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Cult Vault #6: Bruce LaBruce on The Driver's Seat

Filmmaker and provocateur Bruce LaBruce gets turned on by Elizabeth Taylor

Taken from the September 2010 issue of Dazed & Confused:

Filmmaker, writer, artist and provocateur Bruce LaBruce’s latest feature, LA Zombie, has just had its premiere at Locarno International Film Festival. Porn star François Sagat takes the lead, playing a homeless zombie who rises from the Pacific to roam La-La land in search of dead bodies. The hardcore version will follow on DVD later this year. His cult recommendation, The Driver’s Seat, documents Elizabeth Taylor’s search for an orgasm in Rome. 


“I first saw a bad VHS dub of The Driver’s Seat (aka Identikit) in the 80s and always remembered it as a campy middle-period Elizabeth Taylor movie with a strange Andy Warhol cameo. After watching it again recently I realised that it’s actually a brilliant piece of filmmaking (based on a disturbing novella by Muriel Spark) shot by one of the all-time great cinematographers, Vittorio Storaro. The director of the film, Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, a respected Italian film and theatre director known primarily for his work in opera, brings his operatic sensibility to this allegorical story of a mentally unbalanced, middle-aged American woman on vacation in Rome searching for the perfect man to kill her. 

“Elizabeth Taylor is brilliant as Lise, the eccentric spinster who wanders around the eternal city wearing bizarre, loud-patterned outfits in her search for the ultimate orgasm: death. Not many actresses of the classical Hollywood period would have dared to play such an unsympathetic and unusual character (Carroll Baker might be the only other one), but Taylor, fresh from her first divorce from Richard Burton, attacks the role with gusto. Whether sparring with sex-crazed macrobiotic Ian Bannen, shopping desultorily with the sweetly befuddled Mona Washbourne, or encountering a stone-faced Andy Warhol (playing an English Lord) in an airport, Taylor imbues her character with a terrible urgency and pathos. The scene in which she masturbates alone in her hotel room could have come off as exploitative in lesser hands (so to speak), but Taylor pulls it off magnificently (so to speak again). 


“As an allegory for modern alienation in the face of violence and terrorism, The Driver’s Seat is curiously relevant today. The masterfully shot scenes of a terrorist kidnapping at the airport and a car bombing in the streets of Rome feel very contemporary, as does the scene in which Taylor is uncomfortably body-searched by a female airport security guard. But Storaro, who had already shot The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris for Bertolucci also knows how to capture Taylor’s timeless beauty, bathing the film in a diffusion of golden light. It’s truly one of the best pieces of cinematography of the 70s.”