The Killing of Sister George (1968) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
An aging British actress, a lesbian, fears getting sacked from her soap opera job. When she finally gets the axe, it turns out that the BBC executive who fired her is also a lesbian, and also picked up the actress's beautiful little submissive girlfriend.
And so forth.
"Sister George" is the name of the character played by the actress in the soap opera. In soaps, of course, the way they fire a main player is to kill off his or her character, hence the title of the film.
This film was considered to be too daring by half when it came out in 1968, because all of the central love stories are of the "girls only" variety, and there is some actual hot girl-on-girl contact on screen, like mouth-to-bare-nipple, for example. That may not sound too wild to you, but you must realize that the world was different in 1968, and very few homosexuals were out of the closet.
I did learn a lot about sexual behavior from this early effort at lesbian cinema. The lesbian socio-sexual dynamic differs greatly from the guy-girl thing. Let's illustrate by supposing for the moment that you are a person of indeterminate sex. You're fiftyish, overweight, shapeless, ugly and contentious. You drink like a fish, swear like a sailor, behave violently with your sexual partner, and grope novice nuns in public places. You're paranoid, totally disagreeable, hypocritical, and ugly as sin.
Now let's assign some gender to you, so we can compare the differences.
This should lead you to a logical conclusion if you are an unattractive middle-aged man who wants to pick up beautiful babes. Get a sex change, and pick up those women in your new lesbian avatar. What could be easier? You don't even have to buy new clothes.
Does that sound accurate to you? Well, it would to the authors of this script. In other words, the portrayal of the three main lesbians in this film is about as accurate as the portrayal of marijuana use in Reefer Madness.
There are other problems as well. It is quite evident that The Killing of Sister George was originally a talky, character-based stage drama which was adapted to film. There are basically only three sets: the apartment of the lesbians, the BBC studio, and a lesbian nightclub. The film is filled with stagy speeches, there is a limited amount of plot development, and the only real "action" is an occasional slap across the face. On the other hand, I did like a lot of what they did in this film.
As much as I dislike remakes, this film is probably a good candidate, under the general criterion of "once-good films which are now too dated to work effectively." The basic concept is still fine, but watching it today induces cringes at its stereotyped portrayal of lesbian relationships, and the existing version of the script is no longer capable of generating any shock or titillation simply by showing two women in a sexual relationship. Unlike the people of 1968, we have been there and done that, although it is still erotic to watch Susannah York's facial close-ups during an orgasm. On the other hand, the entire premise might work again if it were remade by lesbian women with an eye to a realistic portrayal of their personalities and their sexual dynamic. If the old diesel dyke actress were changed to a strong and attractive but bitterly fading actress, I could see Meryl Streep (for example) bringing some real depth to the character. I can already picture Streep switching instantaneously from a sweet, refined character to an acrimonious actress when the director yells "cut," all the while making the actress a real person. In the 1968 version, that same character seems to be a broad burlesque of a lesbian, at least to modern eyes.
It would not be possible to add much action for a remake, but the film's current slow pacing would probably seem fine with a running time of about 100 minutes rather than the existing 140. I'm thinkin' a remake of this film might make for a pretty good dramedy. The dated elements could be fixed, the positive elements of the script could be retained, some of the speechifying could be eliminated altogether, and some of it converted to zippy dialogue. And it shouldn't be that hard to get the shock value up to modern standards!
As for the existing version? Oh, it was a good and daring movie in its day, but it's just too dated to enjoy. In fact, some of it is embarrassing to watch, and could even be considered high camp. Still and all, if you are still interested in it as a time capsule, the widescreen anamorphic transfer on the DVD is excellent, although there are no features of any kind.
On a side note, one must wonder, "Was director Bob Aldrich actually two different men?" Here are two columns of Aldrich movies:
Aldrich A could almost be mistaken for Sam Peckinpah, while Aldrich B might be a stand-in for Doug Sirk. Schizophrenic stuff! And this is not because Aldrich suddenly started to do a different kind of movie when he got older. He freely switched from list A to list B throughout his career. His previous film before The Killing of Sister George? The Dirty Dozen!
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