Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1969)

From left to right: Ted, Carole, Bob & Alice
This brilliant and charming satire on an aged 'swinging sixties' decade, centered on the four individuals (a.k.a. two couples) headed for double trouble while trying to grasp at its final remnants, surprised and impressed me when I rented it many years ago. The idea of 'free love' among this group of confused married friends was odd and amusing.
Robert Culp as Bob, Elliot Gould as Ted
Written and directed by Paul Mazursky, with a terrific ensemble cast, "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice" is of course dated but still intriguing, and very well-conceived. I love the script and the characters. It's an amusing study of normal people playing at being eccentric, and failing a little bit.
Natalie Wood as Carole
What "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice" succeeds in doing (and I imagine the impact might have been even stronger in its own time) is capturing a transition in how people had perceived themselves and their relationships from the 1960s as they were heading into the 1970s. The idea of free love becomes bored, bourgeois, trite and contrived in the experience shown through these characters. Their sense of rebellion and experimental freedom sets the stage for the suburban explorations of 'the swinger period' in the 1970's, and merely indicates that what started with a wild and carefree youth culture was now embraced by the middle-aged.
Carole with Alice -- Dyan Cannon, was nominated for an Oscar in her role
Meanwhile, the conflicting reality is that we humans as a species tend to be monogamous by nature, and feel more at peace with only one mate at a time. As do lions, and so many other animals in the wild. And isn't being natural and raw what freedom really is? In the end, when the charade has ended between the close-knit group in the film, they realize that being 'open' in their relationship actually means being open to their own respective partners, and honest with themselves - and that is freedom enough.
The following clip begins with one of the film's initial scenes, when Bob (Robert Culp) and Carol (Natalie Wood) have gone on a group retreat to explore a new relationship method phenomenon - a workshop of sorts. Which then sets off their need to impress upon their friends Ted (Elliot Gould) and Alice (Dyan Cannon) how they have acquired a profoundly liberated understanding, in general, and how very evolved they have become with this new mindset. The conversation that ensues over dinner is priceless...
My favorite moment of all occurs at the very end, when they leave together in silence and with a true sense of clarity, while the song sums it up best: "What The World Needs Now Is Love."

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