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  Lions Love LA LA Land
Year: 1969
Director: Agnès Varda
Stars: Viva, James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Shirley Clarke, Carlos Clarens, Eddie Constantine, Max Laemmle, Steve Kenis, Hal Landers, Peter Bogdanovich, Billie Dixon, Richard Bright, Jim Morrison, Rip Torn, Agnès Varda, Andy Warhol
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: After attending a performance of Michael McClure's play The Beard, three friends who live together in a pad in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles return there, where they are reluctant to leave given they can watch all the television they need to get a window on the world. It is early June 1968, and the news is full of Senator Robert Kennedy, who is expected to make a bid for the Presidency soon, though the trio - Viva (Viva), Jim (James Rado) and Jerry (Gerome Ragni) - are not really engaged with politics, preferring to get high and drink Dr Pepper in between acting jobs. But as director Shirley Clarke arrives to make a film, real life intrudes...

Lions Love was the sort of self-indulgent counterculture movie that gave self-indulgence a bad name, or at least it did if you listened to the item's naysayers, who have numbered a fair few as it has been revived intermittently down the years, firstly because it featured Andy Warhol superstar Viva, then because director Shirley Clarke had a revival of interest in her work, and later because director Agnès Varda enjoyed precisely the same thing, in the last few years of her life as she lived long enough, and actively enough, to pick up a wide selection of new fans. She was certainly prolific, but you could tell here documentary was her style.

Lions Love was a mixture of improvised drama and cinema verite, combining actual news footage, apparently from the week Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, with scenes of the main trio lounging around in bed, in the swimming pool, or in front of the TV set. Clarke did not actually take up a huge amount of the near-two-hour running time, relegated mostly to the early sequences as she flies in from New York to undergo a culture shock as she finds Los Angeles disappointingly vapid, though this is supposed to have us believe she would be so disappointed she would attempt suicide, which seems far out of character for such a pragmatic woman.

That may be why, in the most famous part, Clarke is supposed to be downing sleeping pills in an overdose (washed down with Dr Pepper - if this was product placement, gee, they must have been thrilled) when she tells Varda she would never do this, she has a daughter she would never leave, so Varda puts on Clarke's blouse and jewellery and plays out the scene on the bed herself. Then, as if recognising this is getting truly ridiculous, Shirley swaps clothes with her director again and perfunctorily goes through the motions of pretending to kill herself. There's breaking the fourth wall and there's treating it with contempt, and you are not sure which is happening here, but it is assuredly arresting and a break from the hippy burbles of the central threesome.

Viva had fallen out with Warhol by this point, and this was intended as a new break for her, but naturally as with most of his sixties circle you either ended up dead within it or obscure without it, and for Viva it was the latter - perhaps these days she's best known as the mother of indie star Gaby Hoffman. As for Jim and Jerry, their claim to fame was not this movie either, it was writing the classic hippy musical Hair which is still revived all these decades later, but again they struggled to make much influence on the culture afterwards. Better one megahit than none, of course. If you like a hangout flick, this is a perfect example from a hangout decade, though the horrors of the television news insist on intruding at regular intervals and bringing the idea you can carry on doing very little forever crashing back down to earth. Bizarrely, Warhol was shot the same week as Kennedy, though he survived, and this is mentioned here too, the violence of the world rendering the dream of peace and love worryingly unsustainable.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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