A Peter O’Toole Film You’ve Never Heard Of, from 1975

Thanks to the Tinley Park library having a Kanopy subscription I happened to stumble upon this little known film one night this week.

The Farside of Paradise, Foxtrot, Or As My Husband Calls It —Broken Rich People

According to BestSimilar.com, if you like Foxtrot you are looking for movies set around World War II, on a tropical island, featuring themes of luxury and jealousy. In my opinion Foxtrot is one of those movies to watch when you’re feeling low and/or adventurous. And I love what my husband said about it. “You know that movie Crazy Rich Asians? Well this is like Broken Rich People.”

Foxtrot is a 1976 British-Mexican-Swiss produced drama directed by Arturo Ripstein, starring none other than Peter O’Toole, Charlotte Rampling, Max von Sydow, and Jorge Ramirez.

To date, this is the only English language film directed by the relatively obscure Mexican film-maker Arturo Ripstein.

Dapper— dry— depressing— and in the end, dare I say delusional? It goes by the title Foxtrot after the popular dance.

It’s usually the marker of a doomed film when there are difficulties with its distribution and title. The film was re-released in 1977 under the title The Far Side of Paradise (which I prefer) and later The Other Side of Paradise. For the rest of this blog post I’ll refer to it as Foxtrot since that is the most used way of calling it.

From an SEO or findability point of view it makes sense; afterall the favorite dance of the main character (Peter O’Toole of course) is the foxtrot. And for the sake of your time, it succinctly describes what the film is about because if you do a search for the different meanings and uses of the word foxtrot, every one of them are applicable to this film. Technically this film is a waste of time, but so is staring at sunset on a beach for an hour and a half, or being on your phone compulsively researching random things.

Why Did We Choose To Watch The Movie Foxtrot?

I’ve heard and read time and again about why people choose to do the projects they do, and it’s usually because it relates to what they’re going through around that time. The project is their way of figuring out or dealing with a problem in their life. So why would I choose a maudlin movie like Foxtrot at this time? Could it be because Foxtrot was the first non-kids movie my husband and I have watched together since the Coronavirus quarantine went into effect (approximately 6 weeks)? Probably, but also I’m a Peter O-Toole fan and I just wanted us to carpe noctem (seize the night).

COVID-19 lockdown has been starting to wear on us and this film accurately captured how we’ve been starting to feel: dry— depressing— approaching delusional. When you’re living through a pandemic with a 2 year old, an almost 5 year old dog, in a townhome with no yard, you feel like you could go delusional by bedtime. Foxtrot isn’t an uplifting film, but like a dry martini or soaking in a hot bubble bath too long, it brings you to the edge of a kind of dark side, where you can safely and sophisticatedly pretend through the characters that you’re giving up what’s been weighing you down.

Film has always been one of those safe ways to experience the feelings we need to release and get our minds off of. We parents especially need to get those negative things out that have been building up all day. It is a struggle to get me time.

Although it is hard to identify with Count Liviu (Peter O’Toole) and/or Countess Julia (Charlotte Rampling) in terms of character (they’re pretty selfish and childish), they (as well as Larsen and Eusebio) serve as avatars that express some of the things we are feeling during this stressful time. I think we all feel like we are on the precipice of something big like they are. For them it’s WWII, for us its an unknown that began with Coronavirus. But if there’s one thing that the film and this time in our lives teaches us, it’s to realize that utopia is not something to be desired. We would become terribly selfish, unkind, and unhappy people if we always got everything we wanted. Too much of a good thing spoils a person. Like the foxtrot, life’s a dance, but if you keep dancing to the same song (like Liviu with the Foxtrot song he likes to dance to so much), you never learn anything new, and ultimately you cheat yourself and others.

What Have Others Said About Foxtrot?

Wikipedia has a good one:

“Somewhat in the style of Swept Away (released six months before shooting began on Foxtrot), it’s the story of a very chic, Romanian count and countess that escape Europe by yacht in 1939 during World War II for a private island paradise somewhere in the Pacific.”

Madonna was in a remake of Swept Away, which bombed. If that doesn’t help you get a sense of Foxtrot, maybe you’ve heard of Blue Lagoon (one of the movies that made Brooke Shields a sensation in the 1980s)? Some other films in the same atmosphere as Foxtrot are Lord of the Flies, Castaway, The Rules of the Game, The Great Gatsby (coincidentally, F.S. Fitzerald wrote a book called This Side of Paradise, similar to that ‘Farside of Parade’ title Foxtrot was released under in 1977. The title of Fitzgerald’s debut novel came from a poem by Rupert Brooke called Tiare Tahiti. The line it draws from in that poem goes: “Well this side of paradise!….there’s little comfort in the wise”), and without a doubt the story of Adam & Eve.

“It’s rather unsettling and a bit surreal (not surprising, considering director Arturo Ripstein worked with Luis Buñuel), portraying a couple reminiscent of the duke and duchess of Windsor as they undergo a languid descent from elegance to decadence to butchery.

Most striking is the set and wardrobe. The set is a full Art Deco interior under a tent on a deserted island, and the clothes feature a seemingly endless supply of pristine white couture and custom tailoring.

