To the Editor:
I read William S. Pechter’s review of Seven Beauties [“Obsessions,” Movies, May] and it’s hard to believe we saw the same film. His so-called critique seems more like a neurotic diatribe against the creator than a discussion of the creation. . . .
How might one judge a film? Visually? The film is photographed stunningly, with great care taken in selection of settings, camera angles, lighting, and framing. . . . Script? Totally original and as compelling as The Pawnbroker but with a somewhat different point of view. Acting? Absolutely convincing portrayals by Giannini and others of Miss Wertmuller’s “stock company.” . . .
What else did Mr. Pechter ignore or miss? Mainly, he missed the point. The movie didn’t “somehow all work out”; it very carefully developed in the perceptive viewer a sense of recognition, repugnant to many, that unless you are literally “under the gun,” you cannot accurately predict how you will behave. Will you choose to “die on your feet” or “live on your knees”? Our “hero” consistently chose the latter, as Mimi in Mimi chose to be “seduced,” and the “heroine” in Swept Away opted for subjugation. Mr. Pechter, in his own passion for “profundity,” misinterprets everything important in the film. Fat is not beautiful. Survival is not deplored. Suicide is not advocated. Female flesh is not repugnant per se. And what Miss Wertmuller does for personal fun and games is a critical non sequitur.
Mr. Pechter covers his tracks by claiming that it really doesn’t make any difference to his judgment of the film’s value what its position is (just in case his misinterpretation is exposed) because the film is “coarsely unfeeling” and lacks “passionate caring.” Well, for my money, it’s Mr. Pechter who has that problem, not the film.
Yes, the film is hard to take on several levels. It deals with a moral decision that perhaps most of us would prefer not to have brought to our consciousness. Certainly this is ample justification for shocking us into attention. This attention is rewarded for, at the very least, it answered a question which has long perplexed me: Why, during the Holocaust, did so many go to their deaths passively? I now know that I could not accurately predict my own behavior in the given circumstances unless and until my very survival was actually at stake. What’s more, I’m convinced that no one else could honestly know how he would behave, no matter how moral and principled he imagines himself to be. . . .
Syosset, New York
William S. Pechter writes:
Enjoyable as it might be to turn Sanford Sussman’s methods back on him (by charging that his failure to be convinced by what I wrote testifies only to his own neurotic blindness, and the like), the fact is I never expected my brief remarks on Seven Beauties to convince anyone of anything: rather, I regarded them as merely a disgusted postscript to my previous piece on Lina Wertmuller’s earlier films [“Watching Lina Wertmuller,” Movies, January]. That piece, in which I feel I bent over backward to be fair to Miss Wertmuller, might, I hope, be found convincing by at least those readers still open-minded on the subject of Miss Wertmuller’s work, if not by others as rabidly committed to the notion of her artistic greatness as is Mr. Sussman. In any case, I’m not prepared to restate the arguments of that earlier piece here and only want to note that the obiter dicta (on fatness, survival, suicide, etc.) I attributed to Miss Wertmuller were quoted in a feature article on her (written by an admirer) which appeared in New Times magazine around the time of Seven Beauties’ New York release. If Mr. Sussman (or any other reader) wishes to read a more thorough discussion of Seven Beauties than mine, I strongly recommend the splendid review of the film by Pauline Kael (who hadn’t written about Miss Wertmuller before) in the New Yorker of February 16, 1976. And if Mr. Sussman then wants to write a letter to Miss Kael telling her about her blindness and his insight, let’s see if he can get as undeservedly restrained a reply from her as this one.