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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 2. March 12, 1968

Films — I love Lilith


I love Lilith

In the first issue of Salient I mentioned worthwhile films being shown by the Roxy/Princess, and the fact that some of these have been recommended to the management by the V.U.W. Film Society.

I am pleased to report our efforts have unearthed one movie of outstanding merit-Robert Rossen's "Lilith", a delicate, mysterious, extraordinarily beautiful film which by any standards must be considered one of the undisclosed masterpieces of the cinema.

"Lilith" comes as a revelation in the light of Rossen's previous work, excellent though some of his other films have been.

In the period 1937-1964 he wrote the scenarios for 23 films (including "They Won't Forget", "The Roaring Twenties", "A Walk in the Sun", and "The Treasure of Sierra Mad re"), and directed ll of these.

"The Hustler" (1962), Rossen's best film after "Lilith", was screened by the Film Society last year.

It is undeniably a very skilful piece of work, both in the pyrotechnics of the billiard scenes and the subtle observation of the Piper Laurie-Paul Newman relationship.

Nothing in Rossen's output, however, has prepared us for "Lilith", a film that is in so many ways superior to the rest in conception and technical execution.

This story of the love of a sanitorium orderly for a gifted patient is a blend of fragile, baroque lyricism and those Gothic qualities that imbue every foot of "The Night of the Hunter".

It is a fairy tale vision of the beauty and destructiveness of madness, presented with sympathy and insight.

The bewitching dream of this nightmare world is depicted in a stream of alluring, hypnotic visuals-"the enchantment of horror lurks beneath the images that beguile and bewilder the rational, unsuspecting viewer.

Eugene Shuftan's monochrome photography, ranging from high contrasts to muted whites and greys, fits perfectly the intermingling of reality and symbol.

Rossen's way in "Lilith" is stealthily quiet (lingering close-ups—a slow, constant internal rhythm), but with an underlying tension that occasionally errupts on to the screen as outbursts of frenzied camera movement and cutting-like in the jousting sequence at the 'carnival' (an excursion into the 'real' world that makes reality look like a madhouse) and the use of the hand-held camera near the end, an effective indication of Vincent's imminent disintegration.

Kenyon Hopkins' music is quite weird, seeming to be unrelated to what is happening in the film, yet at the same time creating its own aura of suspense and ambiguity.

Warren Beatty does well as Vincent, although he has not yet (even in "Bonnie and Clyde") been able to discard the self-consciousness that is characteristic of much of his acting.

But as C. A. Lejeune once said of Stewart Granger, "he doesn't need to bother about being a bit out of practice in acting, he looks so scrumptious".

Kim Hunter, Jessica Walter, and Gene Hackman lend outstanding support.

Jean Seberg, whose debut in "St. Joan" (1957) was one of the classic flops in films, and who later starred in Godard's "Breathless", gives under Rossen's direction an outstanding performance, even better than her too brief appearance in "A Fine Madness".

She relates in "Cahiers du Cinema" how Rossen and his team were sadly disappointed at the reception given the film by critics and public alike.

Only an enthusiastic reception by the "Cahiers" group, and a later, grudging acknowledgment by "Sight and Sound", have rescued "Lilith" from total obscurity.

Rossen was already seriously ill when he made this, his last film, and one can sense how much of himself and his life went into its making.

"Lilith" is quite unlike any of his other films In its own haunting way it is quite unlike any other film ever made.

—Rex Benson.