Lions Love (Agnès Varda / U.S., 1969):

Los Angeles, 1969, as filtered through the auteur-tourist couple: Jacques Demy sees dreams being manufactured in The Model Shop, Agnès Varda sees the same thing here, through another kind of artifice. Frizzy-nasal Warhol ingénue Viva and furry Hair penners Jim Rado and Jerry Ragni play the guides through counterculture fauna and flora, so the shenanigans begin already deep in the Age of Aquarius, the wacky trio arriving late to catch McClure's The Beard. Then incantatory credits -- "Can we be actors and be real?/Can we be real and be in love?/ Can we be in love and be actors?" And so on. Viva and the fellas hang out in their L.A. villa and let fly with the ad-libbed whimsy, a stream-of-consciousness deluge of punning, mooning, whining and assorted faux-naif "ings"; Viva ponders becoming a mom, but changes her mind after some rented tykes piss in the pool. Lost Horizon plays on their TV set, yet Hollywood is their Shangri-La, as elusive to the glamour-mad kooks as to New York City underground auteur Shirley Clarke, who drops by (playing "Shirley Clarke") in tinted glasses, scarves and artiste-cap to bring cinema-vérité to Tinseltown. The Design for Living hippiness saunters on, cramming in zeitgeist, Le Bonheur triangulation, and whoever happened to be on the set (Eddie Constantine, Peter Bogdanovich, Jim Morrison, etc.); elsewhere, gray studio heads worry about audience response, final cut, and this thing called "new cinema." "Which comes first, the movie or reality?" Then, later: "I don't know the dream begins... and where it ends." Self-reflexive about her own self-reflexivity, Varda hops in front of the camera to act Clarke's suicide scene, as the times elbow their way into the meta-doodling -- the Bobby Kennedy and Warhol shootings interrupt the trio's dress-up, Viva moaning about everybody around her dying. Unendurable if not for Varda's indolent casualness, the movie is about (a movie about) childlike fringe preening, devoured by the filmmaker's curiosity for life, her camera thoroughly engrossed by the spectacle of Viva offering one loooong minute of breathing.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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