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Parent Issue
Day
20
Month
December
Year
1974
OCR Text

The gears grind slowly in the movie biz this week before the Big Red and Green Day. You're searching for kicks, but those newspaper ads can only promise a bounty of re-runs. They save the multi-million dollar specials for a Christmas Day premiere. By recent American tradition, the whole family heads for the downtown theatre after they've finished the turkey and can't face cleaning up the scattered small wads of wrapping paper. In Ann Arbor, the big Christmas opening is at the Michigan Theatre -The Godfather, Part II. Too bad we are not all ín Detroit about twelve years ago, when the Motown Revue carne to the Fox Theatre for a Christmas Day extravaganza. After finishing the scrambled eggs, we would all go downtown and watch Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Smokey and the Miracles, and Stevie Wonder. Those Christmas' were real holidays. The Trial of Billy Jack Forget the good old days and live in the present. Movie offerings this week are slim slim pickings. One movie you should be sure to miss is The Trial of Billy Jack. If you see yourself as a true movie diehard-the type that never walks out in the middle-this could be the one to send you running. Three abysmal hours of bad acting, bad shots, bad script and maudlin music by Elmer Bernstein, Hollywood's pre-eminent master of tonal schlock. The film tries hard to get in every possible politicalsocial issue, and the end product is a grostesquely overspiced melodrama. This one film makes anemic pushes for the following causes: Indian land rights; the martial arts; student and Indian self-determination;starving Indians; child and prisoner abuse; political and corporate corruption; the mysticinitiate and private quest for GOD; woman's liberation; yoga and dance therapy, and of course, starving Indians. It might be a perfect combo for an excessively idealistic thirteen year old, but it is a terribly excessive form of voyeuristic politics. The film was simulatneously released in hundreds of theatres a few weeks ago. The Trial of Billy Jack has done very well in each city for the first three weeks, but attendance quickly drops to almost nothing once the GP audience runs out. If you want a good clean movie, one that fulfills an adolescent fantasy of the Purpose of Life, then this is it. For $2.50, you can masturbate your self-guilt and feel that you have done the week's good deed by seeing a film. The directorproducerdistributoractor team of Delores Taylor and Torn Laughlin played this third Billy Jack for all it's worth. Hopefully they won't be using their new millions to make a fourth melodrama. California Split & The Gambler Another warning, this on the gambling films. The sequence of California Split (which left Ann Arbor a week ago) and The Gambler (now at Briarwood) together is a venture down the road of filmic explanations of the modern fever for gambling. Perhaps vou have spent some time in the crazy casinos of Reno, Tahoe or Vegas, and wondered what all this high pitched dedication to the numbers and cards means. The casinos contain a fascinating spectrum of American characters, but both of these gambling films fail to carry the tone of colorful intensity that characterizes large scale gambling. Instead, both movies try to explain why given individuáis are hit by the fever. j The male pal team of California Split are just a couple of J guys who like to have a good time and take some risks. The isolated altenated Jewish intellectual nero of The Gambler gets into high risk gambling because he wants to prove he is a tough guy. His profession as professor of literature is simply not exciting enough. The Gambler is branded by a heavy and sluggish psychological tone, the writer and director's presumption that they can really teil us something about violence, gambling, and the threat of death. The insights are minimal, and the acting is bad in a way that appears to be the poor product of people who see role depiction as a nineto-five job. Someone taught them too much of the wrong thing in acting school. The Harder They Come Local successes and failures of The Harder They Come say a great deal about the movie business in Ann Arbor. The film played a poor week or so at the Fox Village Theatre, way out there in K-Mart land at Stadium and Jackson. In contrast,' the three recent showings of the film at campus film societies have been very successful. Perhaps the Fox Village is too far away from the local hip audience, and the Ann Arbor News ads do not attract much young and student attention. All this is interesting because The Harder They Come is not a but the cult movie. lts story weaves a saga of great appeal to young people, and Jimmy Cliff s reggae score is a rich and deeply rhythmic musical form quite unequalled in native American rhythm and blues or rock. This independently produced