S( Kr.i:nCritical FolliesnAtlantic City; Written by John Guare;nDirected by Louis Malle; Paramount Pictures.nVictor/Victoria; Written and directed bynBlake Edwards; MGM/United Artists.nby Eric ShapearonOnce again, a foreigner performsnmagic—a proud tradition since denToqueville, perhaps even before that—nby putting his finger on that enigmaticnbutton which releases some elusive truthsnabout America, truths that arenunbeknownst to natives. This is a movienabout the endemic American interplaynof frustrations and unfulfilled wishes,nhowever shoddy, about the humiliationnof defeats and the bitterness of decay;nbut it is also about that unique Americannexistential vibrancy which evades allnvicissitudes of individual fates. It is alsonabout the giddy, even absurd, Americanntransiency of values, substances, imagesn—which, elsewhere, must last for centuriesnand aggregate into traditions, butnin America serve merely a fleetingnhistorical moment, only to be quicklyntransformed into either a new bonanzanor a ghost town by a process so naturalnthat it is almost invisible to Americans.nLouis Malle, a French director, hasncrystallized a gem of a movie from thesencontents. In focus is Atlantic City—oncena synonym for a very specials glamor, forndecades a symbol of middleUass leisurenand luxury, a den of not-too-vicious vicesnfor the Prohibition-era East Coast—the’nparadigm of a style that mergednnouveau-riche opulence with the socialnarrivism of a nation en loute to extraordinarynpower. But over the last fewndecades, the landscape oithis city has acquirednan uncanny ability to shift fromnthat early luxury to a decrepitude of bothnbuildings and human existences; nownseediness touches everything in sight;nthere are memories of wasted aspirationsnand once-imposing hotel lobbies. Fiomnsuch ingredients Malle has fashioned—nsurprisingly—a not-depressing tale:nsomehow, somewhere, the Americannsense of fulfillment seems to hover in thenair, and pneumatic drills pump hope intonan environment of desolation.nAlthough mentioned as a contender,nMr. Malle did not win an AcademynAward for his movie. He lost to annideological operator of facile pseudohistoricalnpictures, falsified notions andnphony moods.nVictor I Victoria is cmmmy, inept, unfunny—actuallynboring. And what isnworse—it is about as sexually intriguingnas postprandial heartburn. In a movienwhich wants to use tangled, if primitive,nsexual tensions as a departure point fornslapstick comedy, this is the kiss of death.nYet one of those clowns who are calledn”critics” in New York wrote of Victor!nVictoria that it is “one of the funniestnflat-out farces ever put on film.”nAnother compared it to Some Like ItnHot, which only proves that he has thenbrain of a eunuch. The sensuality in BillynnnWilder’s miniclassic was electrifyingnbecause of its subtlety, its half-tones andninnuendoes, all of which apparentlynwere not detected by the eunuchoidalneye and ear of said “critic.” BlakenEdwards, Victor/Victoria’s dAitzxat, isnone of the most unimaginative filmmakersnaround; he is the “author” of thenFink Panther series, a purveyor of ancheapness that is hailed by “critics” asncraftsmanship. His success is based entirelynon the poor taste, vulgarity andnobscurantism of his audience—not annuncommon phenomenon in any epoch,none on which many a fortune has beennmade. Yet, when his hero/heroine, anwoman who pretends to be a malenfemale-impersonator in Paris during then1930’s, begins to talk to a man (whonwants her as a woman, and after whomnshe quite healthily lusts) in the jargon ofna Manhattan sex therapist in order tonconvey a stale feminist message, the farcenbecomes an exercise in imbecility.nAnyone who has ever read a libertinennovel, or seen a depravity play, of thatnperiod can’t help but be disgusted by thendirector’s and scriptwriter’s woodennheavyhandedness and obtuseness. Indon’t care if, in a film, men lust afternwomen disguised as men or vice versa, sonlong as it is a movie about disorientednlusting as a propellant for merriment.nLusting should be lusting, not drooling.nWhat Mr. Edwards offers is a version of ansexual quid pro quo which, sadly,nreminds me of a horrifying sequencenfrom an old Italian documentary aboutnturties on some Pacific island whose sensenof direction had been altered by atomicntests. Instead of proceeding to the ocean,nthey collectively wandered toward thenscorched inland to certain death.nThe “critics” who call such a parody ofnfarce a masterpiece apparendy have onlynheard of Buster Keaton, but have nevernseen him. If they had, they would knownthat slapstick does nof “relate” to thentemporary, only to the timeless. Dni47nJuly/Attgustl98Sn