Lifespan (1974)

Klaus Kinski stars in this strange and dark documentary-like science fiction film. Mondo Macabro USA R0 DVD.

The Film

Dr. Ben Land (Hiram Keller) arrives in Amsterdam for a medical conference. He is a gerontologist engaged in medical research into extending human life and has arranged to work with a colleague, Dr. Linden, at the University of Amsterdam. The plans go awry when Linden is found, hung from the rafters, the next day. Dr. Land discovers that Linden's work seemed to be making incredible process, but that many of his notes are missing. After getting in contact with Liden's lover, Anna (Tina Aumont), Dr. Land begins to realise that there is something much deeper going on, possibly connected to the mysterious Swiss Man (Klaus Kinski) who is continually turning up. His investigations take him further than he ever expected...

Sandy Whitelaw, the writer and director had a personal interest in immortality and read extensively on the subject, ultimately combining the knowledge and doubts into a film-script. The plot is very clever and well researched, subtly raising a variety of moral and ethical issues concerning the ageing process and scientific research in general; there are all manner of clever nods and scenes in the film that value repeat viewings. The story is mostly told through Dr. Land's internal monologue, which does a good job of explaining his actions and motivations, since for most of the film, he is acting on his own. The film's pacing and plot are very sedate and careful, almost dreamlike although it never drags - there are no fights, no chases and even the sex scenes form a part of the plot rather than coming off as gratuitous. The story gradually builds up, with an increasingly strange and menacing atmosphere, to a very fitting ending.

As the director, Sandy Whitelaw gives a very solid show with some lovely editing and camerawork that really helps to build up an atmosphere.
Despite a presumably low budget this never shows - the film is shot in a very realistic, almost documentary style, mostly on location in Amsterdam and the University. Experimental minimalist musician Terry Riley, provides a mostly synthesizer and piano score with an interesting tribal piece during a sex scene.
The infamous Klaus Kinski plays a typically mysterious and enigmatic figure here - he gets limited screentime and gives a very restrained performance, but one that suits the character fine. Hiram Keller is an American actor who gained some fame in Italy, his acting is rather limited but seems to suit the relatively restrained character he plays. Tina Aumont as the semi-'love interest' figure again suits the role well - aged 28 during filming, she carries much more gravitas than the light-headed stick-figure "bimbos" of many modern films, and looks far more 'real', but is still alluring and plausible in the sex scenes. The rest of the cast look suitable.

With experience of film production, Whitelaw was able to gain complete creative control over the project and in a rare situation for euro-cult cinema, this film represents the director/writer's pure vision. The resulting Lifespan is a hard to compare film, completely different to almost everything else being shot at the time - too real to be a Herzog/Franco film, too slow and action-free to be an exploitation film. It boasts an atmospheric and slow paced but very cleverly written and well researched storyline with a fitting conclusion. Ultimately, almost impossible to promote, the film fell inbetween the exploitation and art-house crowds and never found its target audience, so was almost forgotten after the initial release. Ultimately Lifespan is a very good movie if watched in the right mood and and with the right expectations, and is highly recommended to fans of clever and intellegent cinema. 

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Klaus Kinski - Top name in Euro-cult cinema who appeared in everything from art-house to exploitation.
Directed by anyone interesting? Sandy Whitelaw - a relatively little known director and producer who has worked on little else of note.
Any gore? Some blood and corpses. A mouse is killed on-screen for use in an experiment.
Any sex? Several softcore sex scenes and a bondage scene. These scenes are presented in a very mature way and not exploitation/erotic like the scenes in say, a Jess Franco picture.
Interesting soundtrack?Terry Riley provides a distinctive, minimalist score that perfectly suits the film.
Who is it for?
This film is highly recommended to fans of slow, plot based films. Don't expect any action scenes.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
The film is decent visually, with some grain and frequent speckles. A couple of short scenes have distinctly lower PQ.
Audio Original English audio track - sounds decent, although with some hiss.
Subtitles None.
Run-timeFeature: 1hr 21m 23s 
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with director Sandy Whitelaw and Mondo Macabro's Pete Tombs. Whitelaw imparts some interesting facts and notes about the film, but Tombs does interrupt a lot.
  • Onscreen Text notes about the film (equivalent of liner notes)
  • Newly recorded interview with Whitelaw about his career and background, putting the film into context. (19m 48s)
  • Original trailer. (2m 40s)
  • Stills galleries - behind the scenes and publicity shots for the film.
  • Mondo Macabro trailer reel. (5m 20s)
Region Region 0 (All) - NTSC
Other regions? No other releases.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut. English language print.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 26th June 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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