I like to be able to review every single movie I see, whether they are good or bad. When I sat down to view the movie Lifespan. Having watched it and understood its story, described by its author as complex, I could not for the life of me figure out how to review this movie.
Lifespan is a series of quandaries but none of which actually to do with the story. Made in 1976 by Alexander Whitelaw (Sandy as he later chose to be known as), Lifespan is said to be one of the most beautiful movies ever made. While I concur there are scenes of genuine beauty, I have seen far more beautiful ones. What Sandy had was a good eye, he takes in the canals of Amsterdam well, as does he the unique characteristics of Switzerland, but there is great difference between having a good eye and making one of the most beautiful movies ever made. Lifespan was marketed as a science fiction horror, the story in reality is neither; it’s probably best described as a psychological drama. Finally the movie was launched with Klaus Kinski as its main star, but Klaus only actually appears for 4 minutes of the movie, three of those he does not say anything.
The quandaries don’t end there but I guess at this point it’s time to talk story, Lifespan is a story about the quest for immortality. Three men want the secret Dr Paul Linden (Eric Schneider) was the first to begin work on the quest, but for some unknown reason decided to take his own life after desperately wanting to become immortal. Our movies star Dr. Ben Land (Hiram Keller) having received a letter from Linden prior to death goes to Amsterdam to help complete Linden’s experiments, but on arrival finds he is working alone, due to Linden’s death. Finally the most interested party is wealthy entrepreneur Nicholas Ulrich (Klaus Kinski) an aging man who wants the secrets of immortality more than anything else, however if you listen to Linden/Land’s/Ulrich’s joint lover Anna (Tina Aumont) Ulrich may very well be the devil himself, why would he need immortality?
I’m not going to try and sell Lifespan to you, it’s one of those movies that you either want to see on a personal scale or you don’t. It’s not the sort of movie you might stumble upon down at your local HMV, in fact while not being difficult to Source thanks to the likes of Amazon, it’s not a cheap movie; neither is it the sort of movie that you’ll see topping the charts of any “Best Of” lists. What I will say is that the movie has a definite enchanting feel about it, and movie buffs across the world that like this sort of movie oddity think about Lifespan with much passion.
There were some great moments for me, Land and Ana’s gentle wooing by the canals of Amsterdam. The tide rolling in the rivers has a certain something about it too. A rope bondage scene made me smile though is strangely out of context with the rest of the movie, had it not been for this scene the movie could easily classify as a PG movie. And possibly like many of you, raised on the story of Anne Frank and her diary there are some great scenes of inside the house that she lived in (now a museum), while easily available in photographic form, it’s nice to see in the flash almost. The story itself however was kind of hollow, it had a great starting point, the quest for immortality and an unexplained death; but then kind of fizzled out, almost ending at a moment that you’d like the story to begin.
Back to the oddities of the movie and the last two are the most striking. First of all most of the story is told via narration as Dr. Ben Land tells you exactly what’s going on “I’d forgotten to extend my stay in the hotel….” blah blah blah, you know the sort of thing. This narration starts at the beginning and continues to the end, never giving you more than 3 minutes breathing space. But the most curious thing of all was the speech of the movie. Despite all the cast speaking in English, and the movie being shot in English, Sandy had a thing for dubbing, and foreign movies that had been dubbed. As a result as the movie wrapped he destroyed the sounds and voices and marched everyone back into sound booths to re-record the entire movie. The idea of this being that it helps to add a sense of the removed from the feature. Interestingly the movie was never re-scored into other languages, the overseas audience having to settle for subtitles, in a time when subtitles simply were not fashionable.
Even with the included rope bondage scene, which really gives you nothing very much to worry about, I find it strange that 32 years after it was made Lifespan is still banned in Canada, because realistically speaking an episode of The OC is going to provide the viewer more to worry about. Lifespan however falls under the category of being art house, a classification that seemingly needs to go hand in hand with forms of censorship.