PUZZLE OF A DOWNFALL CHILD

 (Jerry Schatzberg, USA, 1970) 103 minutes

PUZZLE OF A DOWNFALL CHILD

Director: Jerry Schatzberg
Producer: John Foreman
Screenplay: Carole Eastman [Adrian Joyce]
Cinematography: Adam Holender
Costume Design: Terry Leong, Roland Meledandri
Editor: Evan Lottman
Music: Michael Small
Faye Dunaway (Lou Andreas Sand)
Barry Primus (Aaron Reinhardt)
Viveca Lindfors (Pauline Galba)
Barry Morse (Dr. Galba)
Roy Scheider (Mark)
Ruth Jackson (Barbara Casey)
John Heffernan (Dr. Sherman)

Reviews and notes

Festivals:
2001 Thessaloniki
2012 Wroclaw (Poland)


Schatzberg drew inspiration from his background as a fashion photographer by using conversations with model Anne Saint-Marie as a foundation for his engrossing story of a washed up model gradually losing hold on reality. Schatzberg’s first feature is a stylistic tour de fource that displays his consummate mastery of the medium, employing a fractured narrative style that freely intermingles flashbacks and fantasized events with the present and brilliantly manipulates the sound track to maximize the carefully calibrated sense of disorientation. In her revealing performance as the fragile model, Faye Dunaway strikingly personifies Schatzberg’s fascination with the disenfranchised that will extend to his subsequent films.
- Harvard Film Archive.


Jerry Schatzberg, who received considerable acclaim for The Panic in Needle Park (1971) and the Cannes Grand Prix-winning
Scarecrow (1973), has generally enjoyed more support from the French than from his fellow Americans, and Puzzle of a Downfall Child, his first film, was given a well-publicised theatrical rerelease last year in France by the enterprising distributor Carlotta Films.

Based in New York, Schatzberg was an extremely well-established fashion photographer and past 40 when he made the shift into directing features with this ambitious exploration of a charismatic model undergoing a severe mental breakdown. Based on the experiences of a real-life model Schatzberg knew, Anne St Marie (credited as 'technical consultant'), the film begins with her fictional counterpart, Lou Andreas Sand (an obvious nod to the infamous Lou Andreas-Salome, psychoanalyst and lover of Rilke and Nietzsche), living as a recluse in a remote beach house. There she is visited by photographer Aaron Reinhardt (Barry Primus), a former close friend and briefly her lover, who wants to record her memories with the aim of making a film – his first – about her life. The fact that the script, structured as a wayward sequence of flashbacks, was inspired by audiotapes made by St Marie, that this was to be Schatzberg's debut in cinema, that it is very atmospherically shot (by cinematographer Adam Holender, then hot from Midnight Cowboy), and that the director cast in the central role Faye Dunaway, with whom he was then, as they say, romantically linked, points to how far this is the classic semi-autobiographical first feature - a mini-genre in itself.

The screenplay by Adrien Joyce - the pseudonym for Carole Eastman, of Five Easy Pieces fame - was directly drawn from his ideas and St Marie's tapes and the portrait of the fashion world, from bitchy agents to rude photographers to louche art directors, derives from his own experiences. On the whole, the film functions more convincingly as an intimate depiction of this brittle, fraught milieu than as a deep exploration of a woman's sexual problems. But it's also evident that the reason Lou's neurotic, often exasperatingly insecure nature is so brilliantly realised in Dunaway's performance is because the character derives in part from the actress's own volatile personality. It certainly makes the film an often raw and uncomfortable watch.

The 'puzzle' of the title refers not only to the fragmentary, slippery nature of Schatzberg's flashback structure, which plays feverishly with the unreliability of Sand's memories, but also to the film's frequent stylistic debt to the phantasmagorical European cinema of Fellini and Bergman, with Juliet of the Spirits (1965) and Persona (1966) being the obvious reference points. Hence perhaps the general rejection of the film in the director's homeland and its appreciation and championing by those redoubtable auteur-hunters Pierre Rissient and Michel Ciment, neither of whom is backward in underlining their part in aiding Schatzberg's career. But then we're told by the director that even the late Andrew Sarris eventually apologised in person to him for previously misjudging the quality of his work.
- David Thompson, Sight & Sound, November 2012.



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