It’s time once again to ask the Universal Home Video guys why we still can’t buy, rent or stream Frank Perry, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne‘s Play It As It Lays (’72). Every two or three years I re-post an article that I wrote in 2003 about its absence. It played years ago on the Sundance Channel but right now it’s not on Amazon, Hulu, Vudu or Netflix The last I checked Universal had the home video rights, and as far as I know the ball is still in their court. How many years or decades is this negligence going to continue?
The film, of course, is based on Didion’s 1970 novel of the same name.
“‘The corruption and venality and restrictiveness of Hollywood have become…firm tenets of American’s social faith — and of Hollywood’s own image of itself,’ Joan Didion wrote in a decades-old essay.
Then as now, it follows that people high up in the Hollywood food chain have a reputation for living spiritually arid or perverted lives, and more than a few of them being very sick puppies. I don’t know how many books and movies have used the old Hollywood Babylon thing as an atmospheric starting point since Didion’s prescient pronouncement, but I think we can safely say ‘a lot.’
Tuesday Weld‘s Maria character (pronounced Mar-EYE-ah) walks around in a state of shutdown. She doesn’t seem to be in pain as much as caught up in some kind of drifting, unable-to-play-the-game-anymore mentality. Maria’s life doesn’t seem to amount to anything purposeful or self-directed as she only seems to function as an enervated wife, friend or lover to this or that Hollywood player-with-a-penis. It has failed, in any event, to coagulate for her in a way that feels rooted or worth being a part of.
The film is Maria’s recollection of her recent past as she recovers from some kind of breakdown in a sanitarium. She has gotten divorced from her director husband (Adam Roarke), partly due to his rage over her having had an abortion after getting pregnant by one of her lovers (Richard Anderson). She has an emotionally disturbed daughter who barely speaks. One of her core sentiments, repeatedly jotted down during her stay at the facility, is that ‘nothing applies.’
Maria’s closest friend is her husband’s producer, B.Z. (Anthony Perkins), who closely shares her nihilist leanings.
There’s a scene in which Maria, B.Z. and B.Z.’s wife (Tammy Grimes) are driving in a car, and Maria has just said something very spacey and who-cares? ‘You’re getting there,’ B.Z. says to Maria. ‘Where?’ she asks. ‘Where I am,” B.Z. answers. His wife quickly rejoins, ‘Where you are is shit.’
The movie has lots of acidic, bitter-pill dialogue like this, a good portion of it dished out by Perkins. Kael said that ‘when his lines are dry, [Perkins] is the best thing in the picture.'”