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SCENIC ROUTE, THE(director/writer/editor: Mark Rappaport; cinematographer: Fred Murphy; cast: Randy Danson (Estelle), Marilyn Jones (Lena), Kevin Wade (Paul), Grant Stewart (Jack), Arthur Ginsberg (A Stalker); Runtime: 76; New Line; 1978)
“This film should appeal to urban dwellers.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“We need myths to live by” says the heroine, Estelle (Randy Danson), who is in a conflict with her sister over the same man. Somehow Rappaport concocts a mythic love tale around this simple premise. It is similar in some aspects to the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, whereas Orpheus rescued his love from Hades even though he was told by the gods not to look back or she would disappear. But he did look back because of his insecurities and fear that Eurydice would think that he didn’t care for her anymore.

The estranged relationship of the sisters, Estelle and Lena (Jones), is somewhat reconciled as they start living together after a long absence. Estelle lets her live with her, even though she would rather not have her there. Soon they find themselves in the delicate position of having gone out with the same man, an extremely muted Paul (Kevin). He forms a relationship with each of the sisters; first with Estelle and then by coincidence, he meets Lena. But he fails to fulfill his fantasy of having a sexual relationship with both of them at the same time.

This film is distinguished by its stylish use of opera, classical painting, and Victorian soap opera dramatics, to get across its strange wit and Rilkean-like observations of what can be seen from life when you become a passive observer. The observer is Estelle, who pictures herself as if she was the one she is seeing when she looks out at a world she feels imprisoned by.

It could be a very witty movie if you are receptive to the characters’ personality foibles, as they mock or imitate what the real-life troubled modern heterosexuals in NYC might feel. Paul is the tall, dark, silent type of he-man, who is animalistic in his attraction to both sisters. Estelle is the romantic soul, who is also endowed with beautiful breasts; and, her more down to earth sister, Lena, who is not the romantic type but is more prosaic in her outlook; Lena is attractive but suffers from psychological problems and fits of violence.

Violence somehow plays into the motifs of the story, as there is talk of a serial killer on the loose in the city. This prompts Estelle to say, “She is afraid to go outside and she is afraid to stay inside.” She even thinks that her ex-husband, Jack (Grant), might be the killer, since he is prone to acting hostile at times.

The film lives by the creed that everyone has a deep emotional problem they can’t handle. Everyone is meant to be a cartoon character, even more so when they take themselves seriously.

When Lena confronts a stalker by coming on strong to him, she chases him away as he absurdly tells her he should get the cops on her.

Estelle provides the voice-over and from the diary she is writing, we get her observations about romance with comments such as: “Men are attracted to women who wear a wedding band because it is a challenge for them to conquer a married woman.” She also comments on her consuming jealousy and mistrust of others even those she once loved, like Jack, Paul, and Lena.

Estelle becomes a representative of all bitchy women who are wrongfully hurt in a relationship, or those too consumed in their fantasy world to ever form a lasting relationship. The film’s aim is to be absurdly humorous about this. Even the final scene, where she at lasts burns her diary (similar to the Women Lib bra burnings) can be taken both as comic or dramatic theatrics.

This is a very unusual and original work, that is sometimes slow-going, covering far too much ground for its own good. Men come off as the pawns for women to move around as they please. Paul is seen as an insignificant stud, a servicer of the female race. Jack is seen as an untrustworthy spouse, capable of violent acts.

This film should appeal to urban dwellers who have been in a triangular heterosexual relationship and came out of it more confused than when first entering it, and to those who have a more tolerant and sophisticated attitude toward impossible relationships. And as Estelle so ably says, after her diary burning, “I need some new myths for my life, the old ones don’t work anymore.” It’s a parody of the Orpheus myth; and, as Estelle says, “she gave Paul two chances to get her out of hell, but he failed both times: Orpheus was given only one chance.”

The funniest line in the movie is reserved for Paul, who tells Estelle: “I wouldn’t even tell you a lie, much less the truth.” I think that line summarizes what the movie is ultimately about.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”