film, Jamaica's first feature, has had a fascinating cycle of distribution and fluctuating success in the complicated American movie circuit. American International Picture's infamous directordistributor Roge.r Corrflan picked up tlio film for U.S. distribution about two yeaib ago. Corma is known as Uie man who who cooked up the surfer cycle. and then the motorcycle and horror films that ran well for years at drive-ins. His such as The Pit and the Pendulum and Heli's Angels on Wheels-have a certain merit, but they are definitely geared towards a lucrative fad appeal. Corman figured The Harder They Come was ripe material for the black sex-ploitation market. When billed as such, the film absolutely bombed in places like Kansas City and Des Moines. The hip potential of the film was finally realized by Larry Jackson, booker for the Orson Welles Film Complex in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Counting on the Cambridge rage for reggae music, he brought the film into the Boston area last year, and to everyone's surprise it became a hit of absolutely unequaled proportions. The Harder They Come ran for about twelve months, and is now a midnight movie feature at the Orson Welles. It was not uncommon for Bostorupeople to come back a third and fourth time. New York and San Francisco audiences were somewhat cooler, but by and large the film has proved an incredible success in so-called hip centers. The Harder They Come should not be dismissed as a pure fad film, a la Reefer Madness. The movie is good, or art so to speak, because it communicates directly the idiom and way of life, the details of an oppressed culture native to Jamaica. The lilting reggae music is the strongest appeal of the film, but the film's whole form conforms to this music. The cuts are in reggae rhythm, and the shots are specific to Jamaican culture. American formulas of film continuity are absent, and each scène comes in abruptly, without our American sense of obligation to slowly introduce a new idea. Superficially this quick and discontinuous style appearsprmitive, but on ctoser examination the crudeness emerges as simply a different cultural form of filmic expression. Several major New York critics panned The Harder They Come for this crudity, thereby admitting perhaps their own lapses of attention to a new filmcultural form. The Harder They Come is cultural idiom cinema in the same sense that Satyajit Ray's movies express the essence of India, or Ozu or Kurosawa's films communicate a deep awareness of Japan. Other cultures perceive time, ideas and visual imagery within the terms of their own cultural forms, and it is the great film maker who can succeed in capturing his or her own culture's unique styles of thought and perception. Jean Renoir's films are purely French, and in the same sense Perry Hensell's The Harder They Come is pure Jamaica. There is perhaps nothing more deeply exciting about movies than this ability to express new or different ways of seeing and interpreting the material world and its passage of time and events. The Harder They Come is a unique contribution to the rather small number of expressly political narrative films. The politics are told through the protagonist, a criminal hero a la Jesse James or Robin Hood. Interestingly, the movie is based on the life of a real Jamaican criminal hero of the 1950's. The movie hero is a country boy come to the city, where he finds little work and few opportunities. Jamaica is very much a neo-colonial society, a culture whose economics are governed by tourism. The needs of wealthy American tourists cannot provide employment for a whole island, and alternative economie resources been developed in the native products of music and marijuana cultivation. The criminal hero Ivan turns to music for employment but finds a highly crooked business. Performers are paid a meager token for their talents, with white or whitened native entrepeneurs skimming off most of the money. Desperate for money, Ivan turns to reefer dealing, but here too the controllers of commerce reap the overwhelming margin of continued on page 27 Movies continued from page 21 profil. Jimmy Cliff himself has left Jamaica to live in London. lvan and Jamaica's oppressors are one and the same. Like Robin Hood or Jesse James he is urged to seek revenge against the men who control his culture's economy, and the means he chooses is individual violence. As the Weather men and the SLA have told us, when one. acts alone or in small groups, violence is one of the few choices available for action. The Harder They Come doses with a series of Ivan's assassinations. The violence is perhaps understandable, but definitely overwhelming. Combined with the film's consistent depiction of women as simpering fools and sex receivers, the movie has a rather overbearing macho bend. The Harder They Come will play again sometime in the winter at the New World Film Co-op. Don't miss it.