Secret Ceremony (Joseph Losey / United Kingdom, 1968):

A parallel work to Boom! and, likewise, a trapdoor for camp cultists -- derision can be thrown its way, but Joseph Losey's mirrors, held up to nature like all great art, reflect it right back. An intentionally, as opposed to accidentally, hilarious prism, its basic joke (stunted alienation as cruising) set up over a bus ride and expanded with a high-angle tracking shot in church, all the while gathering devices from L'Eclisse, Repulsion, Belle de Jour. Elizabeth Taylor resembles the matron in Mia Farrow's photograph, Farrow matches the dead daughter seen in Taylor's snapshots, both are engulfed in black with competing voids; Farrow, mentally a child, brings Taylor into her London mansion as her mommy and serves her a hearty breakfast, Taylor slides into the role like the practiced prostitute that she is. Pamela Brown and Peggy Ashcroft play Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum as kleptomaniacs, orgasmic whimpers are mimed, beds are sniffed, purple velvet is wielded; the Byzantine abode is sanctuary and mausoleum, full of coins, music boxes, the sudden whoosh of an offscreen airplane. The scene of Farrow jumping into a bathtub with a rubber ducky comes between shots of Taylor falling asleep to suggest dreams, yet ingrown obsession in Losey's stratagem is rather like stained glass, cut at dislocating rhomboid angles. Farrow is uncloaked as a depraved pixie, Taylor a doleful wanderer; Robert Mitchum introduces himself as a CÚzanne portrait ("the nice man who forgot to shave") then hits every one of his great sulfuric jests with a smack (and provides an illuminating link to Angel Face). The discombobulating remove of the Argentinean story adapted by an Hungarian and directed by an American exile in Europe is Losey's aim, its perversions are trimmings, since incest is but "a symptom of the private property system," Mitchum reminds us, and a boring one at that. A trance, the choice between good taste and humanity, and finally a song ("Oh that I were where I would be") shifting from the stepfather's whistle and the mother's piano toward a voiceless wail and the concluding fairytale zinger, to be picked up decades later in The Piano Teacher. Screenplay by George Tabori.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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