By Ian M Clarke
“The vintage style, the reproduction and reclamation of past fashions, original objects, and old looks, is a highly commoditised phenomenon.” – ‘Retro, faux-vintage, and anachronism: When Cinema Looks Back’
There are films that represent – unintentionally but blatantly – the zeitgeist of the period in which they are made. E.g., Blake Edwards’ films of the 1960s are hermetically sealed captures of swingers (a kind of Sinatra/beatnik hybrid) in action. And his techniques have been shamelessly sampled.
It’s doubtful that the cultural descendants of Maroc 7 (1967-68) shall ever gather to discuss their parentage. Who could judge their numbers, if they exist at all? But given the truly splendiferous explosion of mid-century pop culture found in the film, if they ever did decide on collective face time, it would be a partius maximus.
This film is a soufflé of characters, themes, fashions and intrigues, all so endemic to swingers’ culture, that the Smithsonian should consider possible restoration and storage.
I hereby offer Maroc 7 to retrosploiters: it’s a goldmine, perhaps the mother lode.
B-film type/TV action guy Gene Barry is a ‘secret agent’ (whose job-related perks apparently don’t include a competent tailor) asked to infiltrate a ring of fashion models and their entourage – suspected of heisting jewels – as they photograph their way across Morocco. Barry most often looks like a middle-aged golfing buddy who has lost his foursome.
Cyd Charisse is the scheming boss of the perambulatory agency…yes that Cyd Charisse, who danced with Fred Astaire. She isn’t called on to do much but flash some leg, look mildly irritated, and keep three liters of hairspray in place.
Denholm Elliot – incapable of a bad performance – plays Barrada, Morocco’s chief of police, a stock character….grumpy cop, sleep deprived, suspects everyone, likely has digestion issues.
There are a few pointless deaths (just to let you know Barry is on a dangerous gig) but accept that as accouterments of the genre.
Concentrate instead on the locations. Few films of that period had the incentive to drag equipment and cast to North Africa, when they could have faked it in Southern California. Maybe it was cheaper to shoot there. Better drugs? Doesn’t matter. You get an unfiltered feeling for this hippie mecca circa 1967-68.
In the end, Maroc 7 offers itself to be sampled, to be retrosploited, to donate vital organs to a Frankensteinian, mash-up, over-sampled pop culture that too often hides behind ‘homage’ for lack of originality.
Spanish philosopher George Santayana told us ““Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Writer Kurt Vonnegut shot back, “I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: we’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.”
Like most things, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Endure Marcoc 7 for pop/historical purposes, and then, if you work in film, take the best and repeat and repeat. To paraphrase Pablo Picasso – amateurs invent, professionals steal.
Ian M. Clarke can be reached at email@example.com