The Film (2.5/5)
The first release from Vinegar Syndrome’s art house label Etiquette Pictures, Some Call It Loving is a forgotten early-‘70s curio directed by James B. Harris, who produced a few of Stanley Kubrick’s early films. I can see why it was chosen as Etiquette’s first release – its kinkier elements are reminiscent of the heyday of adult movies that the company has lovingly restored, but it’s too subtle and restrained to qualify even as soft-core erotica. A very idiosyncratic film even for the director-driven heyday of the ‘70s, Some Call It Loving is an uneven but unmistakably personal film – to say they don’t make movies like it anymore is misleading, because there wasn’t much like it at the time either.
Wealthy jazz musician Robert (Zalman King) lives in a seaside mansion with his lover, Scarlett (Carol White), and their maid, Angelica (Veronica Anderson), where the three spend much of their time engaging in role playing and light BDSM (I think – mostly, Scarlett and Angelica’s favorite thing seems to be dressing in nuns’ habits and dancing). While visiting a carnival sideshow, Robert becomes smitten with Jennifer (Tisa Farrow), a “sleeping beauty” kept unconscious by the carnival’s sleazy manager (Logan Ramsey). Robert buys Jennifer from the carnival and takes her home, where she soon wakes up. He quickly becomes smitten with the na´ve-seeming young woman, who has been asleep for her entire adult life. However, when Jennifer wants to take their relationship further and Scarlett attempts to draw her into the psychosexual games she and Robert play with each other, Robert becomes torn between his desire for Jennifer and the impulse to escape his own nature that initially drew him to her.
Some Call it Loving is most notable for the way it approaches the kinkier elements of its story – instead of using the story’s submissive “innocent” for exploitation, Harris’ screenplay (adapted from a short story by John Collier) complicates matters by having Jennifer articulate her own less than innocent desires. What seems at first to be a story about a worldly guy saving a damsel in distress takes an unexpected turn, as Robert is forced to question his own, decidedly unheroic motives for saving the girl. Coupled with the nuances of Robert, Scarlett and Angelica’s ritualistic routines in the house, and Some Call It Loving is the rare movie, then and now, that attempts a serious examination of the psychology of fetishism.
It’s not entirely successful in this aim, with its uniquely surrealistic tone sometimes feeling more vague than deliberately elusive, as if important details about the characters and their underlying motives were being elided. It also doesn’t help that lead actor (and future soft-core filmmaker) Zalman King isn’t exactly the most expressive performer, which is a liability when the script requires him to convey Robert’s inner conflict without dialogue. Harris does a fine job of creating a surreal fairy tale atmosphere, but it’s as airless as the hermetic existence inside Robert and Angelica’s impeccably designed mansion. The movie actually works best when it ventures outside with Robert to the club where he performs, thanks to a supporting performance by Richard Pryor as Jeff, Robert’s best friend. Jeff is a junkie whose subplot is meant as an illustration of the tragic reality Robert would like to escape, and yet Pryor is so full of energy compared to the movie and performances surrounding him that he sticks out in the best possible way. The rest of Some Call It Loving is an interesting exercise in dream logic, but it’s during Pryor’s scenes that the movie briefly wakes up.
Etiquette Pictures presents Some Call It Loving in a new 2K restoration from the original negative. The movie, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, has been out of print since VHS, and Etiquette’s transfer is very impressive. Cinematographer Mario Tosi favors soft, diffused and, in some scenes, low key lighting – the film anticipates his similar work on Carrie a few years later – which limits fine detail, but it’s a clean, filmic presentation with strong colors and contrast in the movie’s frequent shadowy interior scenes. The DTS-HD Mono audio has some instances of mild hiss, but it’s clear and well presented throughout, particularly the film’s music score and use of Nat “King” Cole.
The disc features a commentary with Harris, moderated by Samuel B. Prime – it’s an interesting track, particularly when Harris discusses the differences between Collier’s story and the movie and the personal resonances the film had for him. A brief video interview with Harris, where he discusses his work with Kubrick and his move into directing, is also included, as is an interview with Tosi, who discusses his approach to shooting the film. Sixteen minutes of outtakes are also included; the only audio comes from Harris and Prime explaining what we’re seeing, but it’s interesting to see some of the material that was cut from the movie after negative responses at early screenings. A DVD of the movie is also included in the package, along with a booklet featuring an essay by Kevin John Bozelka.
While Some Call It Loving’s attempt at a modern fairy tale isn’t entirely successful, it’s a fascinating artifact of its time that Etiquette Pictures has done a commendable job of restoring. If this disc is indicative of the kind of presentation the label will give to future releases – which include The American Dreamer, a long-unavailable documentary about Dennis Hopper and the making of The Last Movie – then the label will be a worthy counterpart to Vinegar Syndrome.