Monday, June 22, 2020

50 Years Ago: Barbara Streisand Turns On The Owl

In the 1970 film The Owl and the Pussycat, Barbra Streisand plays Doris, a struggling model/actress living in New York who turns a few tricks to get by. When nerdy would-be writer and bookstore clerk Felix (George Segal) reports her activities to their landlord, she confronts him and rocks his world.

Leading up to the film's climax, Doris pulls out a joint and says, “Now I’m going to make you happy. It’s gonna put you in a very good mood.” Felix resists, telling her he’ll do it only after she whispers a bribe into his ear, announcing he was doing so to demonstrate that, “I have a certain free will, I am not a square person, and I am if I wish to be, perfectly hep.” She replies, “I’m hip you’re hep.”

They crash in a big way involving a bathtub and unexpected guests, leading to the breakup of his engagement and an amusing revelation about the hypocrisy of it all. He marches away afterwards, and she follows, saying, "You’re just depressed now because you’re not used to smoking grass. And you got very high, and now you’ve come down real hard. That could be very depressing, see what I mean? "

"Listen, the first time I got stoned, I came down so hard I didn’t feel like a human being afterwards," Doris continues. "I felt like some kind of cockroach or something.”

"Kafka,” Felix replies, thinking of The Metamorphosis, the Kafka novella in which the main character Gregor wakes up one day as a cockroach.

The movie is rather Kaskaesque: like many of Kafka's works, it features a passive, intellectual character and another active, more libidinal one (like Gregor's younger sister Grete who goes through her own metamorphosis). What spurred the sudden revelation that made Gregor realize he was nothing but an insect has caused more than a few to wonder what Kafka was smoking, and draw parallels between the War on Drugs and The Trial.

Kafka became ill and lived on a pension from his job at an insurance company for 10 years before he died of tuberculosis at age 40. He is quoted as saying, "My peers, lately, have found companionship through means of intoxication—it makes them sociable. I, however, cannot force myself to use drugs to cheat on my loneliness—it is all that I have—and when the drugs and alcohol dissipate, will be all that my peers have as well." He did, however, drink beer and wine, and what drugs he may have turned to in order to deal with his illness and insomnia are unknown (much like Nietzsche).

The Owl and the Pussycat screenplay, written by Buck Henry, was based on a stage play by Bill Manhoff. In the original Broadway production (1964–65), the "Owl" was played by white actor Alan Alda and the "Pussycat" by black actress/singer Diana Sands, and "many subsequent productions followed this precedent." (Wikipedia). It could be time for a remake.

The title seems to have come from the poem by Edward Lear (1812-1888):
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea 
In a beautiful pea-green boat...
They sailed away, for a year and a day, 
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows...

Also see: Streisand Smoked With Sellers, But Not with Seth

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