Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shampoo (1975)

The Tragedy of a Dildo, in Three Acts

directed by Hal Ashby
starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie,
Goldie Hawn, Jack Warden, Lee Grant

"You think George is a fairy?" 
"Well. I don't know for sure. He's a hairdresser."

Of course, that's the crux of Shampoo's comedy: the Beverly Hills hairdresser who's only the most put-upon pussy magnet in existence — no hunter but a mere fawn too accommodating to bolt from the crosshairs, using a scythe of finely honed flakiness to hack his way through the jungle of outstretched hands pawing at his jeans.

Beatty and co-writer Robert Towne (Chinatown, The Last Detail) lit their Don Juan stogie with a spark from The Country Wife, a Restoration-era romp about a man trusted to be alone with all the wives of the village since he was thought to be impotent. Here, "impotence" is translated as "suspected to be gay because he makes his living in a field dominated by mincing queens." Naturally, that's a nudge-and-a-wink to a mid-'70s public all too familiar with tales of pussyhound Warren Beatty's Tinseltown exploits. Irony-wise, it's the central conceit meant to keep us chuckling with delight as that rascal George flits from Lee Grant's married rich-cunt to shit-for-brains model Goldie Hawn to Grant's bitter Lolita of a daughter (Princess Leia!) and back to old flame Julie Christie, all under the nose of a town too busy smoothing its moustache and checking its toupee in the mirror to notice. 

Shampoo's no wacky bedroom farce from the bell-bottomed-'n-shag-carpeted '70s, though. Beatty, being the politically committed granddaddy-to-today's-Clooneys-and-Penns that he is, was no more interested in providing sitcom yuks than he was in allowing us a glimpse of Julie Christie's tits. He and Towne set the story in 1968, on the eve of Richard Nixon's election to high office — and with a film made six years later, when the evening news was regularly peeling back the jowls of Tricky Dick's White House to show the maggots gnawing on the rancid, mottled corpus underneath, you'd better believe there's Intended Political Allegory in these here hills. Election Day '68, in Shampoo's eyes, was The Shot That Killed the Sixties — less a blast from a bolt-action rifle than the splash of a '67 Olds plummeting off a bridge at Chappaquiddick, the tattered carcass of an era to be laid at the feet of the "Silent Majority" Nixon voters who pumped it full of buckshot — sure — but thrown in the faces of the peaceniks and politicians-for-change who were too busy injecting sexual and emotional hypocrisy into the culture at large to bother stopping the hunters.

If all that sounds like a tall order for a movie about a manwhore who motorbikes around town with a blow dryer holstered on his hip, then rest assured: Shampoo definitely fumbles the delivery. Of ultimately minimal value are the Spiro Agnew cameos during moments of sexual largesse or the blonde chippie in a brightly-colored Nixon-Agnew hat. (Would one have seen such a thing on the streets of Beverly Hills at the height of the "Love Generation"?) Besides, Towne and Beatty shoot easy sympathy for the Buffalo Springfield crowd in the foot with the fact that the sole likeable character happens to be Lester Karp, the Nixon-voting (and almost ritually cuckolded) businessman played by Jack Warden. So forget politics. Just enjoy Beatty himself, the Olivier of playing who-me? innocent like no other actor of his era. His George Roundy is the cad you hate not to love, sweetly dumb in the lingering mist of a childlike naïveté, the bumbling fool (Beatty's forte, as in Bonnie and Clyde, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Ishtar, Bulworth), yet somehow still getting away with things nice boys don't even think about.

If I've said nothing about the film's director, Hal Ashby (whose work I tend to love), it's because George Roundy is clearly Beatty's ultimate auteur statement, his most plainly personal character. Beatty essentially co-directed the film, but a viewer with zero knowledge of that, or of his career-long penchant for smacking foreheads with directors over creative control, could glean that fairly easily. Those of us who consider ourselves familiar with the Beatty legend look for a little piece of it in all of his performances. Beatty is — was — a star, first and foremost. We wouldn't want him to disappear behind peculiar accents or the mustache of a railroad baron from 1896 anymore than he'd be able to. We want to sit back and grin during a scene with him and Julie Christie, as we wonder if a lovers' quarrel in his trailer that morning led her to tear into him with a bit more intensity than the script called for. All the characters he's chosen to inhabit — as well as the ways in which he's chosen to inhabit them — have been either a winking embrace or a chuckling repudiation of his image as The Guy Who's Banged Every Starlet in Hollywood. And Shampoo manages to be both.

