Thursday, August 12, 2010

REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (1967) - a curio of the silver screen, ironically presented in gold-o-vision

Husband and wife (Brando and Taylor, respectively) are polar opposites, it appears; the stern Major, by the book and by the numbers (in no particular order), while Liz is a freewheeling harlot of sorts, her bosom as free as her spirit. Me thinks opposites DO indeed attract. I guess Paula Abdul might've been insightful after all (or whoever wrote that shitty song).

Look guys, if you wanna be gay, JUST BE GAY. Especially in this day and age, what with every other reality T.V. show governed by a homosexual. There’s "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", "America Can Caterwaul and Grind", "Hot Model Chicks Judged by Those Ill-Equipped to Take Advantage of Their Position of Power", "Queer Eye For the Queer Eye" (it’s a gay staring contest), and, of course, "The Apprentice". After all, Donald Trump is obviously trying to overcompensate for something.

Even if your retard of a state has outlawed gay marriage, you can pack up and move to one that celebrates the disco glitter lifestyle. Or hell, why bother even getting married? Just boink and BE HAPPY I SAY. I guess there is the problem of religion and their insistence that homosexuality is not sanctioned by god himself. First of all, what does this god knucklehead even know? Nobody has ever even met him, yet he is supposed to be an expert on human behavior. Fuck that asshole.

I am reminded of the documentary Trembling Before God, which showcases one particular man who has struggled to console his Judaism with the fact that he is very very very very gay. He inconsolably weeps, while confiding in a rabbi that he has been fighting these urges for twenty odd years, that he continues to find the very touch of a woman to be repulsive. He just wants to “get right with god”, it seems, while the rabbi continues to repeat his mantra of god's resolute law of arbitrary heterosexuality. I suggest REALLY “getting right with yourself”, and maybe going out and dancing to some Erasure and sucking some cock afterwards (or whatever it is that the gays do, for I am unaware of how these things work). If this “god” of yours is such a friend, why does he stand their invisible while your soul lies tortured? I suggest you get yourself a REAL friend (preferably another flamer who is actually visible), one who is isn’t such a moralizing turd. They have actual websites where you can meet these people and connect on a tangibly human level. Not that I would know anything about that sorta thing; I'm no homo, after all. Really. I swear.


Reflections in a Golden Eye is a southern gothic tale that takes place, not in a decaying house, or the mansion of an oil baron, but an Army base in the rural south. It is secluded and gated off from the rest of society, an environment of order and discipline. The main characters (played by Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, and Robert Forster) are all trapped in their respective roles (and minds), cut off from the world. Unable to connect with even each other, they rot from the inside out, but for differing reasons.

Liz rots away the healthiest, boozing and laughing her way through the day (me thinks the two may be correlated), regularly riding and caring for her precious horse. She is also cheating on her husband, when she isn’t busting his balls. Her life and marriage may be turning from a façade into a joke, but at least she’s enjoying herself, in patented Liz Taylor style (Christ she rocks...again, not a gay). Her husband, Major Brando, is obsessed with maintaining a sense of military order in his life, and continually tries to fulfill his obligations to manhood. In actuality, he is a closeted homosexual, trying to squelch his true feelings through brute force. Meanwhile, Julie Harris has trapped herself in her room after a birth gone wrong several years prior, her horror and anxiety thoroughly externalized. Also, her husband is the one boinking Liz, which surely can’t be helping things (although I'm no expert on chicks or whatever).

Robert Forster is, effectively, the young drifter that comes through town and shakes things up, causing the other characters to reveal things about themselves (Brando mainly). He is a (very) quiet private that tends to the grounds, constantly staring at Liz with stone faced obsession. This may sound like a bit like Picnic , in that a young stud comes through town and upsets the quaint moral balance through sheer sexual electricity. Or, maybe another old fashioned Hollywood melodrama, where the façade of small town morality is upset by people boinking behind each other’s backs; crossing love triangles and the like. It would seem that John Huston was taking material that audiences at the time would’ve been familiar with and quite accepting of (Peyton Place-esque soapy foolishness), and pushes it into more uncomfortable and challenging territory.

