The Housewife Goes West, or: Il Deserto Grigio. Morning in suburbia, the Long Island lass (Shirley Knight) awake under her husband's heavy arm, she sets the breakfast table and takes off in the station wagon. "I just had to get away for a while." Her restlessness is reflected behind the camera by the peregrinating production, with Francis Ford Coppola shorn of the maestro cape and as unguarded as his protagonist. Family is already the ambivalent concern—oppressive flashes of an Italian wedding rammed against the lenses, pregnancy as the tipping point, the ties that literally bind. Nesting versus roaming, domesticity versus independence, going home versus contemplating a fling with a buff hitchhiker (James Caan). The bruiser's brain-damaged helplessness is revealed mid-foreplay in the mirrored motel room, a reminder of rather than an escape from her impending parenthood. To Nebraska by way of West Virginia and Tennessee, Frankenstein and the emancipated menagerie. "I'm not impressed with your goddamn honesty!" Gas stations and parades and critter farms for days, a John Donne incantation for the title, the widowed patrolman (Robert Duvall) waits at the end. A self-consciously sensitive nomad discovering his own movie along the way, Coppola contrasts vérité studies of landscapes with film-school shots (an extended profile of Knight is a light sliver against a chiaroscuro background, shock cuts register Duvall's incendiary torment). David and Lisa, Easy Rider, a J.M.W. Turner drizzle that dries up in the trailer park. Weaving through it is Knight's selfish-vulnerable-scared-luminous inquiry, attentively framed in a roadside phone booth while traffic whizzes by. "I got you all wrong... I got me all wrong!" On the verge of a new decade and a New Hollywood, electric and perilous freedoms for characters and filmmakers alike. Cinematography by Bill Butler. With Marya Zimmet, Tom Aldredge, and Andrew Duncan.
--- Fernando F. Croce