Then again, to paraphrase Nixon himself (via Oliver Stone): when you look at George Roundy, you see what you'd like to be; when you look at Lester Karp, you see what you are. And if you're standing in Lester's wingtips, then, of course George is a fairy — that's what people say about guys like him, isn't it? Obscenely self-assured pretty boys with the audacity — the arrogance — to sample the wares of multiple needy, neurotic women rather than chain themselves to a relationship with just one? Men who, by dint of the massive balls they've cultivated, actually live out the fantasies that the socially inept and supremely unconfident jerk themselves to sleep with every night? Men who women seem to just throw it at? And when they do, it's usually right after having their dinners paid for by one of those hommes sans game who poses as the ultimate nice guy — right? — the type who thinks that keeping his car radio tuned to the smooth-R&B station and professing disdain for the Neanderthal ways of the rest of the male species will somehow provide that magical St.-Paul-on-the-Road-to-Damascus moment for some skank-in-a-bar who's spent the last four years' worth of Friday nights getting her cervix batter-rammed by bad boys who choke and don't call back.

As if devoting one's time and energy to bedding various women — not to mention, all the messy intimacy with female genitalia contained therein — were somehow undeniable proof that what said "player" really craves is another man; never mind that. A guy like George Roundy is too smooth to be straight — please, God, let him be gay! After all, with guys like George on the market, life for the Lester Karps of the world means being stuck in line with a dozen other schlubs cradling ground chuck past its sell-by date — lucky if they get a moment's worth of eye contact from the checkout girl — while George breezes out with all the filet mignon in the place. And half of it probably jumped off the butcher's block and flung itself into his cart — that son-of-a-bitch.

So, George has what the Oprah set would term "commitment issues." Well, as they say, one is often a product of one's environment. And take a look at George's environment: why would he settle down with any of these women, or grant them a sliver more consideration than he gives to the necessity of financial statements when applying for a bank loan? Lee Grant's Felicia is so unblinkingly self-centered in the face of propriety, such a turban-headed savage along the Western shores of dignity, that she fucks George mere minutes after he's dipped his wick in her teenage (underaged?) daughter. Said daughter (Carrie Fisher — absolutely no tape on the breasts here, Mister Lucas) oozes so much slime-green resentment for her that she drags Mommy's plaything into her pen, then blithely tosses it back — still covered in her saliva and teeth-marks. Goldie Hawn's Jill is such a whining, approval-craving ninny — cowering and crying for George at every little bump in the night ("I thought I heard shots!") — that mild-mannered George blatantly compares her to a child during one of those when-are-we-having-kids conversations that every guy dreads. (And even then, she's too dumb to be at least mildly offended.) When their climactic confrontation finally occurs, Jill's been so willfully blind that you're rooting for George to just up and dick-slap her with the truth, ready to jump up and cheer with pumped fist at his infamous "Let's face it... I fucked 'em all" speech, as if it were Elliott taking off on his bike in E.T. 

Even the woman for whom he feels something closest to the L-word — Julie Christie's Jackie — scarcely bothers to hide the fact that she rents her snatch to the highest bidder, that she's with Lester for his money, that she's fully aware of his marriage to "that cunt" Felicia and cares not a whit about diving under the table to blow George — in full view of Lester, in full view of Felicia — during the returns-watching function that serves as the film's centerpiece. In the middle of this crazed, Caligula-esque circus of me, George's "I don't fuck anybody for money, I do it for fun" rings out like the clarion call of sanity — the lone dinghy of true innocence in waters not nearly as pure as professional Sixties idealists would have you believe. It also sounds like the cold, unadorned truth. Say what you will about your local manwhore — at least he fucks for the sheer human pleasure of sliding off another pair of panties grown clammy with the dew of excitement (part of nature's programming, anyway), not for money or social status or career advancement or a good table at Spago's.

