During these times of high fire danger and low relative humidity, we can only imagine the cooling, calming effect of an autumnal rain storm. With no rain in our immediate future, however, the next best option might be the suitably soggy Seance on a Wet Afternoon, screening at Pacific Film Archive at 7PM on Thursday, October 31 as part of the series ‘Looking Back at the British New Wave’.
Written and directed by Bryan Forbes and based on Mark McShane’s eponymous novel, Seance features one performance that was nominated for an Academy Award and another that probably should have been. The nominee was Kim Stanley, here playing Myra Savage, a medium — whether or not she’s a fake isn’t directly addressed, nor is it particularly material to the plot — while Richard Attenborough is quietly effective as her loyal husband Bill, unemployed and stricken with chronic asthma.
Somewhere in outer London, the Savages live in a damp, drafty old house where Myra holds psychic gatherings for the credulous and desperate. She’s good at her job — very good — and is determined to raise her profile by any means necessary.
The couple hatch a plan to do just that. Bill will kidnap the daughter of a wealthy Barnet businessman, and Myra will offer her psychic services to the child’s parents (Nanette Newman and Mark Eden, both still with us should a sequel ever be mooted). Bill, no professional he, is assigned to collect a BOAC bag stuffed with ransom money — thus taking care of the Savages’ immediate needs — while newspaper headlines will provide them a regular source of future income.
Far-fetched Seance may be, but Stanley and Attenborough play their roles with utter conviction. Deeply dedicated to her profession, Myra is also dangerously ambitious, while Bill — clumsy and careless — is completely dedicated to supporting her. He may look and sound ridiculous riding his motor scooter around the West End and placing amateurish phone calls to arrange the ransom drop, but the man does his duty.
Shot in black and white by Gerry Turpin, Seance additionally benefits from the presence of Patrick Magee as wily Police Superintendent Walsh, John Barry’s mournful light-touch score, and lots of nostalgic shots of ‘60s London. I’m an especial fan of films set on and around the Tube, and this one includes lengthy scenes both inside and outside Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square Stations, as well as — yikes! — a reminder that there was once a time when people could still smoke on the Underground.
For fans of the memorable viral video ‘Too Many Cooks‘, Greener Grass (opening Friday, November 1 at San Francisco’s Alamo Drafthouse New Mission) seems likely to scratch the same itch. Written, directed by and starring Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, it’s a bizarre comic commentary on ‘Stepford Wives’ suburbia told in questionable taste ala John Waters.
The film’s first scene, in which Jill (DeBoer) gives away her baby to Lisa (Luebbe), sets the tone for the next 90 minutes of pastel-hued, 80s-sitcom-style oddness. Subplots abound, with a murderer on the loose, a disappointing child who turns into a dog, and the birth of a soccer ball named, naturally, Wilson. I’m not sure I can recommend Greener Grass, but it certainly is different.