Thursday, August 07, 2008


I don't find much of interest on Fox Movie Channel these days--the same Alice Faye and Tyrone Power movies in the daytime and the same mainstream 80's and 90's movies at night. But once in a while, they come through with a doozy, and this is one. Robert Forster is a film student at a California university; the previous year, he was a promising prizewinner, but he's turned to incoherent avant-garde short films (like the one that opens the film), has lost some grant money, and is alienating his friends and colleagues right and left with his bullying attitude and strange theories of film. Forster decides that "reality is the ultimate in theatrical entertainment" (his favorite example is the televised shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald) and begins filming real people in extreme situations: a boy being saved from drowning, two people having sex in the back seat of a car, a suicidal man jumping from a hotel window. He pays a hooker to masturbate in front of his camera and he eggs his girlfriend (Sandra Locke) into an improv bit with a fellow student that nearly leads to rape, then goes off and has an affair with another student (Susanne Benton). He befriends a guy (Floyd Mutrux) who is struggling with his sexual identity and films him trying unsuccessfully to have sex with Benton. Nice fella, huh? By the end, Forester has lost both girls, his film school pals, his faithful camera assistant (a very young Sam Waterston), and a potential studio gig. He goes running on the beach. The end.

This is not a good movie by most objective standards: the production (directed by Noel Black who had just had a small hit with his first film PRETTY POISON) feels amateurish, the acting ranges from indifferent to wooden, and the characters never come to life. However, there are two things about it that almost redeem it. First, Robert Forster does a pretty good job playing a total son-of-a-bitch; he's aloof and obnoxious (and sexy), and to Forster's credit, he never tries to engage the audience's sympathies. His blunt, unfeeling character seems kin to the cameraman he played in MEDIUM COOL. The other interesting thing here is Forster's philosophy of film; his attempts at manipulating reality for entertainment resonate today, from Survivor to Big Brother, from Michael Moore to Flavor Flav. There are also some faint echoes of Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM, though the psychology of Forster's compulsion is never explored. Classic-era player Regis Toomey has a cameo as an aging director who stands for all the things Forster doesn't want to be. The theme song is performed by Bread (yes, the "I wanna make it with you" soft-rock 70's band) and another song has lyrics by Randy Newman. The opening film-within-a-film is fun, but as far as entertainment goes, it's mostly downhill from there. Still, it's worth a look as long as you know what you're getting into. [FCM]

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