"Maybe it means I don't love 'em...
nobody's gonna tell me I don't like 'em very much..."

George is a guy who spends all his time around women — certainly, he must like them, right? Except that, in the real world, the biggest misogynists tend to be those who "score" the most, not (as is commonly assumed) bitter nerds with their dicks indefinitely stationed in Palm Springs. Anyone who's ever spent ten minutes of "conversation" time with your friendly neighborhood suburban jock can attest to this — get him alone, away from the future Playmates he's taken for granted since puberty, and "Love, Tenderness and Respect" ain't the name of the tune he sings. Of course, it might have something to do with the fact that getting a higher degree of "action" entails being around more women. And being around more women entails a greater awareness of the vagaries of the fairer sex — i.e., looming insecurities, the unceasing need for validation, the constant head games, the shallow assessments of what constitutes a good time, the shallow assessments of other people (especially, other women), the tantrum-throwing when she hasn't gotten her way, endless prattling about the most trifling minutiae of her daily existence.

Or, even less charitably: the more success one has getting into women's salty little panties, the more one realizes what great aphrodisiacs things like money and status really are. (How the fuck else could Jabba the Huts like Biggie Smalls or personality-free dorks like Tiger Woods actually get laid?) And once one tends to chance upon this gradual dawning of the consciousness, one tends to note one's increased resentment and overall lack of respect for the pretty little things one gets into bed — even at the height of one's carnal success, even as one fields whispered declarations involving the L-word, even (well, especially) as she hobbles out of your apartment with a dislodged uterus, wearing your fingerprints around her throat like a Girl Scout merit badge. (Or so I've heard.)

Beatty soft-pedals this aspect of womanizing in Shampoo, much as he soft-pedaled Clyde Barrow's alleged bisexuality, much as The Parallax View soft-pedaled the U.S. government's complicity with assassinations and cover-ups, much as Bulworth soft-pedaled the high untenability of the let's-all-be-socialists-and-fuck-'til-we're-all-the-same-shade-of-gray party line. Perhaps that's an outgrowth of some George Roundy-ish need to please (if not outright seduce) every audience member who comes along. Nonetheless, Beatty was nothing if not a guy who knew about women. And, however muted, indelible truths about Being a Guy are indeed carefully nestled behind Shampoo's hedges, waiting patiently for the scavenger hunt to begin.

The Second Most Important Lesson of the film: cater exclusively to a woman's vanity and the pussy's yours. She could have a husband, two boyfriends, a secret admirer and a kid on life support — doesn't matter. Your crotch might bear the scent of half the women in the town, the wall over your bed may sport an entire season's worth of scuff marks from high heels — doesn't matter. Devote every drop of your attention to making her feel like the best-looking woman in five counties, ensure that men slip on their own drool in her wake, that she's the envy of every catty little cunt in Nordstrom's — and most assuredly, the pussy's got your name tattooed on it. Looks have precious little to do with it — tellingly, not one woman in the film comments on George's appearance. If you need her badly enough, if you make her believe beyond any shadow of a doubt that she's the only girl on the planet who can make your back arch and your toes curl and your heart pound — then, you can resemble J.J. from Good Times and you'll still be churning in her gut like bad fish.

Now, for the flip side — The Most Important Lesson of Shampoo: What Goes Up Must Come Down. Every Dog Has His Day. Venture just one day past your sell-by without the sweaty hand of a steady sweetheart clutched in yours, and you're one for the trash heap. A faint memory to bring no more than the occasional reminiscence. Ultimately, the fate of the world's George Roundys is being cast aside for a safe bet, a man who offers the stability of a steady high-end salary to keep her shoe collection healthy and growing. It's being judged for your manwhoriness by the same women who used it to their advantage when it suited their needs — when they drunk-texted you at 11:25 at night for a little impromptu wall-scuffing because they needed the comfort of the ego boost and the orgasms you reliably provided.

