Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception, for a better yesterday

Thursday, March 31, 2016

5 Awesomely Psychotronic films on Amazon Prime can Prepare YOU for the coming of TRUMPMERICA!

Even casual Americans will soon be called to bear witness to what promises to be the most bizarre election in the history of our frail democracy: the battle between the mighty Donald, his hair Reichstag-fiery as he struts and curses before his bloodthirsty throng, and a woman. How did America get to this?

Only the drive-in knows for sure. That's where it all started, whatever it is, and it's been slithering up from those tawdry mosquito-covered screens, across the abandoned strip mall Blockbusters and up through Amazon Prime, waiting, for you! Presuming you have the Prime (and if not, you should): walk tall, sit proud, and keep watching the skies for his shiny wings. The Russians are here; the werewolves are coming; the rats are leaving in droves.

Switch it off and turn to STONE!
Whiter your conscience allows you to vote for him or not, Prime has five films avail. to stream that might prepare you for his coming. At the very least, these grandiose offerings may remind us of headier days, a time when feminism was called women's lib and didn't preclude casual, unsafe sex; diversity was called black power and didn't preclude pimp strutting; and liberal caterwauling was called just a lot of radical hippie nonsense.

NOTE TO THE WISE: Prime is stocked with loads of cool niche pyschotronic cast-offs but 95% of it is crap, cropped, or corny. What you need, my friend, is the right guide, some madman who likes to sink his hand into the muddy mire, but has a jeweler's eye for hidden sparkle and would only recommend things in a correct anamorphic ratio, things shot on 35mm film! Donald wouldn't have it any other way. He can afford film, "people." Besides being more expensive and tactile, it's shinier, like the head of the Donald.... like the Donald... (you) like the Donald....

(PS - All screenshots on this post taken directly from Amazon Streaming for quality assurance)

(1967) Dir. Roger Corman
Never one to miss a chance for collateral production value, Corman utilized Fox's still-standing Hello Dolly! 1920s street sets to tell the story of the last 24 hours in the lives of all the key Chicago players. Told with comic book vibrancy and wryly narrated by the great Paul Frees, TSVDM hops along like the best of all three worlds (documentary, action, and drama) twirled together into a meth soft serve. And -- ah, Marone --what a cast!: Jason Robards is way-too-tall to be Capone, but plenty feral; Ralph Meeker makes a good-natured, beery Bugs; George Segal turns on his smilingly sadistic streak as a key provocateur heating up the turf war. Menawhile Alex Rocco, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Bruce Dern, John Agar, Studs "Lloyd the bartender" Turkel clean their guns and wait by the phone for the signal. Sexy Jean Hale (below) provides the perfect mid-film breather from the boardrooms and hit planning when a fur coat triggers an extended, lamp-bashing brawl with boyfriend Segal. The print Amazon's been streaming is HD perfection. Sure it leaves you kind of 'so-whatting' the joint, but what a rush getting there. In short, patron, it's sublime - one of Corman's best (non-Poe) films.

Trump FactorCheck Robards' eyes (above) as he prepares to 'fire an apprentice.'

2. GAS-S-S-S
(1971) Dir Roger Corman
Corman's final film as a director, this countercultural comedy (written by George MIAMI BLUES Armitage) functions as a kind of DR. STRANGELOVE (1964) meets WILD IN THE STREETS (1968), imagining a near future that a lot of hippies were hoping for, one where the Army accidentally releases a poison gas that kills everyone over thirty, lifting the world out of the button-down conservative repression of the establishment and into some kind of San Francisco guerrilla theater troupe / Firesign Theater post-apocalyptic wild west. But not all young folks are groovy, man. What about rapey jocks and bikers? Well, we'll find out soon enough, as across dune-buggy deserts and tumbleweedy main streets wanders a ragtag group of sensible peace-loving (straight) couples, navigating the terrain, loving each other and anyone else, and escaping the clutches of various agitprop start-ups and desperadoes as one-2-many Country Joe and the Fish "songs" play on the soundtrack, God narrates with a Jewish oy-vey accent, and, just so you know it's Corman, Poe, the raven, and Lenore show up on a big chopper, to make worldly comments from high on the hill.

