Filmed on location in London, and using a mix of script ideas and improvised scenes, Tinto Brass made his first step away from genre productions like Yankee (1966) and Deadly Sweet / Col cuore in gola (1967) with this pop art collage about a woman dropped off at a park by her husband, and the curious man who follows her throughout London with a camera.
The moment Barbara (Anita Sanders) leaves hubbie Paolo (Nino Segurini) and strides through the park, the film’s worldview goes surreal - much like a music video - because musically connected vignettes make up the film’s long-form narrative. Barbara is always on the move, and the only game at play is whether the striking black man referenced as “the American” (Battlestar: Galactica’s Terry Carter) will have an affair with her.
It turns out any potential or actual physical contact is irrelevant, because Barbara keeps travelling from location to location, and her not-too-distant suitor persistently tags along, taking snapshots with his camera, or almost ambushing her in corners and alleys before passersby foil his murky intentions.
Perhaps taking a cue from Richard Lester’s Beatles films, Attraction is built around songs performed by the group Freedom, with the band often appearing in locations with Barbara, including a spa, peppered atop a huge tree in a park, and inside an office building that overlooks the docks where Barbara is trying to evade her admirer/stalker.
The musicians are sometimes in costumes suitable for the locales, or in the case of the treetop sequence, they sing and observe Barbara as she examines the park’s inhabitants. Brass has used parks as a venue for voyeurism (as in Cheeky, or even The Howl / L’urlo), and just as Barbara spies on sunbathers, lovers, perverts, and a naked couple doing a lengthy piggyback routine, she’s also of interest to the park’s hungry-looking men.
The film’s also filled with trippy imagery and hallucinatory sequences, such as a hair salon where clients transform from vain women into cows; a gynecological exam (with a slimmer-than-usual Brass playing the good doctor); love scenes exoticized with interpolated video footage or negative film stock; and a wildly edited sequence with Barbara lying on a clear inflatable bed, and a dancer who mimics the brain waves streaming from her electrode-studded skullcap.
There’s also Barbara entering a pop art studio with life-size figures made of painted bubble wrap frozen in sexual positions. Some of the figures eventually morph into real humans, after which Brass jump cuts to Barbara in the center of a large circular hall. He then intercuts her POVs of husband Paolo cautiously walking the room’s perimeter, after which Paolo chases her around the room’s circumference.
Brass covers their running with a long camera lens, tracking from the room’s center as the two figures run along the room’s white-sheeted walls, and for a brief time the images resemble a flickering zoetrope because of the black gaps between each white sheet. It’s a clever and extremely playful sequence that also recalls Walerian Borowczyk’s mimicry of a zoetrope by having a horse and rider move against a wood-paneled background in Goto, Island of Love (1968).
Brass’ Attraction is more intriguing for what it preceded – contemporary music videos - than any narrative content, and the vagueness or symbolic nature of its largely silent characters only heighten Brass’ visual style and film technique. Much like Deadly Sweet, Brass also makes use of existing pop art – ad slogans, graphics, adult comic panels with dialogue balloons – to comment or ornament the two characters.
The copulating moments between Barbara and her husband in a bedroom occur on a modish bed over which hangs the large logo of the cotton industry, and there’s a fashion sensibility in moments where the camera captures faces, eyes, lips, and gazes like a magazine advert.
Moreover, the film’s credits – as was done in The Howl – consist of scrolling blocks of text at the beginning, and a mass of words without punctuation or case differences in the end credits. The effect makes Attraction a film comprised of symbols and recognizable patterns rather than a movie with a classical narrative, and one’s interpretation of Attraction's meaning comes from whatever one is able to glean from Brass’ tethered ideas.
Musically, the songs by Freedom (ex-members of the group Procol Harum) have dated a bit, and are rather repetitive, although connoisseurs of psychedelic rock will appreciate the blend of trippy music and visuals in some lengthy montages. Political or social commentary – such as images of war protests – are fleeting, or they function as backdrops through which the characters wander, often with oddly perceptible smiles, as though they’re mere travelers in a strange chaotic world.
The print used by Cult Epics is taken from an uncut 16mm English dub print with adequate mono sound that occasionally becomes a bit shrill. The 16mm elements are less grainy than expected, but the colours lack the vibrancy typical of Brass’ work.
The framing is a bit tight on the bottom, cutting off some of the scrolling text, and the 16mm print (from Radley Metzger’s collection) uses the alternate English title – The Artful Penetration of Barbara – used by original American distributor Audubon Films. For comparison, the Italian version is identical, except Audubon reversed the order of an opening sequence, placing a post-credit park stroll at the beginning in order to overlay the American Penetration title.
Unlike their DVDs for The Howl and Deadly Sweet, Cult Epics wasn’t able to get Brass to do a commentary or Q&A interview, so the film’s importance within the director’s sixties work remains rather vague, and one has to presume Attraction was an opportunity for Brass to really flex his editorial skills, and construct a collage of sights and sounds free from formal dramatic underpinnings.
Extras on the DVD include the Audubon trailer, and lobby cards sporting the name of its U.K. distributor, Columbia Pictures.
Other Tinto Brass releases from Cult Epics include Deadly Sweet / Col cuore in gola (1967), Attraction / The Artful Penetration of Barbara / Nerosubianco (1969), Howl, The / L’hurlo (1970), The Key / La Chiave (1983), Miranda (1985), All Ladies Do It / Così fan tutte (1992), Voyeur, The / L'Uomo che guarda (1994), Frivolous Lola (1998), Cheeky / Trasgredire (2000), and Private / Fallo! (2003).
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan