Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)

I was four years old at the start of the 1960s, in high school by 1970, so it's no surprise that the movies I saw then remain with me like no others. In the early '60s, pop culture was a generally comforting mix of innocent '50s fluff and the kind of flat-footed irony expressed by Mad magazine's brand of furshlugginer social satire; you could still find bug-eyed monsters in a Saturday matinee and a self-consciously imaginary surf's-up vacation at the drive-in--even though a Cold War nervous condition made the cameraman's hand shake a little. The old pros of Hollywood, led by Bette Davis, could be spotted as crazy ladies cackling in haunted houses à la What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, while the French New Wave was breaking on U.S. shores, encouraging both the nascent indie film culture and Hollywood itself to join the In Crowd.

And just as we rounded the final turn of the decade came 2001, which made a promise about the movies--that they contained their own version of infinity, something that really lasts--a promise that I think Kubrick helped keep, at least a little. But back then, when I was thirteen, it was simply a Happening, cooler than anything I'd ever seen, my first techno-vision, a dream about gadgets. I began to recognize that there'd always be two kinds of movies for me: the ones that build an almost unconscious web of memories, and sudden nuclear events that blasted everything, forcing us to start all over.

I'll admit I still feel cozier with memories than Ground Zero. Both in the movies--usually at the drive-in--and on TV, I'd watch blurry little pictures that seemed to become "shadowy recollections" even as I sat in front of them. Otto Preminger's Bunny Lake Is Missing falls under this category, a strange, sleepy psycho-thriller with (for me, at least) two quintessential '60s faces: Carol Lynley's and Keir Dullea's, both of them so bland and smooth as children's that even their panic and madness seems like a wistful reflection. The black and white cinematography, the sighing, woodwind-infused soundtrack, the false reassurance of Laurence Olivier as a policeman--and most of all the plot, the Vanishing Person mystery--here, a child that no one even admits exists; all of it floats around in one's head like a recent dream, fading the more you try to remember it.

It is a movie about absence: Bunny is missing, and her mother is the prime suspect--and what she is suspected of is inventing Bunny--and where all this goes I'll let you see. I admit I'm not entirely happy with the ending, when it finally decides to become a thriller; but until the (admittedly, still weird) climax, the real pleasure of Bunny Lake Is Missing is the dark fairy tale situation, Bunny the invisible changeling, with Keir Dullea--let's not forget that he would play 2001's Dave Bowman in just a couple of years--himself looking like a child, his little smile a bit flat, not quite reassuring.

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