Poe and Lenore on the open road (you can hear Johnny Depp stirring in his 
day care center nap room.)
As with similar odysseys (CANDY, BARBARELLA, WEEKEND, BLACK MOON)--brilliant sociopolitical satire runs episodic counterpoint to draggy, dated, sexist puerility. But, as with CANDY especially, the best segments have an air of violent desperation and historical savvy underwriting the lunacy, which ages far better than the tedious post-HAIR backseat fumbling. These parts make it worth enduring the rest, though your mileage may vary, Jackson.

The best stretch is the middle, wherein our plucky band is ensnared, first: by a deranged college football quarterback (his rousing pep talk, a fusion of big game college football cliche with plans for rape-and-pillage marauding, brilliantly bends all our hero's criticisms and evasions back into his grand metaphor); then, by an outlaw biker gang who've taken over the local golf course/country club and bought into the lifestyle at least in theory (their leader takes the trapped passers-through on long stern golf cart ride-length talks about lifting themselves up by their bootstraps). In order to escape these neo-American dream-woven warlords, the love children have no choice but to play along and bide their time, waiting for the perfect chance to escape in their dune buggies yet again; and of course there's always a chance the lesser minds among them will be seduced to the 'dark' (or American-fascist) side all over again.

What really dates GAS-S-S worst of all isn't all that mixed-up utopian idealism that mars the rest of it, but the endless montages of dune buggy chases and the tedious soft focus light show sexual coupling all set to a certain Joe and his Fish. So many dune buggies, so many strobes, so much Country Joe. Not helping matters any is that the lead of the hearty band of straight lovers (Bob Corff) is a wan little long-haired ginger with a high little voice and no discernible charm. Clearly cast because THE GRADUATE had made so much money everyone wanted a blank nebbish as their Candide, Corff might well be a nice person, but for free love to not seem skeevy in movies we have to believe the guy's charming enough he could get girls without it. Sorry, that's just the rules. That's why they do screen tests. And in this instance, when there are so much spry future stars playing along the sidelines-- Ben Vereen, Talia Shire, Elaine Giftos, Cindy Williams, Bud Cort --one wants answers why we don't see more of them instead of this irritatingly smug little pisher. Oy Vey! God, what were you thinking?

'Whew', glad I got that off my chest. Living in smarmy Park Slope with all its anemic hipsters has really gotten to me, I guess. As for the theme of this post, well, of course those biker golf club and football marauder sections are VERY Tumpian, and expertly straddle the difference between CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Firesign Theater, and Terry Southern-style savagery-as-American-policy deadpan jet black pep talks ala DR. STRANGELOVE (which GAS-S-S clearly emulates with its alternate title "How it became necessary to destroy the world in order to save it.") and the Richard Burton and James Coburn pieces of CANDY (1968). Like the violence in ORANGE, the football rape and loot practice sequences are genuinely anarchic, far more so than, say, the doctors endlessly shouting "Kill! Kill!" during their football game in the much more favorably reviewed (but in my opinion inferior) M*A*S*H (1970). If  GAS-S-S-S stayed at that dark comic level, it could have been a great absurdist assault on the cinematic conventions of bourgeois patriarchy. It might be blind to its own male chauvinism, but it's also realistic about the difficulty of staying peaceful and nonviolent when your community is threatened by an invading malevolent force and actually finds a solution far more radical than just hoping for the arrival of some enigmatic drifter (In case you forgot, BILLY JACK had made a tidy bundle that same year).

Trump Factor: Can't get more Trump than those biker hoods on the country club links!  The "free-spirited independents trying to make peace with those still clinging to the crumbling mantle of hetero-white-Christian-male authority" aspect of the film is-- based on all those Trump rally disruptions--an important lesson I hope we remember soon.

