Film Reviews

Joe Bob Briggs

I've been watching a bunch of hippie movies from around 1968 to 1973, and I've noticed that almost all of them have at least one scene of longhaired, bell-bottomed Disaffected Youths yelling like idiots at a public meeting.

It could be a meeting of Army generals or a city council or a corporate board. And you'll have all these serious older people sitting around a table in suits or uniforms saying things like "When was the last time you cut your hair, young man?"

And the hippies will hoot and holler and scream at the guy: "When was the last time you brushed your teeth, old man!"

Or sometimes the Establishment guy will say something like "We believe this is in the best interests of all law-abiding citizens."

And the hippie will scream, "You're so full of guilt-tripping lies that you can't relate, man! You're a dinosaur!"

Or the sensitive girl in a halter top and sandals will stand up and say, "I can feel your fear. I can feel that you fear us because you don't know us. You should check our scene, man. You should get down with us and get rid of your old worn-out fears."

Or sometimes the guys will just drop their pants and moon the city council.
Or sometimes they'll drown out the speaker by singing really bad folk songs about freedom and justice and LSD.

But whatever the hippies do, I've come to one conclusion: These people were obnoxious.

I know we're supposed to be on their side when we watch these films, but they're so determined to do whatever is the most obnoxious thing they can think of that after a while you just go: "Jerks. They're all jerks."

And you know that there's nothing that the colonel or the mayor or the corporate president can say that will make them be even remotely polite, because...the man is wearing a tie!

In other words, the hippies were actually Nazis. They judged other people by their clothing. They refused to let other people be heard. They just generally nuked a whole generation by assuming that generation had nothing to contribute.

This is freedom?
You gotta watch these movies; you'll get what I'm talking about. This is what the whole hippie thing was about? Shouting louder than people who aren't like you?

I don't get it. I really don't.
And speaking of pretentiousness, this week's flick is The Death Artist, starring Anthony Michael Hall as a nerdy busboy in a performance-art cappuccino bar who dreams of one day becoming a great artist and winning the love of a Lina Wertmuller look-alike played by Justine Bateman.

Unfortunately, the busboy creates sculptures that look like Mr. Potato Heads made out of dog doo-doo. One night he hears the sound of a cat trapped behind a new plaster wall. He takes a knife, tries to rescue the cat by cutting the wall, and hears the horrible death cries of...Wait a minute. Haven't I seen this somewhere before?

It's a remake of the 1960 drive-in classic Bucket of Blood, starring the legendary Dick Miller and directed by the legendary Roger Corman.

The original was set in a Venice, California, beatnik coffeehouse, where pseudointellectuals entertained one another with bad poetry and cheap art. Today, of course, it's set in a cappuccino bar in Venice where pseudointellectuals entertain one another with bad poetry and cheap art.

Executive producer Corman never lets a good movie go unmade. I think his record is five remakes in a period of 10 years. They don't call 'em exploitation films for nothin'.

Anyhow, Shadoe Stevens is the showy street poet so committed to his art that he instantly forgets everything he says because "Repetition is death"; and Shelia Traviss is the "patron saint of anger" who works with a monkey puppet and rages across the stage in her black leotard.

At first they abuse the busboy as a poseur and wannabe, but as soon as he brings in his plaster sculpture, "Dead Cat," they acclaim his genius. The plot thickens when his next work is "Murdered Man."

They hardly changed the flick at all. It's the same goldurn movie. My kinda sequel.

Four dead bodies. One dead cat. Four breasts.
Frying pan to the noggin. Topless violinist.
Tiramisu-spitting. Strangulation. Buzz-saw head-chopping.
Drive-In Academy Award nominations for...

* Shadoe Stevens, as the poetic sage in dark sunglasses who says "Life is nothing but a homeless traveler on the RTD of art" and "Creation is--all else is not" and "All the rest are blind fish swimming in the cave of aloneness."

* Shelia Traviss, as the terminally hip, sexually frustrated performance poet who says "Who can make the monkey laugh?" and "Drunks make great lovers; they try harder."

* Jesse D. Goins, as the young hanger-on who says "You don't even remember your own poems; that's so...Goethe."

* Mink Stole, as the wealthy collector who refuses to buy a series of road-kill photographs because her friends are members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saying "Darling, you reek of bohemia."

* Anthony Michael Hall, as the busboy-turned-sculptor-turned-serial killer, for saying "I know what it's like to be ignored."

* Kin Shriner, as the gung-ho undercover narc who says "You like chasing the dragon, Walter?"

* Sam Lloyd, as the greedy owner of the Jabberjaws club, whose motto is "Coffee, Art, and Personal Growth."

* And Michael James MacDonald, the director, co-writer, and performance-art dancer, for staying true to the spirit of Bucket of Blood and doing things the drive-in way.

Four stars.
Joe Bob says check it out.

To discuss the meaning of life with Joe Bob, write Joe Bob Briggs, P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221 or fax him at (213) 462-5982. Joe Bob even hangs out on the Internet: [email protected].

1996 Joe Bob Briggs (Distributed by NYT Special Features)

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Joe Bob Briggs