Boom! (1968): A Bonkers Italianate Dreamscape

Ever thought to yourself, ‘Wow, I wish there was a late-60s French New Wave-derivative pseudo-art film where Elizabeth Taylor lives in a sprawling whitewashed mansion only accessible by funicular railway and constantly suffers from nervous fits, and Richard Burton is there and he has a samurai sword for some reason’?

Fear not! Your time has come! Joseph Losey has delivered, along with Secret Ceremony set dresser Jill Oxley! It is like nothing I’ve ever seen! I could not stop myself from screenshotting basically the entire thing and here are my findings with special exclusive commentary.

This iron tree structure really makes the atmosphere, I think. At some point Richard Burton’s character also fashions an Alexander Calder-esque mobile out of iron, which is unexplained. Did Calder get royalties? (This is interesting because a linguistics lecturer once pointed out to me that these mobiles resemble Chomsky’s syntax trees (C-structures), which are rooted in a supposed universal knowledge of grammar, ie. the linguistic equivalent of many psychoanalytic theories which have been used to explain mythology and dreamy films like this one.)

This shot is superb! Felliniesque! The glow of the enclave and the red costume of the Witch of Capri (played by Noel Coward), and the blood, but also look, a monkey! I actually really can’t recount the plot of this film properly because things like this kept happening and caused me to go into raptures. This composition is extra interesting though – we follow a path of red out onto a balcony, where violence turns into heterosexual desire…

Taylor’s character lives in a white cavern-y Mediterranean complex but also owns a smaller pink guest house with a Chagall mural on the wall/egg-shaped bed/equally pink carpet. This is my dream home. Maybe it’s supposed to look like a womb?

She also spends a lot of time dictating memoirs to her secretary, which turn into the most bizarre monologues ever. The script is so hysterical that it brings down the tone of the entire film, but in a nice way.

I love the way the costume designer has considered the cast as a whole while making colour decisions so nobody clashes in these few scenes. This betrays the film as more of an experiment in visual style than character or narrative – and that’s the way I like it!

I love the willingness to frame small figures against great swathes of wall and to shoot at dusk, something which transforms the overwhelmingly white building into an otherworldly dream marshmallow. You can see the guesthouse in the second screenshot – was it built for the film? Is it still there? It reminds me of some children’s programming I was served in the early 2000s but I don’t know what or how exactly (it was all a bit odd architecturally).

I really enjoy late 60s-early 70s Italianate cinema interior design (whitewashed walls, dark ornate furniture), and the influence of all that on this film is very clear – especially in these darkened scenes, where the green velvet armchair is a bridge between the usual contrast. She’s just making a phone call but this looks so cultic: lit candles and a roaring fire? A lectern?

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