(1972) Starring: Claudia Jennings. 
An early entrant in the 70s' lady roller derby phase (Raquel Welch's KANSAS CITY BOMBER came out the same year) this is a fine example of what I've just now termed 'libsploitation,' i.e. a film about a bloodsport hottie who feels outraged at all the sexual harassment she has to endure on and off the track, all while the camera ogles her changing in the locker room. Luckily the late, great super brawler and Playboy superstar Claudia GATOR BAIT Jennings was always up for both aspects. When the pawing, cheap shots and PR hypocrisy gets too much, she just bashes the team owner over the head with her trophy and goes on a parking lot rampage, roller skating down onto Main Street like she's ready to roll over the cars rather than the other way around.

Anyone who was a kid in the 70s has a 'soft' spot for this type of film, for it's the kind of thing you can follow even when you're too drunk or young to understand half the dialogue, or who's supposed to have punched who in badly choreographed fights.

In case you don't remember, under the 1970s inter-sibling play fighting accord, all slow-mo fake punches are created equal, so if someone throws a slow motion punch at you, you're duty bound to react as if you'd been socked for real, no matter how much smaller they are than you, or how widely they missed. Under this landmark rule, size doesn't matter and no one gets hurt, but everyone gets to do hammy reacting and dramatic tumbling after being punched. I'd forgotten about all that until I saw UNHOLY ROLLERS the other day. Fuckin' A. Claudia Jennings brings the same glint of genuine madness she brought to the insane and divine GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE (and TRUCK STOP WOMEN). As she brawls her way around the great rotating roller rink of heaven, let us pray for her soon return -- to kick more ass in whatever form she chooses to occupy!

TRUMP-Factor. - Turning a public event into a shouting match for the sake of ratings and whipping up the blood frenzy in rowdy audiences, Claudia Jennings' character says and does anything she feels like and her managers can't argue, since her outrageous behavior gets her more and more fans, i.e. votes, i.e. no such thing as bad publicity. As her momentum builds, her rivals become more and more abusive to try and keep up, and the crowds grow more and more infused with bloodlust, until even her handlers wonder if they've created an uncontrollable monster. Sound familiar? CNN, this is all your fault.

(1986) Dir. Ted Nicolau
Good natured mid-80s MTV/New Wave/mall culture/punk horror/sci fi comedy in the vein of EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY, NIGHT OF THE COMET, REPO MAN, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, and BUCKAROO BANZAI, this Charles Band joint is the story of an ugly but hilarious blob-crab-style alien materializing via a then state-of-the-art satellite TV, newly installed in the home of a looney upscale Malibu family. Cult icons Mary Woronov and Gerritt Graham are the swinging parents; Diane Franklin their Cyndi Lauper-ish teen daughter; Chad Allen a tow-head young gun nut under the tutelage of his crackpot survivalist war vet grandfather (Bert Remsen) who lives in the adjoining bomb shelter. TV horror hostess Madame Medusa (Jennifer Richards), a pair of fellow swingers (Alejandro Rey and Randi Brooks) who come over for a dip in the pool and to-ah-hah-swing, and Jonathan Gries as the daughter's metalhead boyfriend ("too rude!") round out the stellar cult-ready cast. They're all on the same page, sitcom-from-Hell overacting-wise, which makes it all click together deliriously. With its loud 80s colors and bizarro decor it might be a nightmare under the influence of household solvents, but underneath the gross-outs and decadence lurks a loving spirit that triangulates its genial signal somewhere between 60s John Waters, 80s Tim Burton, and 50s Roger Corman (I kept expecting Dick Miller to show up as a door-to-door salesman). 

