Model Shop: Review. By Betty Widdicombe.
Model Shop is a late sixties LA based film made by French Director Jacques Demy, centring around the penultimate 24hrs of a 26 year old unemployed architect George Matthews (Gary Lockwood), who’s got the debt collectors hot on his tail to repossess his car, and his hot live-in girlfriend Gloria (Alexandra Hay) an aspiring actress – tired of his non-committal and nonchalant lazy ass.
Off on a mission to borrow a $100 to save the one thing he seems to care about, his car…(typical sixties male lead), he encounters a mysterious all white wearing Goddess called Lola (Anouk Aimee). Captivated, he stalks her and finds that she works in a seedy ‘model-shop’. For fans of Demy’s earlier work, and new fans alike, the Lola character is a reprisal from his earlier French speaking film ‘Lola’ made in 1961, also played by Aimee.
For the sake of this review and how it relates to the first of ‘Echo in the Canyon’, I will not focus on the relationships of the characters in the narrative, more on the creativity of the time, the laid-back attitude, social climate and the landscape.
The camera follows George, either driving his car through the roads and valleys of LA, or on the sidewalks of the city, dropping in on Diners, friend’s offices and homes all to get his money. When he spots Lola in a carpark and follows her, we follow along to a view of the cascading beauty of the canyon; a mixture of city buildings, pylons, epic rolling hills and trees. This technique is heavily mirrored in Jakob Dylan’s driving scenes and aerial shots of Laurel Canyon in ‘Echo in the Valley’.
When asked about the making of ‘Model Shop’ Demy said;
“I learned the city by driving – from one end of the Sunset to the other, down Western all the way to Long Beach. LA has the perfect proportions for film. It fits the frame perfectly”.
This is very apparent and highlighted beautifully in a scene where George visits his musician friend, at his home in the Valley. From the interior, recording equipment and his discourse, we acknowledge that he’s successful. Learning George’s predicament he freely whips out the $100 note he is so desperate for, part of a much larger wad, kept so coolly in his trouser pocket. As he moves over to his keyboard, a huge poster of ‘The Beatles’ looms over like a religious painting of ‘Jesus and his disciples’ – blessing this alter of creation. At this point George interjects with something ‘funny’ that happened to him earlier….
“…I stopped at this place that looks up over the city. It was fantastic. I suddenly felt exhilarated you know. I was really moved by the Geometry of the place. Its conception its Baroque harmony. It’s such a fabulous city. To think some people claim it’s an ugly city, when it’s really pure Poetry, it just kills me. I wanted to build something right then, create something…you know what I mean”?
“Yeah I do, I understand”.
I feel it is here, the joining of an unemployed architect, a musician and the inspiration of music, city and dwellings that we get a real sense of the freedom and creativity at that period, and more of a genuine indication of why that place was such a melting pot.
Music features heavily, with a Score by LA Rock Band ‘Spirit’ very much in the foreground. We are made very aware of its importance, sudden switching on of tunes, gives the action a sense of interruption/ accentuation of mood…George tuning in always when driving, and using one of his last nickels to put a record on the Jukebox in the Diner scene, and also the classic piano music when he is with Lola.
There are so many more things I could go in to about this film, the looming war and being drafted, the seedier sides of LA, but as it was missed from the documentary, I have left it out. One thing that I think is worth mentioning in this review comparison, is the dialogue from George to Lola’s roommate via the telephone in the last scene (WARNING: Plot spoiler) – after his girlfriend has left him, his car is being towed away in the background, and he no longer has to be drafted to Vietnam is when he discovers Lola has left for Paris;
“I just wanted to tell her that I love her. I wanted her to know that I was going to begin again. It sounds stupid, I know. But a person can always try”!!
On that note, both Documentary and Film are a love affair, both look into LA and its vast beauty. One succeeds in its depiction of a time, a style an emotion. The other just attempts…but at least like the final quote…”a person can always try”.
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