... for if you're seeing things.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Dance of Tripper Mimsy: RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP (1967)


Based on true events! The AIP/MGM police/hippie hybrid movie RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP (1967) reminds us that back LA's rock venue-packed Sunset Strip was once so clogged with amok youth that the lawmakers had to enforce a 10 PM curfew for everyone under 18. The kids took to the streets in protest, or were already there. Sonny, Cher, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda attended to show their solidarity. Fonda got handcuffed! What a world.

Today, those of us who don't live in LA probably just hear the words Sunset Strip and prepare for yet another old rocker to start in about seeing the Doors at the Whiskey a Go Go back in whenever or how the man made them change the name to 'the Whisk' or how they razed Pandora's Box--the main all-ages (non-alcoholic) venue--to the ground. Or how Buffalo Springfield's inescapable "For What it's Worth" was written about the protests. But I'll just say that you can draw a dotted line down the road of AIP counterculture classics, from the Strip to The Trip and then Wild in the Streets, the year after that it's films like the (AIP-influenced) Easy Rider. And then Cult of the Damned, and Manson! It's all connected like a dashed highway line...going straight to hell! For fans of the scene, of LSD and of the Doors and Jack Nicholson, then, come and dig the Strip - and see the dance that lit the flame, the Helen of Hippie film Troy, the wig that launched a thousand swigs, Mimsy Farmer!

Hanging around at Pandora's Box, clearly starting trouble
Released an astonishingly short four months after the riots happened, Riot on Sunset Strip alternates between the police and the kids, particularly a sweet, innocent girl named Andi (Mimsy Farmer) from a broken home (she lives alone with her alcoholic mom - below) who starts out just digging bands with her girlfriend Liz-Ann (Laurie Mock) and their two nameless boyfriends as a way to get out of the house. Her slow slide begins when she starts smoking, gradually dressing sexier, craving some kind of parental structure but just getting mom's incoherent babbling (and dad nowhere to be found). Come on, Liz-Ann says, "it's a freak-out!" Andi says she's never done acid.  "Come on, Alice in Wonderland," says Liz-Ann: "You haven't lived!"

As we follow her descent we also bounce back and forth to the precinct struggles of her absentee father (Aldo Ray), a police captain in charge of the youth problem to be fair to both sides of the argument. He doesn't want his men to start cracking heads, nor does he want the local business owners to form their own vigilante task force. In trying to be fair to both kids and adults, he pleases neither. That doesn't bother him though, when he gives interviews for local TV he preaches a modicum of tolerance: "These are your sons and daughters!" It's a fair point. But Aldo, what about your daughter?

above -Mom, in bed with her demons; Andi - smoking
(there was no age restriction on it then and damned if it doesn't make her look cool)
Andi, tired of being harassed by the cops, forced to call her teacher to pick her up from the police station rather than her drunk mother, acquiesces to the freak-out. But once there--even though she's vibing with the cute older boy who's got the sugar cubes, she still just says no - preferring to hang around the invaded home like a wet dishrag. This can be very frustrating as a rocket-boosted hormonal and very high male out to score. A girl like that seems--in their drugs-and-testosterone-addled brain--like she's 'asking' for something to overwhelm her: she wont leave the "happening" alone, yet she will not make the scene!

If she will not make the scene, then the scene--with its tendrils of long hair, and its medallion beads clattering like a clacking Cabeza de Lobo beach cub billion beak castanet jelly donut death racket--will make her. 

Her old man, will he come rolling home?

Maybe none of this would need to happen, oh if he only would come see her, but he's too busy lecturing other parents.


But then, for all their woe, whatever that is, we'd miss one key moment worth the whole damned film: Mimsy Farmer's sublime acid dance freak-out, one of the great peak pivotal moments in 60s LSD cinema!

