petak, 12. svibnja 2017.

Robert Downey Sr. - Greaser’s Palace (1972)

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Nizovi i nizovi stalnih iznenađenja, s Isusom u glavnoj ambijentalnoj ulozi. Buñuel i Jodorowsky dotaknuti jurećim automobilom.

‘Nearly every event in Greaser’s Palace arrives unexpectedly and unannounced; there are few movies as totally unpredictable as this one. Jesus appears as a song-and-dance man, and has an agent. Characters get shot unexpectedly and repeatedly, and return from the dead with psychedelic stories about the afterlife. A midget and a transvestite live together in a prairie homestead as man and wife. A man tries to rape a wooden Indian. Mariachi music is used as an instrument of torture. The weirdness of this world is underplayed; none of the characters, with an important exception, acknowledge or even notice that anything is even the slightest bit off. This attitude makes some of the events come off even funnier, but it also makes the proposed comedy impure and tainted. Downey never signals to us whether he’s making a joke or not, and so we’re never sure whether we’re supposed to laugh or not. A town is assembled, quietly listening to a woman sing a song about the virtue of chastity. Suddenly, a man starts screaming in pain because a man dressed as a Halloween ghost burns him with a lit cigar. He is dragged by a gang of cowboys out into a dirt road and shot by his father for interrupting the festivities. Is this funny, or disturbing? Who can say? We don’t have a stock emotional response to that kind of scene; we have to make up our reaction on the fly.’ — G. Smalley, 366 Weird Movies

“I’ve made ‘Greaser’s Palace’ sound funnier than it ever is except in little bits and pieces, that is, in gags that have nothing to do with satire or with a send-up of Christian myth. Downey is no Bunüel. He’s not even an Alexandro Jodorowsky, although there are times when ‘Greaser’s Palace’ seems to want to be as intellectually ambitious as ‘El Topo.'”–Vincent Camby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

“Approaching the life of Christ with a sensibility informed equally by Buñuel and Mad magazine… As a product of an unusually adventurous time in cinema history, Greaser’s Palace has perverse appeal. As a comedy, it’s virtually unwatchable.”–Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club (DVD)

“…may well be the weirdest film you ever see about the life of Christ, but it may also be the one to which you pay the most attention.”–Chris Holland, Attack of the 50-Foot DVD (DVD)

Robert Downey Sr.’s films are ribald, socially-conscious, highly experimental works that make Richard Lester’s oeuvre seem polite and Godard’s plot-heavy. Though he achieved cult success with 1969’s Putney Swope, some of Downey’s other, more radical works from the period are arguably more interesting, and their revival by way of an Eclipse box set is exceptional news. Up All Night With Robert Downey Sr. brings together five early films which show the director at his unhinged best, and if nothing else should prove a hedge against Downey becoming a mere footnote to his more famous son’s career.
A part of New York’s avant-garde film scene in the 60s, Downey screened his works alongside underground icons Shirley Clarke, Bruce Conner and Kenneth Anger. What he shared with his contemporaries was a patent disregard for convention and an ability to make films on the cheap. He cast his friends and family, shot on available locations, and mostly avoided sync sound. The work transcends its technical and budgetary limitations however, owing to Downey’s impudent sensibility. Plot, realism, and good taste all go out the window. His narratives are instead random, surreal, and chock-a-block full of crass humor—call them post-modern picaresques. 

Downey’s first feature, Babo 73 (1964), is case in point. A sui generis political farce, it follows the whimsical adventures of Sandy Studsbury (Taylor Mead), the effete president of the “United Status,” who conducts affairs of state from a beach chair. “I’m morally committed to anyone who’ll vote for me,” he gleefully admits. With the help of his feckless cabinet, Studsbury makes quick work of assassinating prime ministers, bombing Albania, and congratulating himself on his job performance. Filmed in extremely unlikely locations—a crumbling house, a cemetery, a highway median—the picture makes a virtue of abstraction, like an Ionesco play shot through with Beatnik sensibility.
Taylor Mead in Babo 73

Downey’s next and more daring effort was 1966’s Chafed Elbows, the one masterpiece in the set. Composed almost entirely of still photographs, it’s a twisted formal cousin of Chris Marker’s La Jetée, the difference being that Downey’s photos wriggle, writhe and repeat to the rhythm of a bebop beat. It lends the film a cartoon-ish quality that mirrors its “story,” wherein every-doofus Walter Dinsmore (George Morgan) sleeps with his mother, gives birth to some cash, has a nervous breakdown, acts in an underground film, shoots a cop, defenestrates his cousin…and so on. Absurdity is the byword, and no one escapes Downey’s critical eye. Poets, parents, artists and cops are all variously derided as frauds.
Chafed Elbows successfully earned Downey a reputation, and after the curious docu-diversion of 1968’s No More Excuses (the less said, the better), he was able to finance the bigger budget, higher concept, Putney Swope. In it, the eponymous hero (Arnold Johnson) is the sole black employee at an advertising firm who gets promoted to Chairman of the Board by fluke. No sooner does he take over, than he replaces the white staff with black and embarks on a doomed crusade to marry his high ideals with big business. Downey’s first film to observe at least a few tenets of classical form, it’s naturally the one that went over biggest on release. It’s got a groovy, revolutionary spirit, but from a formal perspective it’s not half so daring as his previous work.
Downey went on to direct another cult favorite, the unfortunately not-included Greaser’s Palace (1972), and has had an erratic career ever since. In 1975 he made the nigh inscrutable Moment to Moment (included here in a re-cut form as Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight), then followed it in 1980 with the banal teen comedy Up the Academy. That he never found a solid industry foothold isn’t surprising; originality has never been an asset in Hollywood and Downey’s style is anything but derivative. His early works, nevertheless, retain their freshness, are still vital, and unequivocally those of an unruly American original. -

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