allegory of satanic sacrifice amid the Godless urbanites is given more power by its palpably human scale. The horrific details of Karen Black's sex-working junkie lifestyle unfold alongside Christopher Plummer's murder investigation in a deep but organic flashback framework; the grim wit of Plummer's scenes balance the sad desperation of Black's, whose mournfully ululating folk score fits right in. While our firsthand access to Black keeps us two steps ahead of Plummer at all times, we get more info about her life than about her death, which renders the police procedural oddly impotent, and purposefully so. Still, you do hope for a better payoff than you get. The satanists are obviously being used metaphorically, a dark culmination of urban desperation and faithlessness, and with that creepy chipmunk-choir-from-hell music all over the climax Hart certainly hammers that theme home. But in narrative terms, it does in fact matter that the climax reveals little new info about Black's death while suddenly asking us to care about Plummer's character. Although he's having a great time, Plummer clearly cares little about the character himself - he's remote throughout in that taciturn-cop way - so we don't really give a fig for his existential dilemma. Still, this remains super creepy and quite watchable. Also of note are the most hateful madam of all time, and a quite anti-stereotypical gay guy as Black's best friend - an obvious olive branch from the director of "Fortune and Men's Eyes", although just to be contrary he has him gunned down anyway.

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