Jun 22, 2013

Putney Swope

While I couldn't care less if his much more famous son died the same way as his crack smoking and dick-peddling character in Less Than Zero (1987), absurdist avant-garde auteur Robert John Downey, Sr. (Chafed Elbows, Greaser's Palace) directed a low-budget underground film or two that certainly deserves wider audiences, especially in regard to his breakthrough feature Putney Swope (1969), a film shot on a mere $120,000 poverty budget (although some sources say $200,000) that would arguably be the filmmaker's greatest achievement as a director. Sort of like Blaxploitation meets postmodern Judaic vaudeville meets Dada and Luis Buñuel and the Marx brothers on dope, Putney Swope is a wildly idiosyncratic and incendiary comedy that simultaneously satires the morally retarded and philistinism-promoting advertising world, the dying Anglo-Saxon elite (especially on Madison Avenue), corporate corruption and its ability to corrupt anyone regardless of racial persuasion, revolutionary politics (especially of the far-left and black militant persuasion), and black America and its post-Civil Rights political struggle. Far too politically incorrect, eccentrically esoteric, culturally cynical, and audaciously absurd and oftentimes nonsensical for fans of philistine kosher comedies starring Adam Sandler and directed by Judd Apatow, Putney Swope rather strangely owes a good portion of its success to Jane Fonda recommending the film on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show in 1969. Indeed, unlike a lot of so-called Blaxploitation films, which were directed by Hollywood Hebrews to capitalize on the success of Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), Putney Swope is an experimental arthouse flick that attacks both black and white and, at best, can only be described as proto-Blaxploitation (it predates Van Peebles’ film and Shaft (1971)) of the anti-Amerikkkan sort. The strikingly sardonic low-budget celluloid story of a powerless token Uncle Tom black man on the executive board of an advertising firm who anomalously becomes chairman of the board upon a democratic fluke after the original leader literally drops dead, and that was partly inspired by director Robert John Downey, Sr.'s own experience as a advertising executive (he created a commercial for Preparation H of all things, which was rejected by his bosses but later appeared in his 1968 film No More Excuses), Putney Swope depicts what happens when white America devolves morally and ethnically into black America and the racially-charged, jive-ass absurdity that follows in a film that was probably not shot in mostly black-and-white just for financial reasons. 

 In a striking opening scene that is indubitably a parody of the beginning of Leni Riefenstahl’s National Socialist masterpiece Triumph of the Will (1935) aka Triumph des Willens of Uncle Adolf flying in a plane and landing on the ground like God coming down from the heavens, a funny and seemingly faggy 60-something-year-old fellow in fetishistic biker apparel with German iron crosses, totenkopfs, a confederate flag, and Nazi eagle patches (sewed to a leather-fag-esque denim vest) named Dr. Alvin Weasly, apparently one of the most respected motivational researchers in the country, arrives via helicopter and is paid $28,000 by a executive board of an advertising firm for merely providing the insight, “Beer is for men who doubt their masculinity. That’s why it’s so popular at sporting events and poker games. On a superficial level, a glass of beer is a cool, soothing beverage. But in reality, a glass of beer is pee-pee-dickie.” Not long after, the chairman of the board croaks at the end of the table and using the democratic process that bureaucratic wasps like so much and has ultimately led to their wane of power in the USA, the other executives vote who will be the next leader and, magically, lone Negro Putney Swope (played by Arnold Johnson of Sanford and Son fame, who had trouble memorizing lines, so director Robert Downey, Sr. later dubbed his parts) takes control of the advertising firm, thereupon turning it into an absurd Afrocentric advertising company that is aptly renamed “Truth and Soul, Inc.” After stealing the advertising idea of a tall and goofy wasp and selling it to a self-described “happy chink” named Wing Soney (Tom Odachi), Swope fires every single white employee (aside from a “token white man,” who is paid the least) and replaces them with all blacks of the brutish black power persuasion, including nefarious Negro militants, black Muslims (a naughty Negro named “The Arab” played by Antonio Fargas makes for one of the most interesting characters), high yellow pricks, and statuesque black divas.  Indeed, if you thought Anglo-Saxon America was corrupt, you have yet to see the jaded jigaboo jive realm of Putney Swope.

