A major independent film of the 1950s, "The Savage Eye" has become something of an enigma in the past four decades, forgotten about until the UCLA Film and Television Archive inexplicably but bravely revived it in 2008, jogging my memory. A rush of stirring black-&-white images, courtesy of cinematographers Jack Couffer, Helen Levitt and Haskell Wexler, reminded me of what a vivid experience it was - and still is.
The dual-level film - directed in tandem by Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyeres and Joseph Strick, who also produced and edited the film - is ostensibly about a woman named Judith McGuire (Barbara Baxley, then a popular New York stage actress who had just appeared in Tennessee Williams' "Period of Adjustment"), who spends the day waiting for her divorce to come through by wandering around Los Angeles.
The year is 1959.
Jaded and now seeing life in a more realistic way, Judith serves as a guide through a city which, seen up close, looks dirty and disreputable - bustling yet empty. The rose-colored glasses are off.
The result is a narrative which works also - largely - as a documentary about the city and its assorted haunts, a narrative whose compelling supporting cast is a vast array of Los Angeleans, most of whom come across as emotionally and culturally impoverished. There's no sense of joy here because priorities have been skewed in favor of relentlessly shallow needs and goals.
Gary Merrill co-stars as a character called The Poet, who gives voice to the city, and Herschel Bernardi is on board, too. Leonard Rosenman wrote the score for this vivid journey through hopelessness.
For its 2008 screening of "The Savage Eye," the UCLA Film and Television Archive utilized The Billy Wilder Theater on its campus. More please.