Since it's only 1967, and the AIP countercultural LSD movie cycle is just getting rolling (if you'll forgive the expression), one could consider Farmer's dance to be the opening act in the huge paisley cavalcade to come, the way exotic dancers perform flame rituals in Arabian sheik's tents prior to taking tea with a bronze facepaint wearing Robert Taylor. Setting the mood and opening the gates, Farmer's dance shows how one might take a hackneyed, non-relevant 'breather' as Laura Mulvey would call it (woman as a kind of narrative door-stop, creating the space for a kind of desire/possessive gazing on the part of the viewer) and reverse the flow so her madness seems to possess us by contrast. Her constant oscillating from one extreme emotion to the other forces us to be afraid of her, for her, with her, and without her, all in quick-cycling succession. It's still a milestone in trippy dancing few have equaled since (more sophisticated nuanced actresses just come off as ridiculous or overly maudlin, or merely stiff and vapid)


Overall, Riot is rather pedestrianly directed by (59 year-old) Arthur Dreifuss, but--though he's clearly a generic square--old Arthur wisely lets this one moment land, with a keen eye for how dancing on acid feels in the moment (had he done any?). The vaguely mystical-tribal sun wall sculpture on the wall behind her evokes a subliminal temple backdrop; the pink lighting soaks into her golden skin; and her form-fitting pink and army green dress makes her at times seem to appear and disappear. She wears what seems like three identical wigs, all slowly growing, widening in a halo gyre, gradually getting wilder and more libidinal-schizo as she slinks to the ground and luxuriates like a cat against a corner. She notices her arms and hands as if the first time, alive to the joy of movement, and the horror of it, reacting to any stimulus with a second-by-second switch--from revulsion to agog fascination to cautious luxuriance. It's dead-on.

Andi sees her hands for the first time
Dreifuss captures every moment of her crazy dancing, from beginning to end, with just a hint of slow motion here and there, perfectly matched to the music, as if she's slipping in and out of linear time, floating in the tehrer somewhere between the vampire cult converts floating around in 1972's Deathmaster and the fairies in 1935's Midsummer Night's Dream. But always perfect in with the grinding bluesy generic rock beat.

If you've ever felt those kind of things while slinking around a living room in a surrendered-to joy of movement, then you may feel as I do while watching this scene: my palms start to sweat, my tongue tastes metallic, and my blood quickens, as if in anticipation of the inevitable 'kicking in' of some heavy drug. It's like getting all the sensations of going up a very steep incline, up and up and up - even as you're just sitting there on the beanbag chair, rolling joints in a Pink Floyd gatefold, watching as the blood rushing in your hands slowly starts to redden and glow just below the skin, like a latticework spider web, and they feel like they're trembling but they're actually steady as rocks.


But of course, the slimy lad who slipped it into her 'diet drink' has been keeping an eye on all this, waiting for the right time to slink up and make a move, bringing her upstairs with all the finesse of Sidney Berger in Carnival of SoulsIt's clearly his and his buddy's MO to dose young girls and take advantage, en masse, once the girl is too zonked to complain or resist. In other words, loathsome date rape behavior wasn't solely the proclivity of frat boys spiking the grain alcohol punch with 'ludes and then giving it only to the girls. We didn't quite imagine anything so vile back when I was a freshman.. "Date rape" wasn't a term until senior year,  too late for most of the girls I used to drink and trip with. Luckily, that didn't stop them from drinking and tripping. Salut!

By the same token, one hopes Andi won't be turned off by the wonders of alcohol, weed, and psychedelics. At MGM, drugs may be a cry for help, or a way to dilute resistance, but at AIP they're a way forward! They're enlightenment, and--if you go too far--they're madness. But at least they're a trip! It's not for everyone, but those of us not cut out for the two kid garage and white picket doorbells, they're a rocket to the next option.


Luckily, Andi doesn't seem to be too traumatized afterwards. We never hear her complain or resist. We only learn she had 'entertained' five of them when she tells it to her father, who--of course--walks in on her in the bed, now totally 'down' from her trip, apparently. Telling him the details is, in a way, it's her ultimate fuck you, meant to drive him swinging pathetically into the night. It's the real fantasy moment in the film, the kind of thing a kid might imagine getting her never-around dad to witness, especially if he considered himself such a paragon of the law.

