Monday, April 21, 2014
David Hicks and Petulia
I recently spent a rainy afternoon watching the 1968 movie, Petulia. Starring Julie Christie, George C. Scott, and Richard Chamberlain, the movie takes place in the swinging and psychedelic San Francisco of the late 1960s. Christie played Petulia Danner, a young, glamorous wife who is, to borrow her phrase, a kook. ("Kook" is really putting it mildly.) Recently married to a wealthy, handsome, and violently abusive man (portrayed by Chamberlain,) Petulia embarks on an affair with Scott's character, a doctor going through a mid-life crisis. The film's story unfolds in scattered rather than linear fashion, with flash-backs and flash-forwards (supposedly a novelty at the time) interjecting themselves throughout the movie. Adding to the slightly chaotic film sequences are the acid-like, psychedelic images that flash up on the screen every now and then, set to the accompaniment of music by Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, all of whom make cameo appearances.
In a 2006 New York Times article about Petulia's release on DVD, Dave Kehr wrote that the movie was originally "released to largely uncomprehending audiences." Had I been an adult watching Petulia in 1968, I would have been one of those uncomprehending viewers, and in fact, I'm uncomprehending in 2014. The movie is too weird and, well, too kooky for me. And the Janis Joplin/ Grateful Dead soundtrack does absolutely nothing for me. But I really didn't watch this movie for its plot or to see a young Richard Chamberlain. Rather, I watched it because David Hicks served as design consultant on the movie.
I had once read that Hicks was responsible for two rooms on the film's set, and I believe that both rooms were set in the home of Petulia and her husband. The first Hicks room that makes an appearance is the Danners' living room. You can see a glimpse of it in the photo below:
In the three photos above, you can see a number of Hicks hallmarks, including bergères covered in bright blue, solid-colored fabric (which, along with the room's contemporary painting, cobalt glass collection, and shelves of blue books, punctuates the room with the color,) skirted, triangular-shaped sidetables, and a number of tablescapes.
But perhaps even more "Hicks-like" than the living room is the Danners' bedroom, in which one of Hicks's wonderful canopied beds plays a starring role. (According to Ashley Hicks's most recent book, his father was not happy with the way the Petulia canopy was built, noting that the valance was too shallow. He was right.) Such an intense color combination of canary yellow and hot pink is not quite what I would expect in a house in San Francisco, and yet, it's really very striking. Christie's bright yellow robe only adds to the intensity of color. And I'm crazy for the pink fabric that lines the bed hangings. Do you think it is a highly-glazed cotton? It looks too shiny to be silk.
Although I wouldn't rate Petulia a movie classic, it is a rather interesting film. If you love the swinging sixties and the music that went along with it, then you might well enjoy this movie. And for those of us who don't, let's just appreciate the beauty and vitality of these David Hicks-designed rooms...and the beauty and vitality of a young Richard Chamberlain, too.