Noel Black’s cult satire “Pretty Poison” is playing Film Forum through February 9.
Precursor to David Lynch’s uncanny small town psychodramas and the queer Technicolor filmplosions of early John Waters and Pedro Almodóvar, “Pretty Poison” (1968) captures the counterculture spirit of the time while anticipating its impending violent backlash. Eight years after “Psycho,” Anthony Perkins surprises with his youthful vulnerability, playing a mischievous sap just released from a mental institution only to be ensnared by Tuesday Weld’s All-American femme fatale.
The riotous mise en scène, capturing Midwestern spring in explosive yellows and reds rivaling Godard, initially conceals the film’s dark core, as Perkins soon finds himself in a pastel film noir of his own careless making. When a well-meaning act of industrial sabotage leads to murder, he begins to suspect that his teen sweetheart, seen earlier carrying the American flag in her high school color guard, might be smarter and scarier than she appears.
Like other lovers-on-the-lam films of the French and American New Waves, Black posits the protagonists’ rebellion as the result of their society’s economic and sexual hypocrisy. Weld’s mother forbids her to go the movies with Perkins while carrying on her own illicit daytime romance, and Perkins’ parole officer explains to him that polluting the local river is a fair price to pay for the town’s technological progress and material well-being.
As a special bonus, this week’s honorable mention goes to Béla Tarr, the Hungarian auteur whose entire catalogue is being shown at the Film Society of Lincoln Center through Wednesday. Of particular interest is his virtuosic 1982 television version of “Macbeth,” composed on only two shots and currently unavailable on DVD, which will be screened February 8 at 1:45 pm. His latest, and apparently final, film “The Turin Horse” opens this Friday.