At the start of April 1968, Gary Lockwood would be lost in space – and forever burnished in the cinematic firmament – as one of two astronaut wayfarers in the newly premiering Stanley Kubrick sci-fi masterwork 2001: A Space Odyssey. Same time next year, an earthbound but still-searching Lockwood found himself in the driver’s seat of another quest for connections in another open, sprawling yet particular filmmaking landscape, the Los Angeles that French director Jacques Demy – the man who made the star-crossed lovers of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) sing and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) dance – was smitten with and desired to memorialize in his one-and-only American-made feature, Model Shop (1969), which entered national release after a New York-exclusive February run. Lockwood took on the role after Demy first considered Harrison Ford, but sponsoring studio Columbia Pictures urged the filmmaker to cast the 2001 guy instead, and the actor would concede in later interviews that HAL the computer was the real star of the Kubrick opus, and most viewers and reviewers of Model Shop then and now considered the City of Angels, despite the tender and effective teamwork of Lockwood and previous Demy actress, the hypnotically lovely Lola, 8½ and A Man and a Woman star Anouk Aimée, to be the latter film’s leading attraction. From a sealed space pod to an open-top MG roadster, Lockwood was thus part of two time-capsule movie tone poems.
In Demy’s project, he plays George Matthews, a 26-year-old drifter who’s shirked his dreams of an architectural design career because the threat of his beloved car’s repossession and the darker shadow of the Vietnam War draft hangs over him, and whose current flame (Alexandra Hay) has grown distant because of his lethargy and their hardscrabble existence. But on this one day-in-the-life ramble through the city’s network of seaside oil derricks and sun-dappled roadways, he sees a beautiful mystery woman (Aimée) who transfixes him – and stirs in him the promise of reinvigoration. The eponymous low-rent storefront is where they finally meet, and while he gazes through the camera lens to snap erotic pictures of the Gallic beauty, upon whom her own personal problems weigh heavily, a connection is made, one destined to be brief but transformative. Just as with Cherbourg and Rochefort, and even in writer-director Damien Chazelle’s recent Demy musical homage La La Land (2016), the convergence is linked with the larger community in which it is set, where fantasy and destiny will intermingle to evoke ecstacy and sadness. Arts correspondent Eloise Ross thoughtfully discusses this in her Model Shop tributepiece for Australia’s The Essential, accessible here: http://theessential.com.au/features/dispatches/jacques-demys-model-shop-and-the-geography-of-los-angeles. There’s a vibrant musical soundtrack fueling the journey, ranging from jazz-inflected rock stylings, both songs and instrumentals, by Los Angeles-based group Spirit to generous car-radio samplings of classical pieces by Bach, Schumann and Rimsky-Korsakov, all of which augment Michel Hugo’s shaggily pictorial, byway-wafting cinematography that captures L.A.’s unique alchemy with sunlight. It’s all of a piece with Demy’s intention to juxtapose romantic dream with melancholic reality, and to a certain extent Lockwood perhaps stands in for the director, who told the Los Angeles Times during his extended 1968 “vacation” in Southern California:“I want to forget Cherbourg, Rochefort. I've gone as far as I can with that. I needed another language, new problems. This won't be a Hollywood movie. I told them I like to shoot on location, use real people whenever possible. The sound stage, big stars, big budget – I wouldn't enjoy that. I learned the city by driving – from one end of Sunset to the other, down Western all the way to Long Beach. L.A. has the perfect proportions for film. It fits the frame perfectly.” Get behind the wheel of Model Shop on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray when it rolls to a stop in your adjacent traffic lane April 17. Preorders open this Wednesday, April 4.