Another director I might compare Huston to would be Otto Preminger. Both are known to take seemingly conventional Hollywood material, and use it instead to push the envelope, subverting the system in the process. The difference being that Preminger would typically concentrate on social ideas, where as Huston’s subversion of attitudes were more visceral and emotional. When The Man With a Golden Arm was released, it was probably shocking for many audience members, as they were forced to confront the social ill of drug abuse in a fairly realistic fashion. Conversely, with Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Bogart’s descent into greed fueled madness was also subversive at the time, but dealt with a general aspect of American culture (and human nature), rather than a specific hot button topic of the time.

The film seems to aesthetically resemble the existential movement prominent at the time. It would not be too much of a stretch to compare the film to Sartre's No Exit, for example. Another film I was vaguely reminded of was Monte Hellman’s The Shooting, a film considered to be an "existential western". Parts of the score for each film are eerily similar, a flute drifting without a tonal center, and the characters are framed not as characters interacting within a stage setting, but as singular figures littering a landscape in discord. Three characters trudge forward (taking Julie out of the equation, as she seems to be the tortured emotional center of the film, an inroad for the audience to observe the main players), remaining mysterious to each other. The main character in each (Marlon in Reflections, Warren Oates in The Shooting) seems inexorably bound on a course that ends in a shooting death, not quite comprehending this path they find themselves on, but compelled to continue regardless. In the case of The Shooting, Warren has a more practical, tangible goal in mind, tricked by the cruel hand of fate. where as Brando continues along an emotional path he does not quite understand, but nevertheless must explore for the sake of his own sanity. He is tricked into murder, if you will, by his own psyche.

Brando’s role was originally to be played by Montgomery Clift, and he would have been great in his own right, but this would have resulted in a different film. I haven’t read the novel on which the film is based, so I don’t know which one would have better conveyed the character as originally written, but Brando is perfect for this role as dictated by the screenplay. Here is an outwardly strong male, tormented and vulnerable underneath. Look no further than the film's key scene, when Brando takes out Liz’s favorite horse for a ride, attempting to conquer this beast as some sort of statement of manhood, and maybe a subconscious wrestling of power back from his wife. He fails miserably, as the horse violently ejects Brando, painting him as a creature less than his wife; less than this animal even. He explodes in protest, crying and blustering at this failure of manhood, his rage directed at the nearest offender, the horse, striking and clawing at this innocent symbol of his own inadequacy.

Few actors other than Brando could appropriately sell this scene, a strong male crumbling like a lost child. The horse survives, carried off by Forster, who curiously does so in the buff, an erotic angel of sorts. This strikes me as a bit hamfisted, a symbolic image forced in as a means to ignite Brando’s repressed homosexuality. Maybe he could have more naturally confronted his feelings for a man like Forster, a broken boy starting over in his quest to connect with another human being in terms both realistic and raw. Despite the film's awkward moments, it manages to somewhat resemble some of the films Fassbinder was to soon make. Reflections in a Golden Eye
seems to be part of John Huston's quest to tear through a Hollywood facade from within, influenced by the ongoing revolution within the arts, all bathed in a golden hue, which, at the time, was an assault on the audience in and of itself. Say what you want, but the man had balls.

P.S. This piece was written as part of the John Huston blogathon over at the Icebox Movies blog. Check it out here.


  1. Queer Eye for the Queer Eye is a deceptively difficult game to master.

  2. @couch

    It's a game one can learn to excel at, grasshopper, but it CANNOT be mastered. Not that I would know, of course.

  3. This is one of the more insightful reviews of this peculiar film that I have read on the Internet.

  4. @anonymous
    Thank you! I like to throw in an occasional insight amidst the dumb jokes and unchecked anger.