Here is the entire film adaptation of Richard Foreman’s Strong Medicine. The New York Times review claims the film format, in contrast to seeing it in theater, depreciates the value of the work. I haven’t seen the play performed under the lights, but critic Vincent Canby seems unable to make the modal shift necessary to appreciate how the work succeeds on film. Where he finds the camera diminishes the apparently naturalistic tendencies of the play, I see an added dimension of voyeurism into the mind of a somewhat paranoid-narcissist, Rhoda, who, if we’re to impose a somewhat feminist critique on her character, we might say that she is being driven insane by her husband and male society. Dangerous to do that, though, because absurdity trumps social criticism in Strong Medicine. Canby writes,
“The camera is not kind to this sort of theatrical enterprise. The chorus of middle-aged, middle-class harpies, who repeatedly cry out ”Jesus Christ, my feet hurt,” evoke not an elevated kind of lunacy but appear to be, under the camera’s close scrutiny, simply a group of actresses behaving peculiarly. It’s difficult to respond to Rhoda’s high anxieties, because one is always conscious of the placement of the performers, their relation to the camera, their makeup, their carefully choreographed movements and a number of notso-startling juxtapositions of bizarre images and sounds. Something obviously is going on in Mr. Foreman’s mind, but the film stands like an invisible shield between the event and the audience.”
To the contrary, the camera is anything but invisible, as Rhoda and several other characters address it directly on multiple occasions throughout this hysterical nightmare. While it might well be better in theater than it is here on film, this still works as an absurdist soapy psychodrama with some wonderfully shot scenes.