Othello (Richie Havens) is a preacher who in 1967 happened upon the New Mexico commune of Iago (Lance LeGault) and liked it so much he stayed to convert all of them to Christianity, even marrying one of their number, Desdemona (Season Hubley). But Iago doesn’t like what he sees as a relationship that has no justification, so being Satan in disguise he sets about sabotaging it, which will take some doing as the couple are very happy together. However, he is a keen observer and soon draws up a plan that will involve another in the commune, the ex-alcoholic Cassio (Tony Joe White), who he schemes to get to fall off the wagon and in so doing offer the basis for setting him up as the stooge who will break the marriage apart…
Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say, and the prospect of a religious musical based around a hippie version of William Shakespeare’s famed tragedy would barely take off back in the mid-nineteen-seventies, never mind today, yet as it had been a fair hit on the London stage amidst a theatrical atmosphere that had brought the world the likes of Hair, Godspell and most notably Jesus Christ Superstar, what was stopping somebody turning it into a movie? Common sense might have done it, but the producers were inspired by a certain genius called Jack Good, who had almost singlehandedly designed the basics of presenting rock and pop music on television, in the United Kingdom with The Six-Five Special and Oh Boy!, and in the States with Shindig.
But Good had, like many geniuses, a very particular vision and if that wasn’t shared by his creative partners then the results could be all over the place, and so it was when Catch My Soul was made into a movie that the money men were hoping would take off in the manner of those other youth culture, spiritual cash-ins (though Hair would not make it to the screen until the end of the decade, by which point its chance had well and truly passed). Being local to Santa Fe back then, erstwhile actor and celebrity Patrick McGoohan was recruited to guide the cast of mostly non-thespians who were present for their musical ability, but once everyone had got on location it was found their shared interest in getting drunk and/or high was something of an impediment.
So it was something of a miracle, a non-religious one maybe, that Catch My Soul was able to be finished at all, and even then it had to be saved in the editing room (you can spot where the lyrics and dialogue had been changed when they don’t match the cast’s mouth movements), but completed it was and released to… no interest whatsoever. Music was moving on and the hippie era was being relegated to the recent but somehow distant past, and this film disappeared into the collection of relics half-remembered by only a few, becoming regarded by anyone who might have heard of it as a lost work, in spite of such notable names as the man who kicked off Woodstock and the Prisoner himself involved in its making. But then, in 2013, a print was discovered under the reissue title Santa Fe Satan (!) and it was introduced to the world once again.
Was it worth the wait? Certainly for those who love to pore over the pop culture eccentricities of yesteryear it was irresistible, but the fact remained as an experience it was something of a mess, with the plot of the Bard pulling in a different direction from Good’s burgeoning conversion to Roman Catholicism: it was plain that one didn’t quite fit with the other. It was also plain that most of the small cast were no actors, with but two performers actually putting in a proper performance; they were LeGault whose Iago was compelling in every scene he was in, which was most of them, and Susan Tyrrell (a cult star who apparently intimidated everyone she met) as Emilia, his partner in crime – when these two were together there was a genuine electricity to the atmosphere. Havens had obviously been hired for his singing, and the soundtrack (which also included Delaney and Bonnie) wasn’t half bad if you like acid folk rock, but as you can imagine that set the film so specifically in one moment in time that watching it was akin to cultural archaeology rather than a living, breathing example of a vital play brought to the screen. But the only film directed by Number 6? Has to be intriguing.