Award-winning art photography of shit, unchecked murders by a pathological citizenry, government wiretapping, urban pollution and the little (or, well, major) madness it all incites might all seem like contemporary matters. But it’s really fodder, both hilarious and horrifying in the wildly absurd and brilliant 1971 film “Little Murders.”
We caught a revival of it last night at the cozy Silent Movie Theater here in L.A., with the film’s writer Jules Feiffer and leading man and producer Elliot Gould making surprise appearances, and, following the screening, sharing their experiences in getting Feiffer’s original play to celluloid.
Feiffer’s acerbic commentary cuts from his cartoons for the New Yorker, Playboy and The Village Voice (a decade run that earned him a Pulitzer) to screenplays such as "Carnal Knowledge" and "Little Murders" (for which he received a WGA nod for his adaptation). We were treated to his Oscar-winning animated "Munro" before the movie, and if you can find a copy of it, do.
Before there was a film, "Little Murders" was a failed novel and then a failed play, in 1966, shuttering after a week of performances, Mr. Feiffer recalled. It found an audience and, not long after, new life in New York when the Royal Shakespeare Theater group took it up in London. While Gould and his producing partner Jack Brodsky went after Jean-Luc Godard to write the screenplay and direct it, buzz from Alan Arkin’s directorial staging stateside got him the gig, thankfully. Arkin also appears in front of the camera, in one of the more memorable moments in a film packed with wickedly indelible monologues and scenes. Donald Sutherland’s turn as a reverend is fantastic.
In fact, the entire cast in this hyper-colored, hyper-real movie is pretty damn terrific. Loved the costumes and sets, too (both are great references for wardrobe stylists and interior designers).
The copy we viewed last night was a bit worse for wear in places. But Gould pointed out to a remastered DVD that finally emerged a few years ago. As much as we laughed through the film, it’s definitely a disturbing story and not for everyone. But in the realm of black comedies, it tops the list.
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