Shock, M, 104 Mins
The writings of Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007) never properly translated to the screen, although that didn’t stop many directors trying (maybe look for the all-star 1999 failure Breakfast Of Champions too?), and yet this 1972 shot at filming Kurt’s best-selling, very (very!) vaguely autobiographical and proudly indecipherable 1969 novel aims high and looks quite modern and daring these days. And you can be forgiven for finding it baffling, as even this author’s staunchest fans have been trying to get a handle on it, once and for all, for almost 50 years.
A seriously non-linear plotline follows the non-chronological life of Billy Pilgrim (fashionable ‘70s star Michael Sacks), a man unstuck in time who unpredictably moves back and forth from his youth as a solider and POW during World War II (the title refers to his – and Vonnegut’s own – experiences during the ‘Battle Of The Bulge’ and the bombing of Dresden) to his apparent old age as an author, a long period he spent in a Tralfamadorian zoo light years away, and more.
We never see the alien Tralfamadorians, who experience everything in four dimensions and therefore every point in time at once (which perhaps adds to the suspicion that Billy is actually an elderly man with dementia and untreated lifelong PTSD), and there’s some humour in this sci-fi thread when they give him company in the form of Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine), a nude model Billy sees in a porno mag early on – and who turns out to be one of the loves of his life.
Directed by George Roy Hill (after Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid but before The Sting and The World According To Garp) and adapted (as best as he could) for the screen by Stephen Geller, this is one of those New-Hollywood-type ‘70s epics that never quite got the acclaim it really deserved, but it’s been rescued and restored for DVD so we can all puzzle over it. And yes, it goes without saying that Vonnegut was not a fan!