That kind of familial crisis is what lets you know that, though it was released by AIP (and has all the AIP earmarks on the surface), Riot is an MGM product. For AIP, family is broken, useless, but MGM can't let the 'father' go. Even when delving into lurid subject matter, the studio tends to employ a kind of roundhouse morality uppercut that dates back to their seemingly transgressive (secretly moralistic) pre-code films like 1931'a A Free Soul (left), wherein booze, premarital sex, and drugs aren't lines in the sand against the previous generation's antiquated norms, they're just the symptom of parent-daughter estrangement due to dad's addiction and/or absenteeism. The dad must fix his character so the daughter will re-merge into the patriarchal order. In Soul, Shearer uses Gable for sex and thrills, but secretly hungers for the safe, flaccid decency of Leslie Howard and the long nights nursemaiding daddy in and out of alcoholic sanitariums. In Sunset, the dad has to stop worrying about the "kids" and pay attention to his own. For her, drugs and sex are her cry for help. We're lured in by the sex and drugs then WHAM! the family. Dirty tricks, MGM!


Dreifuss went from directing Riot to another AIP drug movie after this: The Love-Ins (above), a tale that functions as a Tim Leary roman-a-clef about a disillusioned college professor who drops out and becomes a cash-crazed LSD guru. I haven't seen it myself, but the insightful Chuck Esola notes the incorrect way acid use is depicted: "Not only are the hippies high on it all the time but one hit and the characters in the film are either flailing about wildly on the lawn, jumping out of windows or becoming convinced that they've become Alice in Wonderland (I'm honestly not sure which is worse)."

Hey, in the words of Bruce Dern's guide in The Trip, you're really into some beautiful things here, man. Just let it run on.

More (1969)

As for Mimsy, she would soon escape to Italy in the early 70s, where she was to specialize as totally cracked giallo heroines, as in Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), Armando Crispino's Autopsy (1975), and Francesco Barilli's Portrait of a Lady in Black (1974). Her character in these films was often the same kind of traumatized androgyne, as if she became so splintered by her LSD/rape primal moment in Riot she splintered (ala Streetcar Named Desire) and every mirror shard fell into a different giallo. Her characters all had the same short blonde hair, the same violent revulsion/attraction approach to male sexuality, and habit of talking through clenched teeth, her voice cracking with a kind of exhausted rage. Walking the razor line between being a totally free spirit engaging in sex and drugs as self expression and destroying herself in a chemical spiral to escape the constant pawing of Italian males, she could turn an innocent German math student onto hard drugs and group sex one minute (as in Barbet Schroder's More, which has a great Pink Floyd soundtrack if nothing else) and rant for whole monologues about how she hates men and how her father wished she was born a boy, and brutalized her until she slashed him to ribbons, the next.

Busted - for being teenagers
As for the film that started her off, Riot is an invaluable window into the dawn of the counterculutre as a major force for societal disruption. The riots eventually grew to Woodstock size and that's what we remember. The Sunset Strip curfew riots are forgotten today. Only the music they inspired--and that was heard on the Strip at the time--endures. Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" was written about them (and now it's inescapable) and The Byrds, The Seeds, Love, The Chambers Brothers, and The Doors were all once bands in residence on the Strip. None of them either appear or are heard in the film. Instead, we get the garage rock of the Standells (they sing theme song, noting that "even parents are beginning to scare"); the Chocolate Watchband rips some raucous, royalty-free standard blues (probably the tune Mimsy dances to). But, like the AIP movies it stands with (Psych-Out, and The Tripfor example), the good bands are offset with a lot of dated paisley drippiness courtesy dull treacly sludge by bands like The Mugwumps and The Sidewalk Sounds, (who coo: "I want to make the music pretty / for me"),  not to mention a lot of generic library flute rock instrumentals. When you think of the great stuff being played at the time (like those Cynthia Weil/Barry Mann songs on the similar AIP gems Wild in the Streets and Angel Angel, Down We Go), it's kind of a drag to hear 90% of the Sunset soundtrack, like seeing a fictional movie made about Altamont and just hearing the Flying Burrito Brothers. 


