The Last Detail
Flagg and Quirt, Navy chief signalmen, escorting a green shitbird to jail.
This man’s Navy, “this motherfucking chickenshit detail.”
Hopper’s brilliant analysis is Chasers.
“A good movie but an unhomogenized one” (Vincent Canby, New York Times). Variety had the idea more or less, Geoff Andrew (Time Out Film Guide) not at all, Halliwell’s Film Guide likewise.
The form is certainly to be understood as one great joke and its repercussions, and this might be compared with Elliott Carter’s famous Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano with Two Chamber Orchestras, for purposes of analysis, with the composer’s stated emphasis on Pope’s Dunciad for analogy.
Nevertheless, there is a duple movement in Ashby’s film, which can be discerned simply as a mistaken improvement on the tenements per Enders’ plan to gut one to the skylight for a “psychedelic sculpture” or later a chandelier with garden accoutrements, such that young and very wealthy Enders finds himself fathering a ghetto brat and thus entailed to its present circumstances, as well as its future.
The common comedy, in a word. The film is not Jewison’s by voluntary default, Ashby his editor works out the consequences as dire in Harold and Maude, political in Shampoo and social in Being There.
Gordon Willis is brought into play with a long lens that compresses into a focal plane like a background for a vaudeville with impressive jokes comparable to Charles Gordone’s in No Place to Be Somebody, for instance. But all of this is tissue and tessitura in the main reading now proposed, which is the ridiculousness of the venture and the hardihood of the resolution.
The camera obscura in Santa Monica has images no less clear than Ashby’s, no description is wherever possible. This is a function of the script, honed into a period piece over the years, and polished to perfection, dare one say, in the interim, so that all the elements of composition are realized to the furthest extremes. and there the actors take over, perfectly attuned.
The structure is a sort of three-act play with a classic finish. Ashby’s theme is, as it must always be, the artist (he of The Creative Act, Halsman’s photo with Cocteau in a picture frame adorning his own model there with an arm and brush not confined to the frame, which is supported by a reclining torso) in the strictures of the world, ultimately giving an account of himself. From The Landlord to Being There, this is his view, and there is no gainsaying his formulations, which are the last word in wit like the Restoration theater set loose on bare plague-ridden stages.
The artist here does hair, he has a certificate from beauty school and a way with women, c’est tout, too much for the tribes of 1968 in Beverly Hills on election eve. The moneybags is a crook, his wife leaves him, he departs for Mexico with his mistress. The artist’s girl sleeps with a commercial director for a gig in Egypt against a backdrop of pyramids.
Wife, girl and mistress are enjoyed by the artist, the latter in particular as own beloved parts the ways in a bitter conclusion. The artist acquits himself by retailing girl talk to the vengefully-inclined moneybags who is grateful for this, a business venture is in view. The artist will have a shop of his own at last, if nothing else.
Bound for Glory
A very witty understanding is shortly offered by Clint Eastwood in Honkytonk Man, subsequent critics have not much of an excuse.
The Dust Bowl and ghost towns and the westward migrations come again are out of Steinbeck and Ford (and most everything else, Guthrie would say), Ashby gives them their magnitude, which is absolute.
Then it’s the labor camps and rough dealing from the growers, and by God Ashby’s film is only just getting started.
The radio ain’t a fittin’ place for Woody Guthrie, he carries on as best he may.
Halliwell’s Film Guide has “earnestness and self-pity” with a memorable citation of Janet Maslin in Newsweek, “the movie spends two-and-a-half hours and seven million dollars gazing wistfully at a little man and a big country, and it ends up prettily embalming them both.”
Critics saw one joke and didn’t get it. Kosinski, let us suppose, imagines the reality behind the presentation of an officeholder, he takes the nonexistent persona on the TV screen and gives it an imaginary biography. If Chauncey Gardiner could be President, he could be Jesus. But the jokes are plentiful, the Also Sprach Zarathustra sunrise to a disco beat in a D.C. slum, the monumental French chateau of the dying vampirical “kingmaker”, the flurry of gag quotes at his funeral.
Beckett has a character for whom “all things in heaven and earth were as they were taken.” This is the secret of which Chance the gardener is entirely innocent. Ashby knows the film is more or less related to Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, Wyler’s Roman Holiday and Ritchie’s The Candidate (also Marty Feldman’s In God We Tru$t and Robert M. Young’s Saving Grace). He expands the deadpan as lightning across the gap between Chance’s non-sequiturs and the imaginative faculties of those who conceive them, as it were, and give birth to his mythical being from their brows. He “speaks in tongues”, all who hear him understand his speech as Pentecostal fire, or nearly all.
Johnny Mandel’s piano themes are rose-cross’d Satie. Chance the gardener, who chokes on cognac and is heard as Chauncey Gardiner, is the man of God who lives by inspiration, all things come under his dominion. Schoenberg foresaw that television would be a magnificent means of availing “the propagation of the Word”, Chance or Chauncey says, “I like to watch.”
His redemptive mission is to Eve, wife and widow. The screenplay makes this plain,
Oh, Chauncey, darling... Where have you
been? We thought we'd lost you—we've
been looking all over!
Yes. I've been looking for you, too, Eve.
but on an inspiration, Ashby dropped these closing lines (he never misses a chance to avoid the obvious, Mao isn’t even mentioned in the draft) for a famous gag.