Wednesday, September 11, 2013

DVD Review: Gold

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet


Directed and Organized by Bob Levis and Bill Desloge          
Wild Eye Releasing                        
90 minutes, 1968 / 1972 / 1996 / 2010

By 1968, when this film was shot, the Hays Office style of extreme film business gatekeeping was essentially toothless, after years of legislation ripping it of its power, such as proclaiming the studios must be separated from the means of distribution; in other words, the studios could no longer own the theaters. This broke their monopoly, opening up the chance for foreign and independent features. This started early in that decade, giving rise to the likes of the material of Roger Corman and Herschell Gordon Lewis. Yet, this film didn’t see any theaters until it was shown in England in 1972, and had its US premiere in New York in 1996, thanks in part to a minimal number of negatives leading to the film becoming lost.

Continuing with my geekology, social theory shows that trends start with the poor, get picked up by the rich who are trying to show how “cool” they are with the lower social strata, and then by the middle class who are trying to climb the social ladder. Langston Hughes was writing about this in the early part of the 20th Century in stories like “Slave on the Block” (1933). In this case, the hippies were indigents who were praised and emulated by the Hollywood youth (such as the Fondas).

Put these two together, and you have a perfect storm of the idealistic having enough money to display their incompetence (a drugged version of the Peter Principle, perhaps?). This is not to say I do not respect what they were trying to do¸ because even the punk movement had its reflective moments (think of the British film Jubilee [1978], which has very similar vibes to this one, dealing with similar grand motifs of overbearing systems of control, anarchy, and both the differences and similarities).

That being said, this film was made for about $1000, most of which went to the insurance for the rental of an olde style train used for one day of shooting in the month-long filming, the rest going to equipment, food, and other mind-altering substances. Sure some of the cast and crew were either professionals in the industry already, and others wanted to be, but it is equally obvious that some were there to share in the chemical and herbal vibe. The end result may be considered, using a modern idiom, a hot mess. There is no writing credit for the film because much of it was improvised, and that is easy to figure out pretty quickly.

The stick of the premise is that a second gold rush gets a group of people – er – motivated to head to northern California. There, a small corrupt government springs up among the new town (whose members include Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Dan Hicks!), and it takes the local loser to rise up and lead la revoluciĆ³n! Truly, for both sides, it is shown that violence is, indeed, inherent in any system, even the loving, herbal kind.

But this is mostly a comedy. Well, actually it is pan-genre, sometimes switching from scene to scene or character to character. When the film starts, it’s a western, and most are dressed accordingly as they board a train headed for the locus of supposed gold (that we never see a hint of other than a mine shaft door near the end). One exception is the villain of the piece, a cop called Harold Jinks (as in, “Jinx! It’s the cops!”), portrayed by Garry Goodrow, who dresses like a 1920s G-man and talks in the quick patter of Jimmy Cagney of that period, see? Yeah, that’s it, see? Jinks is obsessed with control and stopping nudity, something nearly everyone else is swaying and bouncing the other way. Meanwhile, a sexy woman (Caroline Parr) with big – er – hair gets on the same train definitely flashing some legs and belly in a cut-out dress, seemingly right out of Carnaby Street.

At the start of the film, we meet our hero, Hawk (Del Close, d. 1999), who is on crutches. We watch as he almost misses the train and ends up riding underneath it (Close foolishly did his own highly-dangerous stunts, surely empowered by some – er – altered state of mind).

Through much nudity (lots of full frontal of all genders) and multiple trysts, with some nearly prescience to the mud-caked denizens of the Woodstock Festival in the coming year, Jinks goes to the dark(er) side and starts arresting people left and right and puts them into a barbed wired corral (either a pig sty or cow pasture of the commune on which it was filmed). More of the town ends up there than on the outside, of course. Finally, the mayor, not such a wonderful person himself, starts to object, but you’ll see where that leads.

With power corrupting absolutely, in a comment on the war in Vietnam and the then-current Democratic Convention in Chicago that ended in disaster, a hero must arise, with that being Close’s Hawk character (again, a reference to being pro-war).  Easily no longer a western and certainly more an allegory to the then-modern Marxist-influenced groups like the SDS and the Weathermen, you know which way the wind is going to blow when Hawk starts reading Mao’s Little Red Book and quoting Che Guevara, even coming to physically resemble him. With his drunken buddy, LeRoy Acorn (Orville Schell) they start planning a violent coup via a homemade arsenal (including bazooka!). Note that all the main characters are men…I’m just sayin’.

While I won’t give away what happens – and even though I’ve told quite a bit of the story, yet not enough to diminish the fun of the flick – perhaps it’s worth noting how religion plays a background role in the whole mishegoss. There are lots of songs on the soundtrack about Jesus, and Christianity is mentioned or referred to as a recurring motif in the dialog. I am not certain if this was a commentary about church and state, the hypocrisy of how the state sometimes uses religion (e.g., “opiate of the masses”), or it was so imbedded in the filmmakers that it came naturally without regard to its exclusivity of the rest of the culture (and much of the business end of Hollywood at the time).

Speaking of soundtracks, the reissue is very proud of the fact – and rightfully so – of their use of songs by the then-unknown Motor City Five (aka, the MC5), which ups the films credibility among more modern hopelessly obscure nostalgia collectors. You just know there is a whole contingent of First Wave punkers who are going to see this for that reason alone.

Extras include two somewhat interesting full-length commentaries, an hour-long access cable interview with the director, trailers, and more.

Whatever your motivation, or mind-altering substance intake, the sheer insanity of this film makes it worth seeing. There is so much happening, and it takes a vivid snapshot of a counterculture that is the remnant of the original Beat hipsters of its period, much in the way the Ken Kesey Merry Pranksters group did with the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test road trip. Gold is both a throwback and ahead of its time, concurrently. What’s more, it’s groovin’ in these equally harsh times.