 Ostensibly attempting to rid the black community of its vices, Putney Swope ends doing business with alcohol, war toys, or tobacco companies and soon grabs the attention of the President of the United States, a megalomaniacal German midget named Mimeo (played by Pepi Hermine, who also played “The President” in Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)) and his pot-smoking and Jew-hating Kissinger-esque kraut associate Mr. Borman Six (a character played by Lawrence Wolf and a name likely inspired by Nazi leader Martin Bormann and the apparent death of six million Jews during WWII), a fiercely funny man who states, “hey, it’s cold in here. Throw another Jew on the fire” as he smokes a joint with the little leader of the free world. Undoubtedly, Putney Swope rules with a brassy black iron fist and he has no problem firing his employees left and right, especially after stealing their ideas from them and claiming them as his own (sort of like how black Afrocentrics claim to have invented imaginary civilizations and pioneered every area of science, technology, art, culture, etc.), but it proves to make for great business, thus making for the perfect cannibalistic capitalist model. Creating commercials featuring the sole Ms. Redneck New Jersey, bodacious black power breakfast cereals, sentimental race-mixing ballads featuring black boys and white girls, psychedelic multicultural chicks with nice tits jumping around topless in an airplane, and a Nazi Borman-mobile with a star of David on the front hood, Swope turns the advertising world into a nihilistic post-Anglo-Saxon Negro nightmare of softcore race-mixing and does so with pointlessly perverse product placement. Naturally, Putney Swope, who constantly changes his dictator look from a militant black panther like Huey P. Newton to a cigar-smoking Fidel Castro to an exceedingly effeminate African tribesmen in a moomoo, eventually runs in to trouble with his homeboys, especially the jihad jigaboo Arab, a “true believer” who considers his boss an unscrupulous and egomaniacal sell-out and sinisterly sleazy traitor to the honkey-hating revolution. A proud brotha’ named Myron X also lets Swope know that he has sold-out and is now “confusing obscenity with originality” in terms of his Russ Meyer-esque advertising campaigns. In the end, everyone one at Truth and Soul, Inc., especially Putney Swope, is more corrupt than the most psychopathic of degenerate wasps, so the Arab decides to take revenge by blowing up all the money at the firm terrorist-style. 

 If one learns anything from Putney Swope, it is that—regardless of creed, race, and/or ethnicity—capitalism corrupts, especially when the inexperienced slave becomes the master. Interestingly, the original members of the executive board of an advertising firm featured at the beginning of the film are all white (with the exception of a couple Jews thrown in for good measure), with a number of whom being elderly fellows are either asleep, senile, and even dead, thus illustrating the decay of the original Anglo-Saxon elite that originally ruled virtually every crevice of America's power structure, but has given a good portion of their power away due to feebleness and decay. Ironically, it is also the wasp’s love of democracy, freedom, and law that leads to the very overthrow of the Anglo-Saxon elite, thus making Putney Swope a sardonic yet strikingly realistic depiction of post-Civil Rights America through a maniac microcosm as dreamed up in a delightfully deranged manner by director Robert Downey, Sr. Interestingly, Spike Lee later directed a film very similar in theme and sentiment to Putney Swope entitled Bamboozled (2000). Of course, Spike Lee, who has never been a friend of the Jews, portrays the degenerate corporate elite as racist yet paradoxically Negrophiliac Hebrews, thus one could agree that it is also a satire (as well as update) of the ideas expressed in Judaic auteur Robert John Downey, Sr.’s Putney Swope, a film that spreads the very same stereotypes that the black filmmaker’s flick condemns. Even fellow Israelite Amos Vogel had to admit in his groundbreaking work Film as a Subversive Art (1974) regarding Putney Swope, “In this wild satire of Madison Avenue, nobody – not even blacks, arabs, midgets, or Jews – remains exempt from the director’s corrosive, bizarre humor,” hence the film’s genius and ability to stand the test of time after all these years of politically correct brainwashing. While being a brilliant and brazen work that would never be made in our insanely xenophiliac times, where ‘racial sensitivity’ has reached insane neo-bolshevik levels, Putney Swope does show its age in spoofing events and trends of the late-1960s that many modern viewers would probably have a hard time understanding. Still, Putney Swope is a singular work of biting celluloid iconoclasm that takes no prisoners in reminding one of how America and American filmmakers have turned into a bunch of cowardly cultural cuckolds who are hopelessly brainwashed by the sort of mediocre sentimentalism media that the anti-hero Putney Swope sought out to destroy. 

-Ty E

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