“Boom!” (1968), by Joseph Losey

by Chris Randle

An aging, infamous figure dies isolated at their elaborate compound. Elizabeth Taylor in Boom!, that is, which I happened to be watching last month around the same time that Osama bin Laden made his unmourned exit. The film was presented by my friend David Balzer, an elegiac climax to the “Lizploitation” series he screened with his boyfriend Derek Aubichon. Joseph Losey adapted Boom! with Tennessee Williams from the latter’s 1963 play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, which had already flopped twice on Broadway. Whatever the medium, Williams rendered his symbolism in neon: Liz’s rich, expiring grotesque is named Sissy Goforth. She says things like “he was wildly beautiful and beautifully wild.” John Waters called this “the greatest failed art film ever made.”

Every actor seems to be inhabiting a different film. Christopher Flanders, the uninvited poet-stud who may be the angel of death or just a helpfully symbiotic parasite, is supposed to be much younger than Goforth, but the role went to Richard Burton, seven years Taylor’s senior and looking it. Burton wanders around in a samurai costume, reciting Kubla Khan and, one imagines, yearning for a drink. As Goforth’s martinet of a security chief, Michael Dunn makes with the quasi-fascist salutes and smug grins favoured by generations of Bond henchmen. Then our socialite is visited by “the Witch of Capri,” and it’s Noel Coward (!!!), playing a camp vampire from some unwritten Derek McCormack story. When Coward assures his hostess that “I have always found girls to be fragrant, in any phase of the moon,” the delivery really cannot be improved upon. Let’s call it indelible.

Liz herself is a bit of a mess, her accent going to so many places simultaneously that it proves the existence of quantum mechanics. Certain moments anticipate this unforgettable scene (1:21:00 or so) from her ’80s TV movie There Must Be a Pony, a highlights-reel highlight described by one of David’s friends as “the burrito of pain.” But a naturalistic actor probably wouldn’t have found whatever skewed pathos Williams’ script contains. Taylor imbues the role with all her dissolute charisma. As Chris and Sissy take their death-dance to its predictable conclusion, they seem ever more like Dick and Liz, starring in a hopelessly glamorous home movie.

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