As a little known gem that has found itself slipping through the cracks of film history, the release of Petulia on DVD may hopefully shed some light on this interesting and complex picture. Made during the heyday of the hippie movement in the late 1960s, Petulia stars George C. Scott as a recently divorced, aging doctor chasing a newly married Julie Christie, playing the title’s namesake, through the flower-power streets of San Francisco.
Petulia DVD Review
The film portrays a fairly straightforward love triangle in a world on the brink of change, perfectly depicted in the opening sequence where the lead characters meet during a fancy charity banquet with a live Janis Joplin belting her inimitable voice to a stuffy, upper-class audience. Directing with his characteristic nose for the eccentric, Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night, How I Won the War) combines his typical documentary style with the beautifully acute eye of cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (Walkabout, Don’t Look Now). The two work together here to transform this standard narrative into a film that plays as fresh today as it did when it was first released.
The use of flashbacks and flash-forwards in the film evoke an emotional response organic to the way the story is told in a manner far from the gimmicky use of time in movies like Memento that seem to use non-linear storytelling merely as a clever device. Unlike an enigmatic picture that loses its worth upon its solution, Petulia holds-up to repeat viewings. In his interview in Steven Soderbergh’s book Getting Away with It, Lester mentions how this film is as close to his original vision as any film he would make in his career.
The video transfer in Warner Brother’s DVD looks good, and having Nic Roeg’s work in anything less than his original intent is paramount to filmic blasphemy. Roeg and Lester fans can now finally watch this movie in its original widescreen, and even though the sound seems a little off-balance in some of the softer dialogue scenes, seeing this in the DVD format has been a long time coming.
The special features section has a ‘making-of’ segment where the film’s producer and editor discuss some very informative behind-the-scenes anecdotes. There is also a vintage featurette made during the actual filming that does little more than provide a bit of nostalgia with watching these legends work. Unfortunately, there is no director’s commentary, but if Lester didn’t do one for A Hard Day’s Night, then there’s little chance he’d do one for this film. Nonetheless, Petulia is a worthy addition to any DVD library
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