Eventually, George will break down to Jackie: "I don't trust anybody but you." And therein lies the tricky part. The part where it all comes back to bite you on the ass. The part where it's initially fun to be the guy they want to fuck, until it's eating a path through your guts: "What if she were my wife? Or my girlfriend, who told me she was just going out for drinks with the girls?" And then, you realize that you can't trust anyone — not the carousel of women with whom you share your living room couch, not the men like a younger version of yourself, whose incessant offers your precious lady love will undoubtedly field the second you're not around.

If George/the '60s is the dumb-blonde innocent that Beatty intended him/it to be, then Shampoo winds up with a pretty dim view of such innocence. The confrontation between George and Lester — player vs. player-hater, young vs. old, The Silent Majority vs. Hippie Commie Out to Destroy Everything We've Worked For — is where George seals his own fate as surely as the film portends the pitter-patter of the Reagan Eighties dancing a two-step to Slick Rick's "Treat Her Like a Prostitute" on his welcome mat. George's utter resentment — "How do I know what they have against you? They're women, aren't they?" — comes spilling out at last. And that ingratiating quality he's used to keep so many balls in the air is precisely what delivers the death blow here: he convinces Lester that Jackie really likes him, that it's not all about the money for her. It's a brazen lie — and it becomes the golden chariot in which Lester dashes off with Jackie into a future George could never realize.

Lester doesn't even need to have George thumped by hired goons. This kid's a flake and nothing more — too non-committal to satisfy even himself, a shiny new toy, a dildo, a ring in the jewelry section at Wal-Mart to be coveted by teenage girls who don't know any better, before they grow up and develop a sense of what their hips and curves and batting eyelashes will net them out there beyond the confines of Daddy's House. At which point, they graduate from Sex as Mere Pleasurable Activity and move into Sex as Business, Pussy as Commodity. The Market. The Adult World. In which George — with his go-nowhere plans and his charming but empty little fantasies — is but a panhandler shivering in the cold, nose pressed to the glass, watching all the fat cats and their trophy wives sipping chardonnay by the fireplace inside.

And then, you're the pathetic forty year-old guy in the bar, the laughingstock with a lukewarm Stella in hand. And then, the Beach Boys is the saddest, most poignant music you've ever heard.

And then, you're alone.

©2010 Scott Is NOT A Professional Film Critic

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gimme Shelter (1970)

A Trifle Too Satanic

directed by David Maysles, Albert Maysles
and Charlotte Zwerin
starring The Rolling Stones, a shitload of Hell's Angels,
The Death of the Sixties

"Something very funny happens when we start that number."

That's Mick Jagger's sudden lump-throated reckoning in the eye of the storm at Altamont — a limp-dicked stab at levity as the Stones bring "Sympathy for the Devil" to a halt and try to figure out just what the hell's going on out there in the darkness, what with all the pushing and shouting, and Hell's Angels gathering like storm clouds around the band, and naked fat zombie girls trying to claw their way onstage, while high-as-a-kiters tug at the speakers, and hippies who should be blissfully tripping are instead trying desperately to alert Mick to something. Meanwhile, new guitarist Mick Taylor's hiding under his hair and Keith Richards is busy rhythm-chording his way into the ether like no one since Nero picked up a fiddle. (Jagger in a frustrated snit: "Keef! Keef! Would you cool it and I'll try an' see wot's goin' on...")

Suddenly, a huge gap opens in the crowd, like cattle bolting at the bark of gunfire. What we can't make out (but would later be reported): pool cues wielded by pissed-off Angels begin cutting through the air — each one the flick of the whip that scatters a thicket of zonked-out teenagers who made the mistake of pushing too close to the stage or being too close to the Angels' motorcycles. Kids already huddled at the feet of the band begin clinging to the stage like a raft, afraid of being sucked backward into the vortex of cracked skulls and bad-trip confusion. A crying girl nods her head in time to Charlie Watts' ever-steady beat. The Stones slog on, torn and frayed, likely counting down the minutes until they can break for the safety of their helicopter. Jagger's weary improv during "Under My Thumb": "I pray that it's alright..."

