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Lilith (1964) starring Warren Beatty Blu Ray (Indicator)

A schizophrenic love affair

This adaptation of J.R. Salamanca’s novel features Warren Beatty as Vincent Bruce, a psychologically damaged war veteran who finds employment at a private mental institution run by doctors Brice (Kim Hunter) and Lavrier (James Patterson). As part of his work there, he attempts to take two patients under his wing: the anxiety-ridden Stephen (Peter Fonda) and a schizophrenic artist named Lilith (Jean Seberg) - the former of whom is in love with the latter.

Events take a risky turn, however, when Vincent himself begins to get dragged in by Lilith’s enigmatically sexual charms.

Watch a video:

Lilith as metaphor

According to Wikipedia, Lilith is:

“a figure in Jewish mythology, developed earliest in the Babylonian Talmud (3rd to 5th century AD). Lilith is often envisioned as a dangerous demon of the night, who is sexually wanton, and who steals babies in the darkness.”

The literally-named Lilith character in this film possesses both a strong sexual aspect and also a lack of awareness of the damage which she is capable of doing to others and, ultimately, herself. Accordingly, the movie Lilith is a deeply disturbing drama which lulls us into a false sense of security via its seductively arty, almost fairytale ambience.

Jean Seberg and Peter Fonda in Lilith (1964)

The pacing is relaxed and deliberate, the black-and-white imagery beautifully metaphorical (Lilith is sometimes seen reflected in or visually superimposed on water, effectively becoming a kind of mermaid), the dialogue surreal and poetic, the (frequently diagetic) music surprisingly soothing. Fling that eternal screen Lothario Warren Beatty plus the uniquely sensual Jean Seberg into the mix and one might almost be forgiven for thinking that you’re watching one of the most wilfully romantic movies ever made. However, as with Sofia Coppola’s later The Virgin Suicides (1999), there’s a certain delicate preciousness to the film’s atmosphere which feels naturally fleeting and transient; we instinctively know that it will slip away at some point and give way to an inevitable tragedy.

As such, Lilith is a fascinating watch but also inherently depressing and arguably a trifle pretentious. It’s hard to unconditionally recommend a film which constantly shows us some kind of light at the end of the tunnel only to ultimately reveal it to be an oncoming train. On the other hand, it’s certainly worth giving up almost two hours of your time for if you can handle its darker undercurrents.

Runtime: 114 mins

Dir: Robert Rossen

Script: Robert Rossen, based on a novel by J.R. Salamanca

Starring: Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg, Peter Fonda, Kim Hunter, Anne Meacham, Jessica Walter, Gene Hackman, James Patterson

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

This HD remaster looks and sounds superb. Of particular note, the images are very clear and sharp - taking on an almost photographic art quality.


The Guardian Interview with Warren Beatty

This audio interview was conducted by Christopher Cook at the National Film Theatre in London during 1990. The multitalented Beatty tends to ramble on (as he readily admits) about Dick Tracy (which was, at that point, his latest film), Bonnie and Clyde, Reds, his political activism and what he describes as “the freedom to flop”.

The Suffering Screen

Freelance film journalist Amy Simmons narrates this engrossing video essay. She explores cinema’s depictions of mental illness in women from a feminist viewpoint. The essay takes a look at Lilith (obviously), as well as Nunnally Johnson’s The Three Faces of Eve, Hugo Hass’s Lizzie, Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and Robert Altman’s Images and 3 Women.

The Many Faces of Jean Seberg

Freelance writer, critic and film historian Pamela Hutchinson provides us with a concise (less than 8-minute) but well-rounded look at actress Jean Seberg’s career. Sadly, things took a bad turn for her in 1970 when her vocal support for the Black Panther Party resulted in the FBI spreading a false rumour that the father of her unborn baby was Party member rather than her husband (Romain Gary). The stresses that the fake allegation put her under resulted in her going into premature labour and the baby dying soon after birth. She was also effectively blacklisted in Hollywood but continued to work in Europe. In a chilling parallel to Lilith, her own mental health deteriorated and she died in 1979 in what has been ruled a probable suicide.

The extras are rounded out by a trailer, an image gallery and a collector’s booklet.


Lilith is a beautiful watch but not an easy one. While there aren’t too many extras here, the two featurettes are definitely a cut above the average.

Movie: ☆☆☆1/2

Video: ☆☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆1/2

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