Trump Factor: 
I could make some parallel with the all-devouring monster coming out of the TV and Fox News (and Hillary as the benevolent alien trying to clean up the mess and get the family's attention but not being heard over the din), but I'd rather just consider it a pleasing reminder that the extended American nouveau riche families of the 80s weren't all insufferably materialistic or rabidly conservative. Some still wanted to swing, baby. Zeroing in on the macabre heightened reality in the cracks of mall culture (rather than just being 'quirky'), TERRORVISION brings back memories of the early days of VHS when whole families would get together to watch X-rated movies we and mom had rented from the back room of the local appliance store, just because we were finally could, and were all rather curious and innocent. 

It didn't last of course, we never watched more than one or even a half as a family before turning it off kind of ashamed, to never speak of it again. The word 'inappropriate' began to swirl in the back of our minds for the first time. I'm always wondering if it was this sudden access to excessive sex and violence after so many decades of variety show pap that helped turn once-swinging free-spirited middle America into the panicky prudes we still are today, or whether we're just trying to reclaim our lost innocence so we can have fun re-losing it (i.e. the highs are higher when you've been sober for awhile). Maybe Trump doesn't drink or do drugs (neither did Hitler, or Osama bin Laden) but he'd fit right in at the Caligula-like marble jacuzzi room of this crazy family, despite his half-assed nods to the conservative Christian sect. Because this is America, baby, and no matter how virulently we shout across the lines tomorrow, we can still party together tonight. 

If we forget how hard we rock sometimes, it's only 'cuz we rock so hard. 

(1979) Dir. Giulio Paradisis 
The crowning plume on Italy's many-feathered Omen / Close Encounters imitation helmet, this tale of a telekinetic devil child named Kaity (Paige Connor), caught in a bidding war between ancient alien forces of good and evil, has nearly everything that made the 70s great: peregrine falcons, mall ice rinks, NBA basketball, enigmatic patriarchies, video pong, gymnastics (Nadia Com─âneci rocked the world in the '76 Olympics), a giant old school projector TV, and aging former-A-list stars mixing with young up-and-comers as if meeting on an up-down escalator. Joanne Nail (who rocked it so very, very hard in Switchblade Sisters) is Barbara, the mom with the cosmic womb; Glen Ford is a suspicious detective killed by Katy's peregrine familiar; Shelly Winters is the astrology-guided housekeeper; Sam Peckinpah (!) is Barbara's abortionist ex-husband; John Huston is God or Lord Enki, or the substitute babysitter; Lance Henriksen is Raymond, Barbara's boyfriend, pressured by his Satanic board of directors (headed by Mel Ferrer) to get Barbara pregnant again because the antichrist still can't be a girl. When Barbara resists Raymond's marital overtures, the Illuminati arrange an alien abduction to artificially inseminate her! Man oh man! Nick Redfern should love this movie!

If all that wasn't 70s enough, there are car crashes, bird attacks, baldheaded cult members, ferns, aquariums, and kids using curse words (Kaity tells Ford to go fuck himself, but haltingly, like a real kid would in the 70s when foul language still had some mystical power).

Most 70s of all: the script fuses ancient alien theory, Gnosticism and Buddhism together to underwrite its cosmology rather than resorting to the usual Catholic icons. If you've read my 'other' blog, Divinorum Psychonauticus, you know I support that decision. Franco Nero in an electric yellow hippie wig makes a helluva great Jesus, and Franco Micalizzi's funk-galactic score effectively conjures memories of 2001 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind as re-imagined by Meco?! (How the fuck was that ever a hit? But It was).

Trump Factor: As a scheming CEO being pressured into a virulently pro-life position by Satanic illuminati benefactors, Raymond lacks only Trump's ambivalenza vulgare to up his polls. Still, no matter how persistent and bluntly the devil woos us, even if he arranges 'accidents' (ala the Reichstag burning) to make us feel desperately dependent on him, we needn't vote his way. God, aka Lord Enki (alias Jerzy aka The Visitor) is clearly pro-choice, but also insists that, before he takes you to his heavenly realm, your selfish malice (and hair) be ripped from your soul by cleansing bird swarms aka paying higher income tax. 

Have you paid yours yet, dear reader? Capone didn't. Does he look worried?  Salut!

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