Rotten Tomatoes’ summation of the film:

“Wealthy European aristocrat Liviu (Peter O’Toole) and his wife, Julia (Charlotte Rampling) escape the harsh reality of WWII by vacationing on a tropical island. Due to unforeseen circumstances involving their ship, they end up stranded on the island along with their servants, Eusebio (Jorge Luke) and Larsen (Max Von Sydow). They run around lawlessly and slowly run out of food. Soon the servants revolt and the wealthy couple discover that they can’t escape the war.”

My husband felt it was offbeat, cryptic, and just plain weird. But how else would a film about filthy rich aristocrats setting up their own microcosm of decadence on an isolated Pacific island be? It’s timeless though. As WWII is heating up, if you could, wouldn’t you want to escape reality and purchase a remote island to leave a problematic world behind you? But like all stories told in every medium, there needs to be trouble in paradise. You’ll have to watch the movie to find out what trouble brews on their far side of paradise.

The Music

I hate when anything wonderful goes unknown. An original song was written as the theme for the film, called Foxtrot, written by Jay Livingston, Ray Evans, and Pete Rugolo.

I found out that you can actually buy the physical pages of the music score to the titular song Foxtrot handwritten by the composer Pete Rugolo on ebay.

You can also listen to the demos and almost all but the films’s sung version of the song on the official Livingston & Evans website: http://livingstonandevans.com/foxtrot/.

The Foxtrot theme song is played at the opening and the very end of the film, like bookends framing this story’s portrait.

The film opens with Liviu and Julia dancing on their yacht to their private island.

The lyrics (which are nowhere online, until now):

Dancing, sharing a fox trot,

bitter and sweet.

Gliding, safely inside our

cozy retreat.

Music lets us forget the clouds chilling the day.

Long as we hear the saxes and drum.

Who cares if somewhere mountains are crumbling

Eyes closed, letting illusions sprinkle their dust.

Who knows how many misty dreams we can trust.

Let’s keep troubles and cares outside where they belong. 

We’ll lock the door when misery knocks,

We’ll just ignore the tremors and shocks.

Long as the record’s playing our foxtrot song. 

Bye bye, to all the sorrow we left behind. 

We’ll try making tomorrow one of a kind.

Lovers will find a place where things never go wrong. 

We’ll dance around the stumbling blocks.

Won’t let pandora open the box.

We’ll keep the record playing our foxtrot song.

Jay Livingston Music,Inc. (ASCAP)
St. Angelo Music (ASCAP)

The Sandy Moss Singers, A&M Records.
Tuxedo Junction, Butterfly Records

Other songs in the film:
  • “Isn’t it romantic?” by Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart
  • “Louise” by Leo Robin, Richard A. Whiting
  • “Cocktails for two” by Sam Coslow, Arthur Johnston
  • “Out of nowhere” by Edward Heyman, John Green
  • “Please” by Leo Robin, Ralph Rainger

Noteworthy Quotes From Foxtrot

Larsen: Strange wine, port. It comes from Oporto. Then they add to it brandy, sugar, tannin, uh, until it becomes wine from nowhere. A killed wine. But it’s good. 

Liviu: I’ll change to port. —Interesting. A corrupted wine. 

Liviu: I am free of time tables, captain.

Julia: We’re slaves of the seasons. A month here, a fortnight there.

Captain: You are a fortunate man count.

Liviu: “All men said this was a fortunate man. But, see you at the showers now beat about his head. Call no man fortunate until he is dead.“ That’s what they said of Oedipus, you know. 

Captain: What? 

Liviu: That’s what they said, “a very fortunate man.“ 

Larsen: We taught them how to disguise their terror. That’s all that courage is.

Eusebio: It is dangerous to be out of reach. 

Larsen: Everybody is followed. There is no one in the world who is not. 

Party guest: A Shirley temple with a dash of mummy’s ruin.

*based on my research mummy’s ruin is a British colloquialism for red wine, but what you see on screen is most likely vodka or some other clear alcohol. 

Julia: I only loved one man. 

Paul: Hunting is our only way to be intimate with nature.

Julia: You know yourself so well.

Liviu: Good brandy can dispel anything. 

Larsen: They say that Havana cigars are the finest because they roll them on women’s thighs. 

Julia: Old wives tale…told by men. 

Eusebio: I’ve often wondered why you like foxtrot so much. 

*it’s annoying that it’s never made clear why Liviu likes foxtrot music so much.

What’s The Takeaway, The Lesson From Foxtrot?

What I took away from Foxtrot were these truisms:

  • you can’t escape your problems
  • there’s no such thing as a problem free life
  • change does not have to mean the end of the world
  • living in your own little world is a bad idea
  • don’t do bad things (especially from this film: don’t be selfish)
  • enjoy life, but don’t over indulge
  • let go of grudges
  • karma is real
  • don’t let your happiness and well being be dependent on someone else
  • only you can make your life hell (it’s how you respond to things)

Sad sidenote: After watching this film I learned that Peter O’Toole underwent surgery in 1976 (1 year after Foxtrot was filmed) to have his pancreas and a large portion of his stomach removed (he was an alcoholic), which resulted in insulin-dependent diabetes (he lived to 80 by the way). Then, in 1979 he and his first wife of 20 years, Sîan Phillips, divorced. Sometimes letting go is the solution.

Random References From Foxtrot

  • Frank Cooper’s Original Oxford Marmalade
  • H. Upmann Cigars
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