Recently, on a very humid Wednesday night, my wife and I traveled to a unusually empty Cinefamily screening of a somewhat notoriously fetishistic and ethereal film by James B. Harris entitled “Some Kind Of Loving.” A few years earlier, I was in the midst of a obsession of the writings of James Ellroy and found a copy of “Cop,” a 1988 film that Harris directed, which was based on Ellroy’s novel , “Blood On The Moon.” I really loved the book and appreciated what Harris had done to bring it to the screen, but I later found out that the film had been mercilessly panned by critics on its release back in the day.
Before going out to see “Some Kind Of Loving,” I had read a few critiques of the film written shortly after its release in 1973 and found them to be equally vicious in their attacks, with many of the reviews simply calling it “pretentious.” I could shrug a few bad reviews off, but unlike “Cop,” the source material was a short story by John Collier whom I have never been that great of a fan of, and the film starred Zalman King, the softcore writer-director of the “Wild Orchid” films of the late 1980s and 1990s, which were one-dimensional twaddle as was his screenplay for the immensely popular Adrian Lyne sex film, “9 1/2 Weeks.” Still, with little else in the theaters, why not see “Some Call It Loving” to see if perhaps Harris had been onto something, directing his second feature film away from producing Kubrick’s brilliant early works; “Lolita,” “Paths Of Glory,” and “The Killing?” After all, Harris’ directorial debut, 1965’s “The Bedford Incident” was a tightly told thriller starring Sidney Poitier that goes down as a lost action gem from a decade packed with excellent films in that genre. It should also be said that of Harris’ five directorial efforts, “Some Call It Loving” is the only non-action film with Harris’ last film being the very average Wesley Snipes police shoot em up, “Boiling Point.”
“Some Call It Loving” has for its center, an exquisitely bored, 70s natural looking adopted jazz saxophone player named Robert Troy (Zalman King giving a purposeful trance-like performance), who one evening attends a carnival to only be lured into the tent to witness an actual “Sleeping Beauty,” who our carny barker claims has been asleep for eight years. Our barker/carnival doctor begins charging a tent of overly creepy men a dollar a person to kiss our comatose yet seraphic maiden in the false hopes of awakening her, but our hero Robert chooses to not pay the dollar for the cheap thrill and instead opts to purchase Sleeping Beauty outright for twenty thousand dollars paired with what appears to be a beneficent set of motives. For his twenty Gs, Robert gets the entire carny act including the fair Sleeping Beauty and the good doctor’s Ford microbus, complete with a hippy’s painting of the act’s star attraction on the side of the vehicle. It is now back to his European-style villa where Robert sets Beauty up with elegant sleeping quarters, which doesn’t seem to phase the two women he lives with, who are coupled together in a bed of their own. One has to wonder from this point forward if Robert’s blasé countenance is due to a constant over-stimulation of libido and what role will Sleeping Beauty play in the further awakening of his own sexual malaise.
Soon after, with Sleeping Beauty tucked away, Robert goes off to the local jazz bar where he plays a set for a posh audience and for a virtually incomprehensible blathering junkie called “Jeff,” whom Robert considers his best friend, played by none other than Richard Pryor, who had played alongside Zalman King two years earlier in the now forgotten 1971 comedy-drama, “You’ve Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You’ll Lose That Beat,” where Pryor plays another substance abusing character against King’s freewheeling hippy. To say that Pryor plays what Spike Lee normally refers to as “The Magical Negro” to King’s Robert in “Some Call It Loving” would be fairly accurate if it wasn’t for the fact that to assume that cliched role, the black character would have to say something that was somewhat philosophical or least coherent. Here Pryor takes his patented wino character to the ultimate extreme and makes him otherworldly in his inability to communicate any distinguishable word. I’m a lifelong Pryor fan, having listened to his albums all through my adolescence, but it was all beeps and buzzes to me here in this film. My best guess is that Pryor represents the unbridled soul that Robert represses with his stoic appearance.
Once back at home, Robert finds Jennifer (Sleeping Beauty’s actual name) awake and begins what would be a romantic and nurturing relationship, which by this point we can assume is less than what will be required based on the carrying on of Robert’s roommates. Bit by bit Jennifer embraces her freedom of sexual expression and becomes a willing participant in the fetishistic games that go on the mansion, which appears to disappoint Robert and his need to satisfy his voyeuristic desire to see her innocence corrupted, causing him to emotionally retreat and one one occasion, to even leave the mansion in order to seek out erotic stimulation from other women, which inevitably ends in failure as their willingness to participate through financial compensation only dampens his voyeuristic tendencies even more. With an acceptance that his sexual desires will not be fulfilled, Robert decides to flee the mansion and its ominous suggestions of depravity behind and takes Jennifer and the micro bus on a short road trip that eventually leads back to the mansion and to a scene of religious repression for the sake of the purification of all involved.
Though the plot of “Some Call It Loving” sounds a bit pretentious, I genuinely feel Harris’ intentions were to create an American version of the films that were successful in Europe during the late 1960s, as there are similar examinations of voyeurism in the Nouveau Roman novels and film work of French director Alain-Robbe Grillet for example. Past the issues mentioned before with a few of the performances, “Some Call It Loving” does possess great merit in its storytelling style and demands a second viewing. The intense diffusion used in the film was lensed by Italian cinematographer Mario Tosi, who a few years later would effectively layer diffusion all over Brian DePalma’s 1976 nightmarish horror classic, “Carrie.” It is clear that the deliberately slow pace of “Some Call It Loving” would not and did not go over well here in the USA, both with critics and audiences in 1973 as stated earlier, but the film was widely applauded in Europe as stated by Harris in this 2008 Q&A done with the director at Cinefamily:
The screening we attended last Wednesday was not a 35mm print, but a recently released Blu Ray from Etiquette Pictures, who did an excellent job with the transfer of this film. I personally am excited to pick up a copy as it possesses commentary and a featurette with director Harris and cinematographer Tosi, which I hope might shed more light on the low budget production of this misunderstood film that broke up a Wednesday evening and fostered an intense discussion and more than a few confused looks between my wife and I on trip home on that tepid evening last week.