Springing from the brows of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters and Hank Williams and Southern soul, the Stones were, by far, the best and blackest of our mutt-bred pop culture's Original White Niggers. ("Monkey Man," indeed.) They taught scruffy American boys how to be American — how to pout and posture, how to hold one's guitar, how to feed the birds the perfect cocktail of misogyny and sensitivity and have 'em thirsting for seconds, how to sound just black enough to align oneself with the sex and menace of the blues while staying hard-rock enough to headline stadiums and grace the T-shirts of the kids from the 'burbs. It took Mick 'N Keef to show us how to appreciate the blues, how to acknowledge our hillbilly roots, how to rub elbows and swap sweat with our Negroes (onstage, anyway), how to dig the funk and show ourselves up as mullet-headed, sexually insecure dinosaurs when we labeled the disco rhythms of "Miss You" and "Emotional Rescue" a craven sellout.

"Turd on the Run" and "Tumbling Dice" and "Brown Sugar" and "Monkey Man" and "Stray Cat Blues" mark the Stones as the true architects of what rock ended up as — that is, if we're taking as testimony the overall sound and approach of, say, Guns N' Roses or coke-era Aerosmith or uptempo T. Rex or the New York Dolls or the Faces or the Iggy Pop of Raw Power or the Black Crowes or Little Steven and Nils Lofgren in Springsteen's band or ZZ Top or the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or any number of loud, sloppy blues-rock doo-dah merchants. The whole alt-country/"Americana" genre could send Father's Day cards to Exile on Main St.'s weary, drunken jaunts down the alleys and backroads of the South. Keith Richards' legendary fondness for dope plus the elegantly wasted grandeur of his onstage cigarette-dangling probably influenced legions of Slashes and Johnny Thunderses and God-knows-who-else in their personal acquisitions of needle-mania. Scuzz-punk malcontents Pussy Galore dedicated an entire album to deconstructing Exile. Liz Phair considered her Exile in Guyville a song-by-song response to it. Martin Scorsese can't make a gangster film without "Gimme Shelter" (the song). I used to reserve "Sweet Black Angel" as a ringtone for any black girls I was fucking.

And so, we watch the Stones-loving, Woodstock-era youth culture of Gimme Shelter with the fascination of anthropologists studying dinosaur fossils. Throughout the first half of the film, we're essentially hanging with the Stones on their 1969 tour of the States. We follow them as they check into their cheap motel rooms. (Holiday Inn!) We're treated to a work-in-progress version of "Wild Horses" during a mixing session at Alabama's famed Muscle Shoals studio. We chuckle at Keith in all his smacked-out, bad-teeth languor as he shows off his Marilyn Monroe T-shirt for the camera, seconds after swigging booze like bottled Kool-Aid.

We marvel at the ridiculously young Mick Jagger on the screen here, the one strutting across that Madison Square Garden stage in his Uncle Sam top hat and what looks like a goddamn kids' superhero costume, with his electrocuted-chicken dance moves and the sheer, genuine love of performing that keeps bubbling forth. We watch him and we see him as our parents once saw him: not the long-past-his-prime, thoroughly safe and jet-setting pop royalty who famously inspired a "get off the stage, old man" from Morrissey. No, this is a young and still-relevant Mick — fully aware of his powers, ironic to the core, and yet totally sincere in his embrace of the role of Sixties Cultural Avatar. It's Mick Jagger as the big, bad, booty-lipped Lucifer leading the youth down the pied-piper path to irreversible moral decay, who warned you coy little out-of-time cunts not to play with fire, who teased you with your own complicity in the culture that killed the Kennedys, who foretold all the rape and murder that was just a shot away, who brayed openly for coke and sympathy, who invited up your fifteen year-old sister (thirteen, if you believe the live version) and didn't even want to check her I.D. first.

