Some of the strangest Hollywood films from the 1960s involve stars from the classical period trying to make the transition into “edgier,” more counter-cultural or experimental work—as, for example, when super-suave ’50s heartthrob Rock Hudson (pictured, on the hospital gurney) appears in John Frankenheimer’s surrealist thriller Seconds (1966).  The Twilight Zone-ish premise involves a secret organization that allows sad-sack middle-agers to undergo plastic surgery and effectively live their lives over again as California bohos.  Rock Hudson’s character, played in the first half of the film by John Randolph, ditches his bourgeois wife and white-collar job in New York and becomes a West Coast painter who stomps grapes with nudists on the weekends. 

The film is an example of how incredibly off-putting these “transitional” late 1960s films can be (another example would be Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets [1968]).  These films bridged the old-guard, formally conservative Hollywood of the 1950s and early ’60s with the youth-oriented “new Hollywood” auteurism of the late ’60s and 1970s, dominated by Scorsese, Coppola, Altman, Bogdanovich, De Palma, and others.  But the overlap that resulted from putting old-guard Hollywood actors like Hudson in new-Hollywood films is particularly off-putting and curious.  It’s fascinating (and at times painful) to watch Hudson delivering lines with the cadence of a 1950s leading man in a film whose very aesthetic is at odds with that period’s sensibilities.  Even seeing the image of Hudson within the context of the visual style of this film, with its distorting fish-eye lens effects (see above), handheld camerawork, and naturalistic use of nudity, feels somehow perverse.  Bogdanovich’s Targets plays with this phenomenon more reflexively by casting Boris Karloff more or less as himself, a famous horror star whose prime has clearly past, thereby foregrounding Karloff’s very out-of-place-ness, his out-of-datedness in “new Hollywood.”  In Seconds, we have—for better or worse—the spectacle of a star and a film operating in different registers.

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