If the films of the 70s — well, let’s say the excesses of Russ Meyer and the drug and biker movies that I love so much — prove to me that there’s no way I would have survived the excesses of the decade.
There’s another truism — the movies of that era have people and imagery that look like no one and nothing else. Yet Anna Biller — who created this and The Love Witch — is the rare filmmaker that is able to recapture that past without merely creating a pastiche that has no heart and soul of its own.
VIVA may take its look and feel from the classic exploitation cinema and vintage Playboy magazines of the early 70s, with the gaudiest apartments outside of a Sergio Martino movie and colors that practically bathe your eyes in a soft and lush bath of joy. Yet on the inside of this taffeta-wrapped box lies hints that 1972 wasn’t always what was seen on drive-in screens.
There aren’t many films that are inspired by both the works of Hugh Hefner and Luis Buñuel — I would say that this is the only one — and for that, the world is a much worse place.
Biller wrote, directed, edited, designed the costume and stars in this film, which is the most self-aware movie I’ve seen that features unself-aware characters, which is some kind of meta backflip trickery when you get right down to it.
Barbi (Biller) starts the film happily married to the workaholic Rick, all while dealing with harassment at every turn, from her boss to her friends Mark and Sheila. Yet when her husband continually chooses work over her, she decides that she’s a single woman. And with Sheila also now single, the two ladies decide to go into the oldest of all professions, like something out of a Barry Mahon film.
Can a movie based on films and magazines that pretty much defined the male gaze break through and become a strong piece of feminist art? When it’s as well made as this film, the answer is yes. That said, this is a film that definitely feels like it will work better for an audience who understands camp and has a beyond working knowledge of the material that inspired it.
As I watched a scene where Barbi got ready for her man to come home, I was struck by one of the first women I ever dated that cared about make up. I felt horrible that she was spending so much time putting on a frustrating pair of false eyelashes and said, “You don’t have to do that. I think you look just fine without them.” And she replied, “Maybe I’m not wearing them for you.”
I’m glad that I learned that lesson. And glad that I watched this film.
You can get the new blu ray of VIVA from Kino Lorber, about whom Biller said, ““I am thrilled to work with Kino Lorber, who releases the best classic and contemporary films, and to see VIVA discovered by a whole new group of fans. VIVA is important to me both as a piece of cinema and as a response to the excesses of the sexual revolution, and I’m excited to see the types of conversations it will generate in the era of #Metoo.”
Want to learn more about Anna Biller? Here’s her official website.