Sunday, October 09, 2005

An Open Letter to Susan Sennett

Dear Susan:

My name is Tim Lucas, and I'm a novelist and film critic; I edit and publish a monthly magazine called Video Watchdog and also write a monthly column for the British magazine Sight and Sound. I also write occasional liner notes for Subversive Cinema, and I asked Norm Hill if he could put me in touch with you. When I told him why I wanted to contact you, he told me that he would appreciate it personally if I sent this letter, and he thought you might appreciate it too -- which makes it all the more worth doing.

I watched Subversive's disc of THE CANDY SNATCHERS (1973) a couple of nights ago. While the disc looks great, I was frankly not much impressed with the movie, and I was wondering how I was going to express my disappointment to Norm -- until I watched the "Women of the Candy Snatchers" featurette and listened to the audio commentary. It rarely but occasionally happens that a DVD supplement will actually redeem the main feature, and I believe this is one of those extraordinary occasions. On the strength of what you, primarily, contributed to the disc I've decided to make THE CANDY SNATCHERS the subject of my next Sight and Sound column. It will appear in print sometime next month. I only wish I could have gone on a bit longer, and I may well expand the piece for my own magazine.

I thought it essential to reach out and thank you, for overcoming some serious personal ghosts in order to bring these documents into being. The stories of your personal experience on the picture were heartbreaking in such a matter-of-fact, non-self-serving way -- even managing to be humorous at times -- that I think they will make a world of difference to how this movie is perceived. I understand there are some "gore fans" out there who are ragging on the disc because you don't tow the usual PR line with the picture in your commentary, but I think the positive response will come in greater numbers.

It is so difficult in today's rigorously controlled media environment to hear candid accounts of the difficulties involved in becoming a working actor that stories such as yours are a breath of fresh air. I have always thought well of you -- I've liked you and your work for a long time (I remember you from OZZIE'S GIRLS, well before BIG BAD MAMA)... but after hearing about how you walked out of your THREE'S COMPANY audition and your refusal to play a victimized woman for no reason in that television commercial, not to mention the tragic stories of how you soldiered on through the making of CANDY SNATCHERS -- I now think of you as a heroic woman.

To be honest, though I'm sure she's very nice, I can't send a similar letter to Tiffany Bolling because she came to the disc from a completely different angle. I got the sense from her input that, though she's not presently a working actor, she'd like to be and is hoping to use her participation here as a calling card. Because she didn't suffer through the movie as you did, she has more positive feelings about it and there was a palpable sense of her hope that this old skeleton in the closet might somehow be her ticket to renewed cult recognition as "Queen of the B's." Things may well work out that way, and godspeed to her, but I found her contribution interesting mostly for the way her reactions to the picture and her memories stood in contrast to yours, which I found so touching and vulnerable and sensible.

For the record, even though I didn't care much for the film (the attempts to blend comedy and tragedy just don't work, I feel), I found much to admire in your performance specifically, if you don't mind your natural responses to your predicament being called a "performance." You remind me very much of a French actress I admire, Édith Scob -- she often worked with a director named Georges Franju, and if you ever see a film called JUDEX, you'll know what I mean. She had an angelic face that made tragedies all the more tragic, yet she gave what is arguably her finest performance while forced to wear a mask throughout most of a movie called EYES WITHOUT A FACE. I thought of how she made the most of that obstacle while watching you give your performance mostly blindfolded and gagged, unable to use your voice or your eyes for much of the running time, yet somehow imbuing Candy with all the information the viewer needs to care about her and her fate. What you gave to the film -- and I use that "gave" advisedly -- is one of the few things it can be unreservedly proud of.

I wish you had continued in films long enough to have found your own Georges Franju, a director who could have built some really important films around you, even better cult movies, but it sounds like your life in Hawaii has worked out for the best. I'm very happy for you, and also glad for me -- that I was able to make your better acquaintence on this DVD.

In admiration,
Tim Lucas