[12 June 2012]
Michele (Raquel Welch) dances at a Las Vegas club called Pussycat a’ Go-Go. What’s the apostrophe for? Is it a pretentious reference to a French “au go-go”? Later in Flareup, the name on the awning over the entrance drops the hyphen in “Go Go”. Aside from these provocative punctuational enigmas, we’re presented with topless dancers and funky musicians who pad the running time and justify the film’s status as adult entertainment in the newly liberated era of 1969, after the introduction of the MPAA ratings. There’s also a casual lesbian and a “faggot junkie” called Sailor (played by character actor Ron Rifkin).
Michele doesn’t go topless in her padded footage because she specializes in a “psychedelic” routine with strobe lights—clearly a higher art, perhaps requiring a degree. The woozy camera contents itself with getting as up close and personal as possible to her barely-buttoned top. The crowd looks as lively as the clients at a mortuary.
I call this material “padding”, but that evaluates it short-sightedly in terms of its mere place in the drama. In reality, all this stuff was certainly considered the movie’s raison d’etre (with apostrophe). This is the footage that sells the picture in the trailer, where the announcer declares it the movie that Raquel Welch “can be herself in. After playing Indian maidens, Mexican outlaws and prehistoric women, Raquel is finally doing her own thing.”
Shots of her interpretive dance are intercut with men firing guns. “Keep moving, Raquel, because that’s the price you have to pay for being the world’s most wanted woman.” This DVD sports a PG-13, which didn’t exist at the time; the rating was the short-lived M for Mature audiences.
So much for what patrons paid their money for. Now on to the trivial story.
In the opening scene, Michele witnesses the point-blank murder of an ecdysiast colleague by the woman’s crazy ex-husband (glowering, granite-headed Luke Askew). After a couple more deaths, Michele takes it on the lam for Los Angeles and another strip club called The Losers (really) and its LSD Revue. That’s undoubtedly where more psychedelic strobes come in, professional Michele’s ticket to instant employment. This joint is run by a woman who’s a good friend of the dumpy bald guy who owns the Pusscat; they’re good eggs who look out for their girls.
Despite the heavy scene Michele is into, what with running for her life and everything, she lets herself get picked up by parking valet Joe (James Stacy) and before you know it, they’re riding horseback on the beach. However, the inexorable plot device and sign of misogynist rage is still on her trail, and part of her series of bad decisions is that she “has to deal with it herself”—which, after a needless if symbolic sequence of running through a zoo at night, she finally does. Despite often useless behavior, at least she doesn’t depend on a man to save her.
This movie is entirely unnecessary and disposable. That said, here’s what’s interesting about it. It exists to show Raquel Welch dancing and running in panic through the streets, and does so successfully. Aside from a few interiors, it’s mostly shot on the boulevards of Las Vegas and Los Angeles, thus providing postcards of the era that go by too quickly. We glance at several bygone casinos and marquees advertising stars who aren’t in the picture. I know people who’d watch the movie for those shots alone.
The movie is marked by a semi-charming bluntness about its sordid and exploitive material, a no-nonsense attitude to the nonsense, although the scenes of basic plot business and police procedures don’t hold much value. On the other hand, there’s one surprisingly convincing scene in which nothing of the remotest relevance is ever said. Michele comes to Joe’s pad and he shows her around. They talk with nervous confidence about his model plane, his photography hobby and his revolutionary posters. James Dean looks down upon them impenetrably. Emiliano Zapata reminds Michele of her father!
The dialogue implies that she had an emasculating mother, and perhaps this is somehow (if Mark Rodgers’ screenplay is trying to get out of its depth) why she puts herself on display yet doesn’t want to settle down with a man. Amazingly, Francesco Rosi’s toreador film The Moment of Truth is playing on TV—what station is that? Joe says he once thought of being a bullfighter (“for the money”). In a sufficiently obvious irony, both Michele and later, the psycho, wonder why anyone would want to kill an animal.
This scene is where the movie strays from its dowdy American-ness into a self-conscious influence by contemporary Euro-cinema, not only the Rosi clip but especially Jean-Luc Godard films where his man and woman spend a whole scene gabbing in an apartment. It’s part of the movie’s attempt to channel a restless contemporary vibe within the confines of a kiss-kiss bang-bang story.
Virtually the entire film could be reduced to the scenes in Joe’s apartment, and had Andy Warhol directed, it probably would have been. Instead it was helmed by James Neilson. He’s primarily a TV director and most of the time that’s clear, although the simplicity and efficiency of that style is only a few degrees removed from the underground, since both require quick set-ups. The picture’s still an underbaked throwaway, but a revealingly watchable 1969 throwaway almost proud of its cheap hollowness.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/159370-flareup/