Now that Elizabeth Taylor has died, there will be many tributes celebrating all the usual classics – National Velvet, A Place in the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Giant, Cleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But one phase of her long remarkable career that may get lost is the post-Virginia Woolf period. High on critical acclaim from that film, she made a series of often unsuccessful stabs at art cinema that are nonetheless highly watchable. You could call them camp, but they’re also fearless and eccentric (and egocentric) experiments. They include:
Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967): As the tacky, horse-loving daughter of a colonel stranded on an Army post in the South, Taylor’s bravado style of acting clashed with Marlon Brando’s mumbling turn as her closeted gay officer husband. She taunts him for his sexual disinterest throughout the film. Great stuff.
Boom! (1968): With Liz playing a drug-addicted heiress whose seaside idyll is crashed by the poet of death (Richard Burton), this Tennessee Williams adaptation has acquired its own status as one of the worst films ever made. It feels looong but is festooned with oddball delights, including Taylor shouting “Injection!” whenever she needs a fix and sporting a towering headdress for an outdoor feast with Noel Coward.
Secret Ceremony (1968): Taylor excels as an aging prostitute who inadvertently becomes a maternal figure to a psychotic waif (Mia Farrow) who lives in a huge old house. Liz gets to share a rubber ducky bubble bath with Farrow and tangle with Robert Mitchum as Mia’s leering former guardian. The layers of psychological perversity in this one are multiple.
The Driver’s Seat (1974): My favorite of the bunch. Taylor pal Andy Warhol makes a cameo appearance in this twisted hybrid of black comedy and psychological thriller featuring Liz as an unhinged traveler who is looking for the right man to murder her. Her lecherous gazes at strangers on airplanes are priceless, and the final scene in a foggy wooded park is truly chilling.
By the way — the basic cable channel Turner Classic Movies has scheduled a 24 hour movie marathon of Taylor films on April 10.