This is rock as the riot-sparking madhattery that your parents and the county sheriff tried to shield you from. It's rock as a force of nature to kill or die or fuck to — as if Mick's hips were connected by invisible wire to each hit of the snare drum, as if Mick himself were nothing more than a puppet on the strings of the Charlie Watts-Bill Wyman steam engine pumping away behind and beneath him, as if the chugga-chugga juggernaut churned up by Keith and Mick Taylor were pure uncut China White being mainlined straight into his vein, all the way up to his brain, and the sheer fucking heft of the noise they're cooking up has possessed him, mind-body-and-soul. We watch the Mick of Gimme Shelter and the last thirty-odd years evaporate right in front of us: the faceless tours with 800-ft. video screens in corporate-owned arenas, the nostalgia, the classic-rock radio overkill, the graceless aging, the overly familiar crunch of those Keef rhythm chords as Mick licks his lips and gyrates his way through another tale of conquest or romantic desperation like he's still twenty-five years old.

And then we get to Altamont. And, oh, do the storm clouds gather fast.

Of course, the Maysles Brothers hadn't intended to be pallbearers at what the press would term the funeral for a generation's hopes. (If I wrote for, say, Rolling Stone, I'd probably liken the Sixties to some kind of "high" and call Altamont the "comedown.") Mundane as it seems now, it's key to remember: these guys were only there to capture primo footage of The World's Greatest Rock 'N Roll Band on what was then its first U.S. tour in three years. And so, we watch as a simple end-of-tour freebie gig at the Altamont speedway in northern California slowly mutates into Altamont — the End of the Sixties, the Death of the Innocence — piece by piece, the sheer spirit-depleting horror of the thing only gradually revealed, like a jigsaw puzzle that forms the poster for the new Rob Reiner movie.

During the Jefferson Airplane's set, the grinning death's head of impending doom materializes one image at a time — naked hippies writhing, sullen Angels sipping their beer, the musicians nodding and jamming, the crowd moving in tighter, pushing forward, then surging back. We get a jittery Grace Slick trying to still the waves of discontent — "Easy.... easy..." — that she feels coming off the crowd. Then the Airplane's Marty Balin gets knocked out by Angels and there go the floodgates — the crowd parts for some unfortunate soul meeting two or three pool cues at once, scythes cutting whip-like arcs through the pot-laced air, as if we've suddenly jerked forward into fast-motion and the film were unspooling past the gate faster than our eyes could comprehend. Calls for a doctor are met largely with indifference as the bad vibes have yet to spread out to the majority of the crowd. Minutes off the Stones' helicopter, Mick's greeted by a fan socking him in the eye.

And then, the queasy climax we came for: the crowd parts (again) around the spastic dance of a pimp-suited black kid named Meredith Hunter, who's either mid-scuffle or in a mad rush for the stage. For reasons debated endlessly in the forty years since — self-defense or harmful intent? — Hunter's left hand brandishes a revolver. Before we can blink, an Angel tackles him from the side and buries a knife in his back, sweeping him into the off-camera darkness to breathe his dying breath under (what was later reported as) a barrage of further blows and kicks. And thus, David and Albert Maysles' thrilling little Rolling Stones tour documentary became the evil twin to Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock, the Deep Throat of culture porn for assorted Sixties-backlashers, a snuff-flick dissertation on the impossibility of utopia.

"But where were the police?" you ask from your central air-conditioned penthouse suite of twenty-first century hindsight. "Where was security?" Apparently there were no cops — at least not until Meredith Hunter was already a lime-green lump on a stretcher. And all those drunken Hell's Angels going around cracking skulls and weighing down the makeshift stage? Well, they were the security.

