Audrey Kupferberg: Lion's Love
A newly-released DVD set of forgotten classics from the Criterion Collection, Eclipse Series 43: Agnès Varda in California, includes a real gem of late 1960s independent filmmaking. It is LION’S LOVE, shot in sunny Los Angeles during the somewhat grim month of June 1968. LION’S LOVE is not a conventional narrative film. Then again, Agnes Varda is no conventional filmmaker.
The now 87-year-old Belgian born French filmmaker has been producing motion pictures since the mid-1950s. She is considered by many to have been a leading voice in the French New Wave. Among her most renowned works are CLEO FROM 5 to 7, about a singer’s nervous wait for results of a medical test which she believes will show she has a fatal cancer; VAGABOND, which traces the last days of a young female non-conformist who is found dead in a ditch; and THE GLEANERS & I, which studies the concepts of use and recycling as reflected through many different eyes.
In the late 1960s, Varda’s beloved husband Jacques Demy temporarily moved to Los Angeles to make a film for Columbia Pictures. Varda accompanied him and worked independently to make her own unique version of a Hollywood movie. LION’S LOVE is the most celebrated of these films, and it is great to have it available in such a beautiful digitally-mastered version.
In LION’S LOVE, Andy Warhol “superstar” Viva and the two creators of the legendary rock musical HAIR, James Rado and GeromeRagni, appear as a happy threesome who wile away their days in a comfortable love nest. Somewhere along the way, they accept a house guest, the real-life independent filmmaker Shirley Clarke, whose semi-fictional character appears to be an odd take on Varda herself.
Viva says in a filmed interview that accompanies the digital release that, much of the time, the characters improvise conversation. This is an interesting approach, but some of the dialog definitely could use the help of a greater muse. At other times, stereotypical Hollywood characters play scenes which are somewhat amusing, somewhat silly. But the real events of June 1968 intrude upon—find their way into-- Varda’s production. Robert Kennedy is assassinated by SirhanSirhan; Andy Warhol is shot—almost fatally—by Valerie Solanas.
When I first saw LION’S LOVE in the mid-1970s, it struck me as an interesting, offbeat avant-garde film. Re-seeing the film so many decades later, I feel differently. LION’S LOVE has come to be a resounding creative record of its time—a multi-dimensional film that captures the essence of the late 1960s in America.
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former Director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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