Friday, September 28, 2007
Richard Loncraine's FULL CIRCLE (THE HAUNTING OF JULIA) is one of the most perfectly realized and executed genre films I have ever seen. From its striking and tragic opening scene to its jaw dropping final moment, FULL CIRCLE never once slips in its relatively brief 98 minute running time. It is a real masterpiece of style and class, and one of the great lost films of the seventies.
At the heart of FULL CIRCLE is a relatively simple and tragic story centering on a child's death and a mother's breakdown. Shelia Benson pointed out in her great original review that the film can be read as a study of a young woman slowly but surely losing her mind, or it can be taken as a superior ghost story. Either way, the film remains a very haunting exercise in loss, revenge and fear.
It is this sense of loss that occupies every frame of FULL CIRCLE that separates it from most films that fall into the thriller or horror genre. Mia Farrow's work as the lonely and isolated Julia is frankly astounding and Loncraine's long takes of her alone in her house or out walking are incredibly intimate. It is due to Loncraine's sensitive direction of Farrow that makes the film so incredibly resonate, and it works not only as a ghost story but as one of the great character studies in all of seventies genre cinema.
The film is remarkably singular on many levels. It is, on the one hand, a rather old fashioned and slow moving work that builds carefully and methodically. On the the other hand it is very much a film that only the late seventies could have produced, made by a group of young relatively inexperienced people who were obviously filled with invention and creativity.
While the film marks career bests for Loncraine, Farrow and composer Colin Towns, that shouldn't overshadow that much of its power is due to the cinematography by Peter Hannan, the editing of Ron Wiseman and the striking production design of Brian Morris.
Hannan had worked with Loncraine on his first film, 1975's FLAME and his work on FULL CIRCLE is really noteworthy. Even on the washed out VHS copy, you can see how beautifully photographed this film is. Hannan's striking, dreamlike work would serve him well on future projects with Loncraine as well as the legendary Nicolas Roeg. Editor Ron Wiseman, whose cutting gives FULL CIRCLE's more intense scenes a real sense of dread and power, had previously worked on the strange 1973 Canadian production THE PYX and his work here is really splendid. The seance sequence is handled extremely well in particular and much of its greatness stems from Wiseman's editorial skills.
Perhaps the most striking behind the scenes effort was given by production designer Brian Morris. Julia's house is especially memorable with its high ceilings, spiralling staircases and Gothic feel. Just look at the details Morris contributes to the work the next time you watch it, specifically how children's toys seem to be everywhere in the film. Morris would use this striking eye in later work with Loncraine and on memorably designed productions ranging from PINK FLOYD THE WALL to ANGEL HEART.
I have already written on Colin Towns incredible score and I will only reiterate that this is one of the great marriages between image and music and the soundtrack album is in bad need of reissuing, with the missing cues added on as a bonus.
Joining the magical Farrow is a very distinguished cast featuring some of the best British actors of the period. These include a young Tom Conti, a creepy Keir Dullea and a great Jill Bennett.
Young Samantha Gates, in her film debut, plays the ghostly Olivia incredibly well and it is unfortunate that she only appeared in a handful of films afterwards. Popular British actress Sophie Ward makes one of her first on screen appearances as Julia's daughter Kate, who tragically chokes to death in the films opening.
FULL CIRCLE seemed to be cursed distribution wise from the get go and it remains relatively little seen, despite being a favorite to many horror fans. Used copies of the full frame VHS version can be found on online, and I suspect that I am not the only one slightly in love with the flawed, fading print that is used on it with its soundtrack that sounds like a very scratchy record. I have often wondered what my experience would be seeing a proper widescreen dvd of it...a French DVD is available and while it does finally featuring widescreen print of the film it is unfortunately so dark that it is an eyesore to watch. FULL CIRCLE remains, much like the ghost Olivia, very much lost in time right now.
This wraps up my look at one of my favorite films...I hope that those reading the posts have enjoyed them and will take them all together as my review of the film, and not just the above rather short ended posting. It is a really splendid work that has haunted my dreams for more than two decades now. With LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH and LEMORA now on DVD, FULL CIRCLE remains to me the great lost English language genre films from the seventies...seek it out and submit to its power.