Home Video Hovel: Boom!, by David Bax
If the 2019 Met Gala taught us anything, it’s that a lot of folks don’t have a strong grasp on how “camp” is defined. And I’ll be honest; I might be one of them. But I feel like I have a better idea of camp’s modus operandi after watching Josephy Losey’s infamous 1968 box office bomb, Boom! If camp is defined by theatricality, pretension, garishness and a lack of self-awareness combining to make something aesthetically fascinating and thrilling in its essence, Boom! is it. With all the drugs and glamour of The Valley of the Dolls and all the decrepit fancy folks being nasty to each other of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? plus a camera that swans as restlessly around the fabulous sets as the characters do, Boom! deserves a place on the list of 1960s camp classics.
Elizabeth Taylor, at all of about 35 years old, plays the mellifluously named Flora Goforth, a six-time widow who goes by Sissy wasting away in a cliffside villa on a Mediterranean island with a household staff (who barely tolerate her cruel and baffling eccentricities) and a pack of vicious guard dogs. It’s the latter who greet Chris Flanders (Richard Burton)–an American who met Sissy once and has decided to take her up on her passing invitation to visit if he’s ever in the area–nearly tearing him to pieces. For the next couple days, Sissy and Chris will engage in florid verbal bouts interrupted by Chris’ attempts to get something to eat, all of which Sissy denies; her diet consists only of pills and liquids.
It’s not just the constant, melodramatic flitting about that makes Boom! so fun to watch. It’s the clothes they do their flitting in. After Chris’ duds are destroyed by the dogs, he’s given a bright pink bathrobe and then eventually supplied with a jet black samurai kimono, complete with sword and sash. Taylor, on the other hand, gets a number of stunning costume changes, highlights among them being a silk robe with fur wristholes as big as hula hoops and a kabuki dress complemented by a headdress that makes it look like Superman’s fortress of solitude is growing out of her scalp.
All of this would be too ridiculous to take if Losey weren’t consciously flirting with the surreal. Chris’ history of befriending rich woman who die soon thereafter has earned him the sobriquet “Angel of Death.” Sissy, not so hot in the health department, is as frightened by her guest’s renown as she is drawn to it. Increasingly, it seems as if she has summoned him to her in some sort of mystical suicide gambit. As their conversations and arguments become psychically unmoored, we suspect that we’ve left the real world behind–if we were ever in it–and entered into Sissy’s delirious dream about her own death. Boom! comes by its reputation as camp and as a flop honestly. But it’s also remarkably self-assured, marching confidently down whatever weird paths it brings itself to.
Shout! Factory’s transfer is more than up to the challenge of showcasing the cinematography of the great Douglas Slocombe, who here favors wide lenses that relay the depth of the bright, palatial sets and the breathtaking outdoor locations. The audio mix does a decent job of preserving the sound design (including the crashing waves that give the film its name) but, of course, nothing can be done about the extensive ADR.
Special features may be slim but they also seal the deal for the Blu-ray being worth picking up. There’s a delightful interview about the film and its history with (friend of Battleship Pretension) Alonso Duralde as well as an audio commentary by none other than John Waters.