Postmodernism is a contradiction in terms, which is the way Downey likes it, “an irrefutable negative”.
Everything goes into it, and comes out the way we know it, as long as it lasts.
Too long for the critics, who (bless them) had no use for this film.
The three movements are a repudiation of beer, the brief reign of Putney Swope, and the A-rab’s holocaust.
President Mimeo, a dwarf, puts a stop to the madness (cf. Allen’s Bananas).
Downey’s masterpiece on the coming of Jessy to a small town in New Mexico run by Seaweed (“Seaweedhead”) Greaser, an Irishman.
Various items of the Gospel are included, notably the saved Jerusalem crucifying Jessy, and there is Joseph in the well.
It went right by the critics, starting with Canby and working its way down to the present day.
The bizarre logic of the writing and direction is deliberate, accidental, and thoroughly Surrealist, consequently plain sailing if you speak the lingo. Professional critics do not think very seriously, as a rule. There are just too many films to review.
There is serious drama, particularly an evocation of the pioneers as telling as anything in John Ford, and the whole panoply of tin gods on the prairie merged into Sodom and Gomorrah and the sufferings of the Israelites, amid a continuous unfailing comedy equally lost on reviewers. Jessy is an all reet hep cat with the floy-floy whose message is salvation from the coming commercialization of the West, but he dutifully takes his place on the Cross.
A genius ten times over, the writer-director.
Up the Academy
An opening sequence of well-to-do parents (a Mafioso, a hellfire minister, and an Arab oil sheik) packing their wayward sons off to military school tacitly states their forgotten youth. Under the credits, Downey films rows of wooden soldiers that begin to fall like dominoes, then he pans up to Alfred E. Neuman shrugging his shoulders with his hands raised to his sides, palms upward.
A flurry of jokes brings this overture to a close. The business now underway pivots on gas-station yahoos, intermural relations with the girls of the Mildred S. Butch Military Academy, an earsplitting coed dance, and ultimately a surprising penchant in Maj. Liceman (so spelled in the subsequent newspaper account) for wearing feminine attire whilst flogging a Butch cadet dressed ŕ l’arabe.
Ian Wolfe and Barbara Bach are particularly sublime, the latter in a scene where she and the minister’s son raise the reefer just out of earshot of the music inside at the dance, which shatters wine glasses, eyeglasses and stained glasses alike, and finally snaps the film itself (this scene must have raised the ire of William M. Gaines, but the Mad imprimatur has been restored). The military emcee is Leonard Frey. Tom Poston is an outré couturier to the boys. Antonio Fargas is the gym instructor. Ron Leibman is the Major, whose presence is announced in any scene by an icy breath of wind preceding him.
Much of the comedy depends on the youth of the cadets, from whom Downey elicits unexpectedly adept performances. The little rascals get the drop on their tormentor by a device taken (like the sports match at the end) from MASH. The son of the sheik is a street arab (a pickpocket) who salaams to cans of Castrol. In a final homage to MASH (which has for its theme “putting our soldiers back together”), the wooden soldiers are seen again in reverse under the end credits, rising to their feet.
Eyebrows arch over the dramatic ornamentation of this film, but the clarity, brilliance and saturation of color in the cinematography comes from the strong, direct structure. The exigencies of the script require a troupe of characters to serve as water-carriers to a mobster in the Hollywood Hills, which means driving to the Colorado River and back for 3000 gallons of water to fill his pool (a key image from J. Lee Thompson’s Caboblanco).
The climax is a liberation from this, expressed in an image related to the one at the end of Don Siegel’s Escape from Alcatraz. A scene of harness racing (they bet on Completion Bond to win) evokes My Fair Lady, and subsidiary material is drawn upon from Morrissey’s Trash, Kurosawa’s Dodes’ka-den, and Russell’s Song of Summer.