The King of Marvin Gardens Screen 5 articles

The King of Marvin Gardens

1972

The King of Marvin Gardens Poster
  • Like The Turin Horse, it opens with a shot so powerful that what follows feels almost like an afterthought, and in general it's at its best when it tends toward the surreal: mock Miss America contest, David regaling the Japanese investors with improvised tales about a woman-dolphin relationship, etc.

  • There are moments of brilliance here: the photography by the legendary Laszlo Kovacs is gorgeous, picking out the faded glamour of the dying seafront city in muted, wintry tones. Nicholson’s opening monologue is intensely gripping, while Burstyn gives perhaps the finest performance of her career, all blowsy beauty and bitter regret. But it’s an odd, unsettling movie overall, vague in its characterisation and narrative, dotted with bewildering asides and lacking any real warmth or humour.

  • In fact, scenes are often given too much room to breathe, leaving the actors occasionally stranded with too little dialogue or staring out to sea in the hope that the subtext washes up in the tide. Indeed, with its formal, Euro-influenced visuals, Nicholson’s comically maudlin radio soliloquies and bleak seaside setting, Rafelson’s film sometimes comes across as an utterly deadpan parody of the moody early-'70s navel-gazers to which it belongs.

  • Rafelson’s audio commentary on Five Easy Pieces [...persuaded] me to re-see his follow-up feature, The King of Marvin Gardens, and in this case I was won over for the first time—by Rafelson and Jacob Brackman’s daring and original script, by Jack Nicholson’s uncanny but masterful channeling of Wally Cox, by many of Rafelson’s unorthodox but poetically apt moves, and by László Kovács’ cinematography—and all these discoveries are assisted and confirmed by the extras on the latter package.

  • It's perhaps one of the most compelling of these harsh reassessments of the Hollywood dream machine, a meditation on loneliness and false hope that feels almost novelistic in tone and narrative structure.