Saturday, November 19, 2011

DVD Review: Andy Warhol’s Bad

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2011
Images from the Internet

Andy Warhol’s Bad
Directed by Jed Johnson
Cheezy Flicks, 1977
105 minutes, USD $7.95

Even though he probably didn’t really have anything to with the films other than being willing to publicize it by having his moniker attached, Andy Warhol apparently loved titles with one word following his name, such as Andy Warhol’s Dracula, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, Andy Warhol’s Trash, Andy Warhol’s Flesh, and Andy Warhol’s Heat.

Most of the films had a strong amateur quality to them, which actually made them feel all the more gritty and real, rather than taking away from it. Thus is the case with the film at hand, Andy Warhol’s Bad.

The basic plot revolves around Hazel Akins, played in middle age by Carroll Baker (who sizzled up the screen with the likes of Baby Doll), a Queens, NY, cosmetologist (i.e., does electrolysis from her home) is a crime pimp. She takes orders from regular customers on transgressions upon request (e.g., the opening scene of Cyrinda Foxe trashing a lunch counter’s bathroom). She only deals with women criminals who get paid and then give her a large cut that she calls “rent.” That is until…

Enter Perry King as L.T., a grifter drifter who manages to sweet talk Hazel into letting him stay at her house until he hears from the person hiring him; the only reason she agrees is because of the large share of her cut. Y’see, Hazel is greedy. Even though a cop is hanging around (Charles McGregor, of blaxploitation and Blazing Saddles fame) asking for a name to arrest so he can look good, she won’t turn anyone in simply because of she doesn’t want to lose the commission, not because of good will.

I knew I was going to like this film from the first piece of dialog said by King. He walks into a lunch counter (yes, the same one as mentioned above) and he says, “Coffee. Light and sweet.” I haven’t heard those words since moving to Canada. For those up here who don’t now, it’s the original “double-double.”

In fact, one of the great joys of this film is the harsh Brooklyn and Queens accents, which come naturally, unlike most of what you hear in the media (e.g., CSI: NY). It’s just brutal happiness. Rosie O’Donnell, when she was much younger and doing stand-up, posited that no one would have listened to Einstein if he had a New York accent. But I digress….

Morals are a bit hard to come by with this crowd, as the range goes from casually reading other peoples mail and snipping off fingers for personal pleasure (and then putting it in someone’s mustard jar), to assaults on pets, autistic kids and infants. Oh, John Waters is not the only one holding up a Filthiest Family (albeit no one here eats dog crap). As Mary, the screechy daughter-in-law, played by the wonderful and underrated Susan Tyrrell states, “People are so sick; the more you see ‘em, the sicker they look.” Sing it, sister.

Among the strangest inhabitants of this world are real life Brooklynite siblings, Geraldine and Marie Smith, who also play sisters in the film. It’s a joy to hear them talk, whatever they’re saying. One’s a pyro who sets fire to a movie theater and the very car they just robbed as they tool around.

While Warhol isn’t in the film, his presence is still subtly felt by some of his Factory crowd appearing in the film, such as Brigid Polk (as an insaniac who orders the doggie do-in) and Kitty Bruce (Lenny’s little girl).

Considering how shrill the film is, and how vile the storyline, the picture actually holds together better over time than early Waters’ has, becoming camp in a different way: AW’s Bad is more urban gritty in a Serpico or Taxi Driver kind of way, whereas Waters’ – whose films I truly enjoy – are more suburban mythical. And, may I add as a note rather than an insult, the people here are much better actors than those who appear in the early Baltimore auteur’s work (apologies to Divine, RIP).

AW’s Bad reminded me of other low-budget films of an earlier time, such as Lady in a Cage, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and even Arch Hall Jr.’s The Sadist. It’s certainly more shocking in a humanist way, than some of the other Andy Warhol-related releases, such as Frankenstein or Dracula, and the film is certainly better directed by Jed Johnson than, say, Heat or Trash (mind you, I haven’t seen those latter two films since the ‘70s, so I’m relying on a 30-year-old memory…jeez, I’m old…).

This is not a feel good movie in any kind of way, but it is sharp, in part by the sheer will and emotion of its actors, even when they’re being cool and suave like King, or cold and calculating like Baker. But it’s the others who have a scene or two that really make the picture into the true horror show that it is. Not for the squeamish at heart, but a wondrous slice of life of the truly bad.

No comments:

Post a Comment