The King of Marvin Gardens Bob Rafelson (1972 USA) Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Julia Robinson
Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 24 01 10; ticket price £4.00
Adrin Neatrour retro crit: no backgrounds only space
The King of Marvin Gardens (KMG) opens with a long heightened monologue delivered by David Sadler (Jack Nicholson ). It’s one of the pieces he broadcasts live on radio as a late night talk jock from a small sound booth; stories that borrow heavily from his past and his brother’s personal life. It forms the pre-title sequence that opens the film, and cues up the rest of the movie. It’s a key scene in a film in which Atlantic City provides the setting against which the characters act out the gestural processes of their relationships.
KMG is an exceptional movie in that Bob Rafelson (BR) succeeds in making the setting of the film its prime expressive and active agency. Atlantic City shot and realised as an otherworldly dimension releases in the characters the seeds of their own fate as the forces of disintegration overtake Jason Sadler and his girlfriend Sally. David and Jessica are pulled into this entropic maelstrom, helpless collaborators in the theatrical endgame and incapable of playing any role other than true to type: she the goading competing female, he the mildly joshing critical audience and collector and keeper and spinner of the stories.
In KMG there is no plot as such, or what plot there is simple drifts away on and off camera in a series of staccato and incomprehensible exchanges before finally dissolving into another chimeric phantasm. Instead of the processes of disintegration being stamped into the story line, they are instead scratched onto the topographical map that is Atlantic City. The beach the boardwalk the amusement park rides, the concession stands the exhibition centre the drifting bus tour day visitors the hotels with their private and public parts all become spaces and effects that incite and excite in the players increasing hallucinatory states of mind. The illusion of agency issuing from structure. But why not? Settings and architectures, palaces cathedrals White Houses and Skyscrapers can all create impossible subjectivities, psychic megalomanias and other instabilities in soul and vision.
KMG doesn’t work by continuity in its action; rather it works by a series of set pieces
that pitch the protagonists from one setting to another each with its own logic of execution that leaves each of the characters further adrift from each other and the anchorage of the real. Perhaps the main cop out from director/writer BR is his choice of an easy ending option with the gun. Perhaps he pandered to the Hollywood Preferred Ending of Climax, so that in the end the gun goes pop and the executives could go home knowing that something had happened. This particular climax in relation to the preceding development of the film wasn’t really necessary and imposed a simple reductionist solution on a complex situation. Perhaps this is the American way.
KMG is underscored and made possible by very strong supportive acting, in particular from Nicholson as David whose repressed yet manipulative presence underpins the whole project. He’s only there for the story to be hoarded like gold and like gold easily workable and chased into many forms for many different functions.
Adrin Neatrour email@example.com