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Armchair Cinephile

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Armchair Cinephile

John DeFore on DVD


The shadow of the '60s

It was star James Coburn who drew me into The President's Analyst, that and the now-far-fetched idea of having a "Free World" leader who took his responsibilities so much to heart that he might actually need to share the weight with someone. But I was hardly prepared for the wackiness that ensued. Instead of sequences showing Prez and shrink hashing stuff out, we launch quickly into what happens when Coburn flips and goes AWOL: Teams of Keystone Kop spies from around the world chase him, he falls in with hippies, and a Russian operative winds up conquering his Oedipal issues.

Mainstream movies were a lot sillier in 1967. Analyst is full of cinematic non sequiturs and Get Smart intrigue, making it more an artifact now than entertainment. But it lends perspective to a slew of recent releases from the early '70s, when over-the-top Pop sensibilities had been better digested but strains of '60s weirdness remained. Take Slaughterhouse Five (1972), which, unless it wanted to abandon its source material entirely, had no choice but to roll with the hallucinatory sci-fi of Kurt Vonnegut's classic novel. What's odder about this is that, for director George Roy Hill, it came smack in between unapologetic period pieces like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.

Where Sundance played fairly straight, there were other ways a Western could go, post-'60s. You could cast a rock star in the lead, á la Ned Kelly (1970), which turns Mick Jagger into a legendary Australian outlaw. (It was a serious casting error, though Jagger went on to more plausible roles.) Or you could be Mel Brooks, who in 1974's Blazing Saddles was able to synthesize the anti-establishment energy of the previous decade into a unique comedic style that completely seduced mainstream audiences. Later this month, Warner will release a 30th Anniversary DVD edition of the film that includes Black Bart, the pilot for a spin-off TV show that was planned but never took off.

The President's Analyst,
Day of the Locust
(Paramount)

Slaughterhouse Five
(Universal)

Blazing Saddles:
30th Anniversary Edition
(Warner Bros.)

Man of La Mancha,
Ned Kelly
(MGM)

Tomorrow
(Home Vision)

Hickey & Boggs
(MVD)

Vanishing Point
(20th Century Fox)
Armchair Cinephile

ζ

 John
 DeFore

 on
DVD
Not all cinema during these years was zany. In 1972, legendary screenwriter Horton Foote adapted a short story by William Faulkner for the very serious Tomorrow, which many consider the best film ever based on Faulkner's work. Man of La Mancha (1972) plays reasonably straight as well, although many viewers found that a bad thing; based on a successful musical interpretation of Miguel de Cervantes' life and work, the film stiffed at the box office and with many critics. Another adaptation, of Nathanael West's Day of the Locust (1975) fared better with critics but couldn't have been much of a crowd-pleaser: The examination of Hollywood's ugly underbelly is quite bleak and features, in Karen Black's Faye Greener, one of the most unappealing leading ladies in history. Director John Schlesinger, in keeping with West's vision of Tinseltown, ladles on the lurid touches and oddball observations - Donald Sutherland gives perhaps his creepiest performance - all leading up to a long riot sequence that is truly horrific, and comes close to capturing the sensation of the novel.

Aside: I was delighted to see that Hickey & Boggs (1972) - a post I Spy team-up of Bill Cosby and Robert Culp that's a favorite of Quentin Tarantino and a nice, dry balance to some of these outlandish features - was coming out on DVD. Sadly, the disc's transfer looks like somebody went into a seedy theater and used a video camera to tape it off the screen. This obscure title may never see better treatment on disc, but caveat renter.

Finally, a highlight of this week's time warp is Vanishing Point (1971). A couple of years ago, as I was working on a piece listing great car movies, my mechanic insisted that Vanishing Point should be at the top of the heap. My editor cut it, and now I can say what an oversight that was: This movie has some of the most thrilling driving sequences ever put on film. It's one long car chase, in fact, with cops in multiple states chasing Barry Newman - who decades later would play an integral role in Steven Soderbergh's nod to the '70s, The Limey. In keeping with the spirit of movies like Easy Rider, we never really understand why Newman takes flight; we're just along for the ride. In more ways than one, Thelma & Louise (which appeases '90s audiences by supplying motivations for its characters) owes its existence to this movie - which may not be the best-known of the '60s-hangover movies, but is definitely one of the elite that has aged well. •


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