In the mid-eighties, my roommate Candy and I rented a movie called The Driver’s Seat at After Dark, the local video store. It starred Elizabeth Taylor, with a cameo by Andy Warhol, so we couldn’t have been more excited. I’d always heard it was a Eurotrashy B-movie and the VHS copy quality was terrible, as if it had been ripped from a television broadcast, so somehow I didn’t get it at the time. About five years ago I re-watched a much better quality version online and it was a revelation.
Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in an extremely challenging role struck me as one of her best. (She made the film on two conditions: that she could choose the cinematographer, and that it should be as faithful as possible to Spark’s novel.) The direction, by Italian theatre, opera, and film director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, adapting a very bizarre and audacious novel by Muriel Spark (she also wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), seemed remarkable. And it was shot by legendary cinematography Vittorio Storaro, who had already worked with Bertolluci on The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris, and would go on to shoot Apocalypse Now.
The Driver’s Seat, bathed in a magical golden light, represents one of my favourite pieces of cinematography. Beyond that, the film seems totally prescient and relevant today, with its numerous cataclysmic terrorist events, and Taylor’s complaints of violation at the airport security check. It’s also one of the most complex feminist statements of the seventies, serving as a kind of allegory for a woman in search of her ultimate orgasm. Incidentally, the film was produced by the nephew of director Roberto Rossellini, Franco, whose lover, Antonio Falsi, who also starred in Griffi’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (also shot by Storaro), plays the hot garage mechanic in The Driver’s Seat. Franco Rossellini also produced Caligula, which Falsi acted in, and both men were reputedly lost to AIDS.
See The Driver’s Seat in 35mm at Nitehawk Cinema on April 29 (purchase tickets here). And don’t miss the Bruce LaBruce film retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (April 23–May 2, 2015).