Castle Keep

Burt Lancaster in Castle Keep (dir. Sydney Pollack, 1969).

For a couple of years in the late sixties, movies were more postmodern than they have been at any time since. I don't mean postmodern in the sense of Baudrillardian simulacral sci-fi stuff, I mean in the sense of narrative, dialogue, and dramatic structure, a la Albee or Stoppard or Barthelme. Those only familiar with Sydney Pollack's later work, which typically perceives the world itself as a resolutely quotidian expanse peopled with the occasional reluctantly anomalous obstacles to the smooth functioning of its banal evils and repressions, would likely never guess he'd had a penchant for this sort of thing: half Dirty Dozen, half Putney Swope.

A troop of American soldiers, whose company includes a prominent art critic (Patrick O'Neal), a baker (Peter Falk), and a would-be novelist (Al Freeman Jr.), occupies the medieval French castle Maldorais. Maldorais contains an impossible cache of priceless European art, as well as an effete duke (Jean-Pierre Aumont) and his nubile young wife (Astrid Heeren). The eyepatched Major Falconer (Burt Lancaster) takes up with the wife, and the critic takes up with the art. Young Corporal Clearboy (Scott Wilson) takes up with a Volkswagen. Nearly all the men take up with the whores in the nearby village, where conscientious objector Bruce Dern wanders around with his makeshift Salvation Army band decrying war and fornication.

As the film "progresses," its elliptical lyricism gets more and more hallucinogenically pessimistic. As the derangement escalates, the story undoes its own narrative premises, violating its implied contract with the viewer in a formally radical way that's nevertheless so subtle it doesn't fully sink in until the credits are in mid-roll.

No comments: