The 1968 Exhibit: "Petulia," directed by Richard Lester, 1968

Petulia is one of those archetypal 1960s films that had completely passed me by for more than 40 years. *In contemporary roundups of 1968's films and trends, it was invariably included with the most distinctive and "with-it" movies of the moment, along with Bonnie and Clyde, Rosemary's Baby,*The Graduate, and*Bullitt. *Petulia recently showed up on Turner Classic Movies on a Julie Christie night, and I'm happy to say I've now caught up with it, if only (or mostly) for historical reasons.

petulia_us1Petulia was directed by Richard Lester, whose calling cards by 1968 were impressive: *the two great, wacky movies with the Beatles--A Hard Day's Night and*Help! Though American by birth, Lester had British credentials (and citizenship)--a bonus in the U.S. film world of the 1960s and early 1970s, so dominated by British talent, especially when it came to collecting Oscar nominations. * After some years of America looking to England for countercultural inspiration (you know: *Beatles, Stones, Carnaby Street, Twiggy and all that), by the late 1960s, America-- especially San Francisco and California-- was providing global benchmarks for hipness. *And to dispel any doubts about*Petulia's countercultural bona fides, Lester threw in micro-performances by Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead, and even some groovy colored-oil-and-light show effects.

Petulia was based on a 1966 novel, Me and the Arch Kook Petulia, by*John Haase, a fulltime Los Angeles dentist and parttime novelist. *"Kook" and "kooky" are words that show up a lot in the movie. *"Kook" --Beatnik slang from the 1950s, meaning an eccentric or strange character-- may have already been sliding out of popular usage by 1968, *another reason that Petulia seems a little dated. * Petulia, played by ravishingly beautiful, 26-year-old Julie Christie, is hardly a flower-waving hippie--she's an exceptionally rich San Francisco socialite. *As the movie opens, she's recently married to a "naval architect" (read: *sailboat enthusiast and playboy) played by Richard Chamberlain, a little older than Christie but almost as beautiful,*cast against type as a spoiled and violently abusive husband. *Petulia decides early on to have an affair with George C. Scott's character, Dr. Archie Bollen, after seeing his heroic action in saving the life of a Mexican boy who had somehow become part of Petulia's family. *That part of the plot is told in flashbacks and flash-forwards, and it's all a little confusing.

Of special note is the score by John Barry, which reminded me of Bernard Herrmann's brilliant work for Alfred Hitchcock, and the cinematography by Nicholas Roeg, who would later direct such memorable movies as Don't Look Now and Walkabout. *There's a bright, jangly texture to Petulia, and a wonderful use of colorful locations in the San Francisco Bay Area (the requisite cable cars, swanky apartments, Alcatraz, and glamorous parties).

Film critic Jay Carr has an excellent article on this quirky (kooky?) movie on the TCM website, where he concludes: