Sometimes it helps that the films I’m assigned are often so obscure. There’s the novelty factor of discovering movies that appear to have fallen into a black hole of cinematic history, and wondering, who is ever going to watch this?
Case in point, Pieces of Dreams, from 1970, directed by Daniel Haller and starring Robert Forster as an iconoclastic, socially conscious young priest who’s at odds with the local church hierarchy and his faith itself. It’s no wonder he’s struggling, because he’s fallen for a social worker played by the 26-year-old Lauren Hutton, a blonde who, to cite a Raymond Chandler line that’s very a propos here, “could make a bishop kick in a stained-glass window.”
The movie is sleepy and modest in every respect, but the conscientious freelance Movie Analyst will find things to appreciate about it. The cinematography captures what looks like autumnal light in Albuquerque and Santa Fe with great sensitivity; the rich, evocative look is a reminder that a low-budget film competently shot on 35mm still has it over a contemporary low-budget flick shot on DV.
More than that, the period flavor of the movie is unexpectedly poignant to see today. The Mom & Pop ordinariness of the Southwestern locations of 40 years ago looks almost exotic, and there’s an even-handedness to the script’s debates about piety vs. secular activism that feels quaint — however much the characters on opposing sides of the argument might disagree, they at least respect each other.
Forster is more compelling than his material; he’s coming off his deservedly lauded breakout in Medium Cool (1969) here and settling into a long stretch of career doldrums. A viewer today can’t help wondering about the career that might have been, had Forster only gotten a crack at better scripts and directors in the decades before Quentin Tarantino came to his rescue with Jackie Brown (1997).
Most of all, there’s Lauren Hutton as Pamela Gibson, the social worker tending to poor children in a quiet back corner of Albuquerque. Pamela is a woman who would be stunningly chic even by the standards of Paris or Manhattan, so for all the film’s sincerity and quiet integrity, there’s a whiff of charming absurdity to the casting. It throws the dilemma facing Forster’s tortured priest off balance, for one thing — you’re trying to decide between a life of celibacy and her? What are you, nuts?