Dream Castle/Sleeping Beauty (1973, James B. Harris)

“If you wake a sleeping beauty, you run the risk of being awakened yourself”

Robert is a melancholy cipher who lives in a mansion with two women, who seem alternately to be his maid, his landlady, his lover. At a carnival he sees an exhibit where a sleeping young woman is on display. You can pay her slimy keeper (who is not too good with his spiel, despite years of practice), a dollar to see her, another dollar to kiss her, and an undisclosed sum for something more after hours. Robert (also called Troy, who knows why) pays $20,000 to keep her and bring her home, another white person to float identity-free in the mansion, like The Dreamers with less explicit sex (but some serious nudity in one cheerleading scene towards the end).

Strangely enough, I was looking for a different movie about mysteriously empty-headed white people in a large house when I found this one. Eduardo de Gregorio, a co-writer of Celine and Julie Go Boating, reunited some of that film’s cast for his companion piece, set within the fiction house but without Rivette’s two interlopers. It’s called Surreal Estate, and I remembered it’s from the mid-70’s, so when I saw “Dream Castle (1973)” I assumed I was watching the Gregorio movie with a different title translation… then almost turned it off when I realized my mistake… until Richard Pryor’s name appeared in the credits.

Our hero Troy leaves the house sometimes to play sax at a bar (presumably not an influence on the split-identity sax-blowing Bill Pullman of Lost Highway) and hang out with his friend Pryor. So, Pryor is our connection to the outside world, but not to “reality,” exactly, because there is something wrong with him. He is either mental or drunk, or just trying to play his scenes way too energetically to make up for the langour around him. I appreciate it, but the movie won’t let him get away with this, and finally kills him (he coughed once, an hour earlier, the movie’s old-fashioned idea of foreshadowing).

The Sleeping Beauty (Tisa Farrow, sister of Mia, later star of Zombie) gets acclimated in the house, but I’m never clear on the residents’ relationships, or even whether she ever finally hooks up with Robert/Troy (Zalman King, director of Wild Orchid and The Red Shoe Diaries). She’s not some fairy-tale symbol of purity – at one point making loud sex noises with Scarlett (Carol White, star of Poor Cow) to fool Troy (he only ends up looking vaguely depressed). Anyway there’s some pretending to enter her into a convent in the end, but finally Troy puts her back to sleep and goes on tour with the carnival, displaying her as the sleeping beauty.

Apparently I had this because it was on Rosenbaum’s top-thousand list under the title Some Call It Loving (my least favorite of its titles). Director James Harris was a producer on Kubrick’s early films, also made a Wesley Snipes actioner, a Richard Widmark/Sidney Poitier thriller and a couple of James Woods movies. The cinematographer’s biggest movie was probably Carrie.

Watched as an AVI file transferred from a VHS tape which was recorded over another program. When this movie got slow and quiet (which it did often) I’d hear that old, mostly-erased program whispering through the soundtrack and try to imagine what it might be. It might be my tape copy and not the original film, but the whole thing looks like a shabby TV movie – maybe on cable, which accounts for the porny vibe I get from the girls (speaking of which, have I mentioned the nude cheerleading performance at the end?).

I can’t say the actors are bad because I expect they’ve been asked to perform like blank robots. The movie has its own idea of poetic pacing, but without the talent of an Epstein or even a Rohmer to back it up. Overall not terrible, kept me guessing, anyway.