Friday, January 30, 2015

FREUD: THE SECRET PASSION (1962) - John Huston

A paired viewing of Huston films about the psychoanalytic process: the first, an early documentary funded by the U.S. Army about soldiers with PTSD and the other a selective biopic of the granddaddy of psychoanalysis himself.

I first heard about Let There Be Light in an interview with P.T. Anderson where he mentions he showed it to Joaquin Phoenix in preparation for The Master. Watching this short 58 minute doc, you can see what Anderson means. There's a ton of good research material there in terms of psychologically scarred vets. I think I might have picked out the specific patient Phoenix was channeling. It's a fascinating time capsule, proof of the maxim "the more things change, the more they stay the same." The hypnotherapy sequences come off a little forced (possibly, staged). Likely because the film was funded by the military, there's a tendency in the narration to make it seem as if all the soldiers are healed at the end of the process, problem solved. Judging from the uptick of PTSD diagnoses after our most recent wars, I think it's safe to say such is not the case.

Freud: A Secret Passion is Huston's later, longer and more dramatic stab at related material, focusing on the Austrian doctor's early efforts in hypnosis to unlock the "dark corners" of the subconscious. Montgomery Clift dons a beard to play the famed cigar aficionado, though there's not much sexually suggestive smoking of Old Havanas here. You do get hefty doses of the old standbys: Freudian slips, Oedipal entanglements, "You're getting sleepier, sleepier," and a couple of well-photographed dream sequences fraught with enough symbolism to rival those in Hitchcock's Spellbound.

Huston wisely keeps his focus narrow, centering on one patient (Susannah York, a bit over the top), a compendium of Freud's Anna O. and a few other female case studies. Her case serves as a mirror to his investigation into his own childhood traumas, prompting his subsequent and, at the time revolutionary, theories on infantile sexuality. My main quibble here is that Huston seems a little too reverent of his subject, comparing him right off the bat to Copernicus and Darwin in a voice-over monologue that seems like something pulled from Rod Serling's Twilight Zone trim bin. There's not a lot of humor to be found in Freud: A Secret Passion, definitely not as much as Viggo Mortensen/David Cronenberg's take in A Dangerous Method. I read on Wikipedia that Jean-Paul Sarte took a first crack at the script. Have you read Being and Nothingness front to back? It's not exactly a laugh-a-minute.

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