Pandora's Box was a real club (above), at the center of the riots as it was
being demolished by the establishment for its role as a lightning rod in the disruption.

Still, its great. Newly arrived on Amazon Prime and looking good (these screenshots are all from it), 

POST SCRIPT /ASIDE/ RANDOM THOUGHT

- HaPPy TRails! 

Maybe it was because I saw it the morning after getting back from a mostly-overcast vacation in St. Maarten, but I was in just the right mood for Riot.  The crazy psychedelic dance of Mimsy is really a showstopper and caught me totally by surprise. I made the Hindu arm trail collage (above) myself, though there's nothing like it in the film. There should be, for 'trails' in tripping are a sign of transcending space/time and perhaps the origin for the multi-armed effect of Hindi gods and goddesses. 

And in a way it's too bad that neither Corman nor anyone at AIP ever figured out how to do "trails" correctly (they're aren't any in Gilliam's Fear and Loathing either, though at least he gets some good subliminal mileage out of the hotel carpeting). Very few films capture the true nature of acid hallucinations (they don't come out of nowhere, they build up through paredolia and a repression of our structuralist 'naming' blinders), maybe we're still waiting for just the right one.

Actually, I saw a great Mimsy movie on Prime last night that did some decent psychedelic trails, Autopsy (1975)! It wasn't acid but a melding of tiredness and solar eclipse-triggered mass insanity - but here you GO-go-o-go-go:

Tripper Mimsy finds the right dosage, at last...

8 comments:

  1. After binging on your blog for three nights (!) I now know I am home.
    Best to you!

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    1. Dale - you just ran amok through this site. I see you left about 30 comments stretching back into void of past posts. Approved! Welcome back to our collective soul hive, or the elder god void, or wherever we are.

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    2. Thanks,Erich. i guess I did go shit house here but it so echoed my own experience I had to. it's rare when you find a place you can belong. I am the proud owner of all the Ennio scores. It may be less than novel now but i was was one of the original fans and a film score buff. Someone hoped for a CD of a quiet place in the Country-well,GDM issued a beautiful disc of it a few years back. It may be limited but eBay or disogs are a good place to find such things. And Goldsmith's Planet Of The apes score is a work of brilliance.

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  2. I guess I'm about five years older than you but in that same landscape. You don't need to know but I was a musician too-vocals,guitar,drums. I now look remarkably like Roky Erickson before he passed.

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  3. Thanks Dale, I'm glad to hear someone out there feels our acid-etched pain. Ours is the watcher generation - doomed to enjoy neither the unconscious entitlement of our elders or the ADD-prescriptions of the Millennials.

    I had a John Zorn does Morricone album (THE BIG GUNDOWN) before I knew Ennio did anything other than Good the Bad and the Ugly - It's gone now. Can't even find it on Spotify. I'm working on a companion spotify mix for the next entry - you have Prime you got to see the two RINGO movies they have - looking gorgeous they are. These are the best of times to be an Italian movie lover... remembering how godawful ugly this all once looked.

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  4. There's an anniversary CD of The Big Gundown on Amazon from around 7 to 15 bucks.

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  5. There's a reissue Of The Big Gundown with different cover art and a bonus track or two on Amazon in the $15 dollar range. Cheaper than obtaining the out of print original. For Italian scores,the GDM label can't be beat. Another great sampler of Ennio (if you enjoy the weird stuff) is called Crime and Dissonance on the ipecac label. A double CD. Hope you find and enjoy! And if i ramble on too much,give me the boot!

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    Replies
    1. If you're looking for Morricone scores,I'm your boy. I don't have everything but I have a great deal. Also Goldsmith,Herrmann,Bernstein,North,Schifrin,etc. Sadly Film Score Monthly went bust after 250 titles(the last being a 3 CD of The Wild Bunch!) some of their titles are still available. Not to insult your intelegence but Intrada,La La Land and others are keeping film scores alive! Recently the Gil Melle score to The Sentinel came out with the Blu-ray for instance. You may be aware of these things but just wanted to pass it on as a fan,particularly one of age.

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