Sunday, July 8, 2012

You're going to thank me.

I am herewith posting for your benefit, the only 19 or 20 minutes of Skidoo (1968) that are worth seeing.  That said, they are extremely worth seeing.  They are simply buried inside a cinematic tomb that rivals anything old Cheops cranked out.

The backstory. Old-fashioned but still-skillful producer-director Otto Preminger decides to make a film about the scourge of the nation, LSD.  But, being an honest man, he tries it.  And he decides it is NOT the scourge of the nation.  But he's committed to make this movie with a large bunch of mismatched middle-aged and even elderly movie stars which is both for and against LSD.

I have to back-pedal even farther.  When I was growing up, Preminger was a star-director name nearly on a par with Alfred Hitchcock.  He made big pictures about big issues and he plastered his name and face all over them.  And he was not unjustified.  His films got big audiences and made big money.  And his technique, which he had been developing since the mid-1940s was extremely well-suited to the wide-screen epics of the 1960s.  Specifically, he preferred long, complex master shots, sometimes reframing the action with camera movement rather than recutting.  Paradoxically for such a control freak, this procedure gives power to the actors, who control the tempo and feel of the scene.  He counteracted that tendency by calling for extensively repeated takes, wearing the actors down.  (Also paradoxically, Preminger was an actor, and in films such as Wilder's Stalag 17, a good actor.)

His career breaks into distinct phases, beginning with the romantic noirs of the 40s, most famously Laura, and my personal favorite, Where The Sidewalk Ends.  The next phase began with The Moon Is Blue a standard-issue sexless sex comedy from a Broadway boulevard play.  But the heroine referred to herself as a "virgin" and the words "pregnant" and "mistress" were bandied about, causing pearls to be clutched across the country.  The film went out without an MPAA seal, made a pot of money from disappointed filmgoers who expected something sexy and turned Otto onto the controversy racket.

The last phase begins roughly around the time of Exodus in 1960, when controversy transmogrifies into international all-star epic.  Thus follows Advice and Consent, Hurry Sundown and The Cardinal.

Back to LSD.  Otto changes his mind and decides to make a pro-hippie movie.  Or at least a movie that suggests that these crazy kids might be worth listening to.  The first clue is in this unconventional opening in which husband Jackie Gleason and wife Carol Channing (bizarre couple, yes, I know) fight over the remote control, a fight seen from the TV viewer's POV.  (Note the inclusion of Preminger's own In Harm's Way in the onscreen melange.)  [Apologies in advance for any ads inserted by Daily Motion.]

Fairly early on, for reasons not worth delving into, Jackie gets his consciousness raised via an acid trip.  So far, so good, except that the sequence bears no resemblance to any acid trip taken by any known person.  It is fun, but fun like those goofy early 1930s movies packed with random non-sequiturs in the place of actual jokes.

Far better than seeing Groucho's head in place of a lightbulb is the acid trip experienced by veteran character actor Fred Clark, which is not only accompanied by a charming Harry Nillson song, but features some of the wackiest dancing and carrying-on by Clark as a prison guard who has unknowingly dropped LSD.   Clark was usually seen as grouchy bank officials turning down nice people for loans or mean neighbors who won't give the kids their football back and rarely had the opportunity to clown this way. The song in question begins at the 3:00 minute mark in this clip.

Finally, we have the last nine minutes or so of the film.  This includes the rather catchy title song, accompanying an incomprehensible sequence in which Carol Channing and her daughter's hippy friends occupy gangster Groucho Marx's yacht, while Groucho turns on and becomes a Buddhist.  I include this clip principally for the final few minutes in which Harry Nillson sings the credits.  All of them.  Right down to the wardrobe mistress and the production accountant.  That's freakier than Gleason's acid trip.

Make no mistake.  By no means is Skidoo a good film.  But it is an instructive bad film, and one with some moments of inspiration of enchantment.  Personally, I would never have thought Otto had it in him.

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