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The Tamarind Seed

A note on journalistic malfeasance – ‘The Tamarind Seed’

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, August 1974, from the TRACKING SHOT column]

Parallax View doesn’t usually reproduce MTN ephemera such as the catch-all column “Tracking Shot.” Howsomever, this note of mine regarding the brief passage of Blake Edwards’s The Tamarind Seed through town engages an issue which, sadly, is anything but ephemeral. –RTJ

In the lead article of this issue, Kathleen Murphy confesses to some presuppositions that disposed her against The Tamarind Seed before she went into the theater. She did go into the theater, which a lot of generally intelligent and discerning filmgoers aren’t even considering as an option, given the plethora of signals surrounding the movie—the casting, the advertising, some of the damning-with-faint-praise “favorable” reviews.

As further evidence of what is keeping people from giving a chance to a film we frankly regard as singularly fine, we quote the following throwaway from a film potpourri column in a recent number of the new Seattle Sun: “The pathetic return of Julie Andrews (who sometimes wears a slip) and Omar Sharif (who always wears a smirk). If there was a prize for bad directing, Blake Edwards would win it with this.”

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Blake Edwards And The Hobgoblin Of Inconsistency

The death of Blake Edwards at the end of 2010, more than fifteen years after his last film work, was a reminder of a gaudy and maddening career which had been in a state of collapse for over a decade before it finished; and also of an undoubted auteur who needed to be rescued from his admirers. Edwards was never a great director; there is far too much mediocrity in his filmography (and from its earliest days) for him to be regarded as the major figure of his devotees’ wild claims. But he was occasionally such a good one that one can’t but wonder quite why he floundered so often, especially as his failures are mostly quite as clearly signed as his successes.

Blake Edwards

This consistency of authorship, coupled with such baffling inconsistency of quality, led to a most curious situation, whereby Edwards’s defenders showed a marked tendency to praise him for his defects as much as his virtues, even saying they were the same thing, and not merely to praise quite minor films in extravagant terms, but even to suggest that the reasons why so many of his films were trivial were the very reasons why we should admire them the more. At the same time, his best films were often undervalued. It was a preposterous situation. Perhaps now it can be challenged.

Why should we admire Edwards? Well, according to Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema, it’s because of the inherent nastiness of his flamboyance (Edwards “has got some of his biggest laughs out of jokes that are too gruesome for most horror films”) and because “the world he celebrates is cold, heartless and inhuman, but the people in it manage to preserve a marginal integrity and individuality.” Hmm… But why should any artist celebrate cold, heartless inhumanity? Sarris is quoted by perhaps the most vociferous of Edwards’s champions, William Luhr and Peter Lehman, not only in a lengthy article in The Velvet Light Trap in 1974, but later in a full-length book. They also define Edwards’s worldview, as they see it: “Concepts of justice simply have no relevance. Those with charm and skill succeed; those without do not, and frequently suffer grossly. ”

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A Community of Two: Blake Edwards’s ‘The Tamarind Seed’

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world…
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
—Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

More than one person, myself included, was not too terrifically turned on by the prospect of The Tamarind Seed. Despite Blake Edwards’s modest rep as a quirkily competent director, and memories of his refreshingly adult Peter Gunn television series in the late Fifties, the notion of Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif let loose in an environment “where love grows and passion flowers” (to quote the early ads) did not set my critical—or indeed, any other—pulses racing in anticipation. Mary Poppins and Dr. Zhivago, as one Movietone News writer aptly dubbed them, might make magical music for Middle America, but they aren’t the couple that comes most readily to mind in the context of passionate, grownup love. In fact, I fear I had come to cast the two as top-of-the-line Barbie and Kenny doll stars: handsomely groomed and coiffured, offending no one (and even enchanting some) with their unrelieved attractiveness, and wholesomely bereft of bothersome genitalia.

Even when I got the word that the love story was set within the spy-thriller framework, I wasn’t much more sanguine about The Tamarind Seed. I’ve about had my fill of the institutionalized world-weariness of this venerable genre. Like the cop flick, the international spy drama has come to wallow in unearned cynicism, automatic angst. Current events haven’t helped this drift towards self-congratulatory recognition of corruption here, there, and everywhere. Having been conditioned to accept it as our native element, we are all too easily and undiscriminatingly immersed in a cinematic environment in which every landmark is subject to change without notice, depending upon the ebb and flow of political and/or ideological expediency. With poleaxed complacency, we watch individuals, relationships, ethics suffer such swift sea-changes that nothing is certain, save the expectation that the ground under one’s feet will be shifting again at any moment.

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