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I went to see Boom! at the Castro this week, and I’m delighted to report that it lived up to its reputation as a pillar of “so bad it’s good” filmmaking. The movie dubbed by John Waters as “the best failed art film ever made” really is laugh-out-loud awful—and this comes from a devoted and very forgiving fan of both Elizabeth Taylor and Tennessee Williams. For a ten-minute video of Waters discussing Boom! and its history, check out this delightful clip. He tells some fantastic and informative stories.
The Castro
Boom! is high camp, pushed over the top by Taylor’s strident performance. There’s no one in cinema who can peel paint with her shrieking like E.T. in full-on harpy mode. And I mean that as a compliment. It served her well in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and here, her character, Sissy Goforth, is sweepingly abusive to everyone around her. I can’t blame Taylor for the histrionics, really. What else would one do with some of the ridiculous dialogue? At one point, she flips out about the noise her pets are making and yells, “Monkey, off the balcony!” That’s just not a line one can deliver with subtlety.

Williams is one of my favorite authors, and his work’s been made into some of my favorite movies. But this screenplay, which he adapted himself from The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, is notable for all the wrong reasons. That said, as told by John Waters, Williams loved this adaptation of his work. And maybe Waters’ guess is correct, that the entire production is intended to be funny. If so, then it’s quite an accomplishment.
Castro Marquee
Of course, director Joseph Losey is largely to blame for encouraging the excess. Even cinematographer Douglas Slocombe shares in the fiasco, adding visual touches that made the audience roar, such as opening a scene with a camera shot on Taylor’s oversized, gold-spiked headpiece. Someone should call the Metropolitan Opera; one of their chandeliers is missing.

Taylor wore a smaller but equally outrageous headdress in the Agatha Christie mystery The Mirror Crack’d. That one looked like a swimming cap stuck full of violets. What is it about Elizabeth Taylor that inspires such explosive headgear?
Poster for Boom!
Taylor’s wardrobe in Boom! is almost universally unflattering. Except for a brief appearance in black, she’s repeatedly shrouded in white flowing caftans, kabuki robes, and countless scarves, all of which conspire to make her look overweight. In a few scenes, her head is uncovered, but even then she bears the burden of forty-pound hair. You could feature her coifs in Architectural Digest. In two brief scenes, we see her in something form-fitting, and she looks thin, younger, and gorgeous. Then it’s back to the pudgy tent dresses. They’re designer tent dresses, of course, but even Tiziani of Rome can’t make a good-looking muumuu.

Supposedly, a lot of drinking occurred on the Sardinian set of Boom! Since Taylor’s dying character is hopped up on pain pills, injections, and liquor, it’s impossible to tell whether the stumbles, bumbles, and rampages might be real. And with E.T.’s own history of back trauma, constant pain, and addictions, the whole production takes on an air of unintentional parody.
Inside the Castro
Somehow, Richard Burton manages to survive this catastrophe unscathed, elevating the material a bit with his poetic meter and wry wit, but his character is nothing more than a sounding board for Sissy’s raging insecurities.

I’m glad I finally got to see Boom! and even happier to see it in a theater. If you enjoy campy, high-gloss train wrecks, keep an eye out for a screening near you.


From → Movies

  1. Stephanie permalink

    Does this mean we’re going to see Bye Bye Birdie soon?

    • mkc permalink

      I feel like I have to sing that with the annoying breathy voice, “Bye Bye Bhird-Hee.” I can put it in my queue …

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