Friday, August 11, 2006

The Bed Sitting Room (1969)

Richard Lester's post-apocalyptic comedy is hysterically funny and consistent in its capacity to surprise and astonish. It's also one of the few films I've seen that can legitimately be labeled as insane. But what else could it be? If nuclear destruction is the ultimate irrational act, the only way to respond is with irrationality; paradoxically, the brand of irrationality Lester gives us is that of total rational calm. It's all part of the British tradition of the stiff upper lip -- just keep muddling through no matter what life hands you and no matter how absurd it seems to do so. The question keeps coming up: Is it the situation or the characters who are crazy? It's a valid question. The negotiation of this dichotomy is the main business of the film, and it produces a wealth of unexpected hilarity, wheher borne from pure logic (the escalator to nowhere, the ascendence of Mrs. Ethel Shroake) or pure madness (the wandering BBC man, the various mutations, the meeting between Mother and Shelter Man). Lester's approach here recalls a hybrid between Monty Python and Salvador Dali -- in particular, the scene where Mother, in the process of turning into a wardrobe, opens a small drawer hat has formed in her breast is pure Dali -- but his hallucinatory vision of the blasted English countryside, with its cracked earth and broken buildings and piles of rubbish, is all his own. The ending doesn't quite work (after giving us the symbolic death of England's future, the smugly ironic wrapup feels kind of cheap), but that does little to lessen the mind-blowing effect of the nutzoid nightmare scenario. Unflappable decorum in the face of horror -- what could be funnier?

Grade: A-


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