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THE SAVAGE EYE

USA, 1959 (MIFF 1960, Programme 5)

Director: Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers, Joseph Strick

From the moment of its world premiere at a midnight matinee at the Edinburgh Festival, this independently produced American picture has aroused much controversy. It is a study of a young woman waiting for her divorce in Los Angeles. This fictional central character is surrounded with a vivid panorama of the more coloured incidents of urban life - strip-tease parties, beauty parlours, homosexual get-togethers, an all-in wrestling match and a visit to a faith-healing seance - all recorded with a sharp mobile camera technique and with something of the directness and frankness of On The Bowery.

The camera-eye, intimate, dispassionate, penetrating, follows the woman as she samples all the violence and splendour of modern city life, giving nothing, receiving nothing, believing in nothing. The second-hand sensations, the vicarious satisfactions ultimately disgust her; she finds absolution in a near-fatal car accident, discovering as the producers say, "a small horizon of love".

Some of the scenes remain in the mind as a revelation of the camera's power: the all-in wrestling match where imaginative cross-cutting fuses the widely-differing facial expressions of the spectators into the basic pattern of human instincts; the frightening inhumanity of the faith-healer offering ludicrous formulae to the ill, waiting faces. But the year advances, the savage eye exposes more of the city's unhealthy belly and finally shuts on the tranquil sea. Much of the documentary detail is destined for classic status, but at first sight the story seems merely a pretext for stringing the episodes together. However, it becomes apparent that they eyes through which we see the incredible city are an essential dramatic device, for the eyes of this woman are disillusioned, jaundiced, but never attitudinous: her comments are sardonic and deflating - after the strip-tease act she remarks "nobody ever got pregnant that way".

There is no conventional dialogue in the film. The woman's conscience, a male voice, speaks to her, and she, although her lips never move, answers him. Couched in an abstract style, this dialogue tends towards the pretentious and unfortunately damages some of the film's tremendous impact.

The film was made over a period of four years by a team of three - Ben Maddow who wrote the screenplay of Asphalt Jungle, Sidney Myers who made The Quiet One and Joseph Strick, the co-director of Muscle Beach.

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