Depicting the sights and sounds of the late sixties by omitting the usual hippy clichés and predictable set pieces Model Shop is breath of nostalgic air. Studiously avoiding any scenes of flower children, dope smoking, free love or Vietnam protests, Jacques Demy paints Los Angeles with the eye of a documentarian transplanted onto Sunset Boulevard and discovering the heady atmosphere first-hand.
William Shatner look-a-like Gary Lockwood tries to get his car fixed before meeting and becoming bewitched by Anouk Aimee, then attempting an ill-fated seduction before seeing his car getting towed. Throughout this simple plot he shambles in and out of the counter-culture but Demy wisely avoids merely documenting/replicating extreme examples of sixties rebellion.
The one suggestion of fomenting revolution takes place in the offices of a radical magazine/newsletter which is rendered mundane and believably drab. This is a departure from his peers’ approach who sought to emphasise the craziness of the era whilst championing the perversion of traditional and outmoded attitudes and beliefs. This organic approach ensures that Model Shop has a clean fresh look more akin to Haxler Wexler’s Medium Cool as opposed to Easy Rider or The Trip. This humanises the participants by allowing them to be ordinary and flawed and even a little conventional amidst a transformative series of events.
Demy’s camera manages to capture one of cinema’s most beloved and lionized periods with a rare and welcome modesty and economy. In this context all the story needs to do is remain unobtrusive and move along in a linear fashion before tiring itself out at the denouement. This would make for a curiously apposite yet completely ill-matched matinee with Tarantino’s recent sojourn throughout the same period. Despite its claims of authenticity that film seems like a sixties theme park compared to the atmosphere Demy conveys through his measured and even approach.
Anouk Aimee is similarly distinguished because of her convincing performance as the focus of George’s affection but refreshingly humanised as an object of his desire. Her difficult background is hinted at but her prostitution never demonised nor made to define her as a person, which is a refreshing and accessible approach to her character.
Had Demy acquiesced to his wife, Agnes Varda’s wishes, and cast the infant Harrison Ford there is no doubt that the world would be a very different place; Lockwood may have lucked into shooting Greedo first and Tom Selleck may have brandished the bullwhip.
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 2 Dec 2019.