Ah, the Sixties. That fleeting arrhythmia in the EKG of the twentieth century — a psychedelic fever dream of peace and love and brother-helping-brother before the culture yanked the thermometer from under its tongue, rose from its sickbed and continued onward in its otherwise uninterrupted march toward corporate-sponsored, conservative-voting, middle-class respectability. But what a dream it was, this era of automatic culture-cred parceled out to random longhairs, druggies and misfits due to their perceived antipathy to the Man. Didn't want to be shipped off to die in the 'Nam? You were a revolutionary, maaan. Evinced a dislike of the pigs and anyone else with the stench of authority? You were a revolutionary. Spent your days handing out pamphlets and shagging any body-painted, floppy-tittied, Buckwheat-bushed floozy who happened to spasm-dance her way into your acid-baked field of triple-vision, all while decrying the privilege that made such a charmed life possible in the first place? Oh, you were a revolutionary. (Of course, the bulk of this criteria applied as much to Charlie Manson as it did to, say, Abbie Hoffman or any kid at a Doors concert.)

And if you belonged to a notorious biker gang known more for boozin' 'n fightin' 'n runnin' trains on saggy motorcycle mamas than for any sense of social purpose or progressive political thought? Then, you were an "outlaw brother of the counterculture" and you and your sawed-off pool cues got hired to maintain order at a free outdoor festival headlined by Mick Jagger and company for five hundred dollars worth of beer.

The Maysles structured Gimme Shelter as a commentary on itself. The concert footage and the soul-crushing experience of Altamont are the movie-within-the-movie; the actual movie is the ashen-faced Stones in the brothers' editing room, after the fact. And they're on the same trip as us: watching the World's Greatest Rock 'N Roll Band go from hammer-of-the-gods cockiness to pathetic bleating and useless "brrrothers and sssisters" platitudes in the face of the kind of danger that can't be bought off or seduced with insouciant pop-idol poses. We watch the Stones as stars in their own version of Antonioni's Blow-Up, running the footage of Meredith Hunter's death back and forth to try and suss out the truth from the murk, the murder from the grain — that specter of a knife frozen in eternity against a girl's checkered dress, the inevitability of a dream's end paused and scrutinized again and again like Mathilda May's tits on a VHS tape of Lifeforce when you're sixteen years old. It's as if, by reversing that knife plunge and pausing it mid-air, the horror of a split-second decision fueled by drugs and half-comprehension — to say nothing of probable class resentment and the unavoidable racial element — could be sucked back into the portal of happenstance from whence it so rudely burst.

And maybe then, the dream would live on. Maybe then, the acid-heads we see spinning in circles before the Airplane's set would genuinely come to know expanded consciousness and the True Meaning of It All. Maybe then, the soccer mom we see taking up money for a Black Panther defense fund ("after all, they're just Negroes") would come to see the day when black and white and brown and plaid all melted together in a beautiful pan-racial orgy of Neapolitan ice-cream togetherness. Maybe one day, the Man and his outmoded way of thinking would finally shuffle off this mortal coil, and the children of Woodstock would assume his throne at last — the very ones who nattered on about changing the world (as if they were the first generation to hit upon that particular form of self-flattery) while those of lesser privilege lost limbs in Southeast Asia and had to settle for "Satisfaction" over Armed Forces radio. And — who knows? — maybe Hendrix would join Janis Joplin and the Lizard King and Danny Whitten of Crazy Horse onstage for a monster jam at the inauguration of President Ted Kennedy at the dawn of the Eighties. It was the Sixties. Time was on the side of the righteous. Anything was still possible, right?

Or maybe there's more to that cold-blooded stabbing that seemed so clear-cut on a Moviola in the Maysles' editing suite. Would history regard differently the sacrificial black lamb of the Stones' satanic white-blues communion had Meredith Hunter managed to squeeze off shots that ventilated some poor hippie chick's skull? Would it have thrown the actions of that murderous Angel into bold relief if Hunter had fired that revolver willy-nilly and sent errant bullets into one of the Stones, perhaps Jagger himself? Could the whole damnable misfortune be attributed to the seriousness with which the Angels took their job as concert security?

David Hemmings in Blow-Up knew: sometimes, the more you stare at something, the harder it is to ever know just what the hell you're looking at.

©2011 Scott Is NOT A Professional Film Critic
Creative Commons License
Scott Is NOT A Professional Film Critic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License .