Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lifespan (1974)

... aka: Experiment, The
... aka: Lifespan - Das Geheimnis des Lebens
... aka: Secret of Life, The

Directed by:
Alexander Whitelaw

Young American "wonder kid" doctor Benjamin Land (Hiram Keller), the son of a wealthy plastic surgeon, receives a grant to study geronotology (the science of aging) for a year at the University of Amsterdam. After attending a conference on the subject, Ben meets Dr. Paul Linden (Eric Schneider), who's reputedly on the verge of a breakthrough when it comes to extending human life. Ben's a little more ambitious than that though, claiming he's "not going to settle for anything less than immortality," but agrees to move into Linden's apartment and aid him in his experiments. Before the two men can even get to work, Dr. Linden hangs himself. Though no one wants to discuss the sudden and unexpected suicide, and no note explaining things was left behind, it's rumored that he was having terrible financial troubles trying to support both his own family and his mistress, Anna (Tina Aumont). Some believe he'd taken his own life because he was afraid of losing Anna to another, younger man. Ben decides to stay in Dr. Linden's apartment and continue where he left off... in more ways than one. Meanwhile, Klaus Kinski is always lurking around in the background and we all know that isn't a good sign.

College dean Professor van Arp (Fons Rademakers) assigns Benjamin an assistant, Pim (Frans Mulder), partially because of his science background and fluency in English, but mostly because he's his nephew. The two men retrieve some mice Linden was experimenting with and discover they're over four years old (regular mice have a lifespan of just two years). Further studies into the mice indicate they have activity levels comparable to very young mice and uncommon intelligence (they have no problem quickly and effortlessly navigating their way through a maze). Analysis into their food and water shows that nothing had been added to it, and the mice have no needle marks. Just how did Dr. Linden prolong their lives? Ben's new landlord Lydia throws him a birthday party, where Ben is introduced to Linden's mistress. The two hit it off and before Ben knows it he's tying the young woman up with rope for kinky sex. The knot? In the shape of the  double helix DNA pattern. Back at the lab, Ben and Pim kill one of the mice and analyze it. They discover a protective membrane covering each of the cells which protects the mice from the aging effects of atmospheric radiation.

Wanting more information, Ben decides to confront Anna and drill her about her former lover. She claims to know nothing, but he starts following her around, spies on her from the Anne Frank museum across the street from her apartment and notices she keeps meeting up with Kinski's character, an uber rich Swiss pharmaceutical company president by the name of Nicholas Ulrich, who may have been funding Linden's experiments all along. Ben traces Linden's activities to a retirement home where the doctor had given a handful of patients injections. All but one of his subjects died - supposedly during an influenza epidemic - but Ben is able to get samples from the lone survivor, concert pianist Emil (Albert Van Doorn). In his blood are the completed results of Linden's project: fully and possibly permanently protected cells. Ulrich, who has built a new wing on his company for the sole purpose of trying to re-produce the formula, wants to begin experimenting on humans. He attempts to draft Ben for the project, but the doctor clearly has reservations.

This potentially intriguing film - which has a great soundtrack by Terry Riley - only works in spurts and is partially spoiled by poorly-written and often pointless 'speak down to the audience' narration. Though some of the actors (Kinski, Rademakers among them) appear to be speaking their lines in English, several of the others (Keller, Aumont) are badly dubbed, and since we have to listen to Keller's character narrate the entire film, this becomes a huge debit. Some moral and ethical issues are raised about our desire for eternal life and what good could come of it, as well as what impact that would have on the planet. Professor van Arp believes - probably correctly - that it would only lead to overpopulation, starvation and ultimately the end of life as we know it. These ideas provoke intermittent thought, but the film seems to just peter out by end and the conclusion is very unsatisfying.

The film made little impact upon release and quickly vanished from theaters. The backers were Belgian, British, Dutch and America. Vestron Video handled the U.S. video release and Mondo Macabro handled the DVD. Some version have been cut down to 77 minutes; the full uncut version runs 85.


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