The Film (2.5/5):
Catch My Soul was released in 1974, as rock musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell were finding success at the box office. Like those films, Catch My Soul had origins as a stage musical that was a countercultural take on a familiar story (in this case, Shakespeare’s Othello). But while the film’s desert setting reminds of Jesus Christ Superstar in particular, Catch My Soul didn’t come anywhere near that level of success, quickly fading into obscurity. It’s built a bit of a cult following over the years, though, which looks to be boosted by Etiquette Pictures’ new Blu-ray of the film, which has never been available on home video in North America.
In addition to transplanting the setting to a hippie commune where Othello (Richie Havens) is the leader and minister, screenwriter Jack Good (adapting his stage musical) adds heavy Biblical overtones to Shakespeare’s story. Here, Iago (Lance LeGault) is a literal Devil who sings to us about his plans to catch Othello’s soul. This makes for an odd mishmash of Shakespeare and the growing hippie Evangelical movement; director Patrick McGoohan later explained that Good found Jesus during the production and added more overtly religious scenes to the movie (this was McGoohan’s only feature as a director). While nobody says as much on the Blu-ray’s extras, I wonder whether Jesus Christ Superstar’s success at the box office played a role in Good’s newfound faith.
The result is a muddle that, despite its stoned pacing and atmosphere, never got weird enough for me. If you know Othello, the story holds no surprises, and the religious aspects of the movie weigh it down. The songs are forgettable, though Havens and the cast try admirably to sell them. And the desert setting and limited cast of characters soon grow claustrophobic; near the end, as Iago torments Othello in a hole in the ground, I started to feel like I was watching someone else’s acid trip.
On the plus side, cinematographer Conrad Hall does gorgeous work with, presumably, mostly natural light. The cast makes the best of the thin material, particularly Havens, who is very charismatic in the movie and has enough presence to suggest that he would have made an effective dramatic actor if he’d pursued it. And of the supporting actors, Susan Tyrrell is a standout as Emilia, delivering a hilariously smutty performance of the song “Tickle His Fancy” that is easily the most memorable number in the movie. I’m not sure if the song’s writers intended it to seem as dirty as it did to me, but I’m pretty certain that Tyrrell did, and I appreciate the effort.
Vinegar Syndrome, under their Etiquette Pictures label, presents Catch My Soul in a 2K restoration of the original 35mm negative. The movie looks terrific, preserving the movie’s grainy, often soft look with a surprising amount of detail. Skin tones, colors and black levels are all strong, as is shadow detail, which is an important aspect of any feature shot by Hall. The DTS-HD 2.0 mono track is clear throughout, particularly during the many musical numbers.
The 20-minute “Drink the Wine, Eat the Bread” features interviews with producers Charles Fries and Huw Davis about their experiences working on what was a troubled production, as well as the movie’s distribution woes. Also featured on the disc are shorter interviews with actor Tony Joe White, who talks about his experiences shooting the movie, and Conrad Hall’s daughter, Naia, speaks more broadly about her memories of her father and his early work (though she has little to say about Catch My Soul). The theatrical trailer, a TV spot and a still gallery are also featured, and a detailed essay by McGoohan’s biographer, Tom Mayer, about the history and production of the show and film is included with the disc.
While Catch My Soul should’ve been right up my alley, I never connected with its combination of rock and roll, Jesus and Shakespeare. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this release led to the movie’s small cult growing larger. For fans of the movie or those curious enough to give it a try, Vinegar Syndrome/Etiquette has done a characteristically terrific job of presenting a forgotten movie with great care.