Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Real Estate Envy -- What Does All of This Mean, Doktor Freud?

Sorting through back issues of magazines, last night I reread the article in New York magazine about the townhouse where Montgomery Clift spent the last years of his life (1960-1966) that is back on the market. When I lived just across the park in the late 1980s, I used to make pilgrimages to the address, 217 East 61st Street, which went on the market in June for $5.5 million. Were I not shy a million or so I just might plop down the cash to make that baby mine. I can’t think of many other celebrity venues that I’d like to call my own.

It’s in an interesting part of the city where a seemingly unconnected group of celebrities have lived through the years – Eugene O’Neill, Ivanka Trump, Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Rivers, Spike Lee, Sally Jesse Raphael, Matt Lauer, Ivana Trump, Benny Goodman, David Geffen all within 2-3 blocks of each other, according to another New York Magazine piece this summer which featured a star map.

Since the chances of me ever buying the place are probably pretty slim, it started my mind wondering if I still have another rather rare Monty Clift possession – a VHS tape of the 1962 John Huston film Freud: The Secret Passion. Well I do, wedged onto the same tape in between the 1989 Elizabeth Taylor-Mark Harman TV remake of Sweet Bird of Youth directed by Nicolas Roeg and the so called “gay sex” episode of 30Something I found a nearly pristine copy of a WNET broadcast of the film. Pristine is perhaps a bit too generous, but I managed to transfer it over to a pretty decent DVD copy. Generally the film is dismissed as a disaster. And while it may be that, it certainly isn’t unwatchable and has one of the weirdest conglomerations of talent imaginable – a screenplay crafted by Jean Paul Sartre, Wolfgang Reinhardt and Charles Kaufman, a cast that includes Larry Parks, who once played Jolson and was attacked by HUAC during the Hollywood Blacklist, and Susanah York and David McCallum. The film has a look that fuses German Expressionism, Film Noir and David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, especially in the lecture hall scenes. The imagery and convergence of such unlikely collaborators makes for a film that is hard to look away from and is so, well, Freudian.

A commercial DVD or VHS of the film has never been released that I am aware of, at least in the U.S., and airings such as the one I managed to nab on tape are pretty rare. After years of being trashed, it seems to have slowly started gaining some positive reviews from the few who have actually seen it. The other film it comes the closest to reminding me of from the same era is The Innocents that comes from another realm of psychological thriller that sat in the vaults for four decades before being released last year. We can hope Freud will find the same fate for those of us who just won’t be able to plop down the money for that little townhouse on East 61st in the meantime.