Oct 7, 2014
Although just mere speculation on my part, I have to assume that if a nuclear holocaust or any other sort of apocalyptic scenario ever really went down, hippie, hipsters, beatnik, and other passive pansy untermenschen rabble would be the first to die, hence I think a dystopian avant-garde work like Glen and Randa (1971)—a film featuring an almost all-long-haired-hippie-cast oftentimes frolicking around naked and making ‘free love’—is a tad bit too unrealistic. Directed by McJewish auteur Jim McBride, who is probably best known for his semi-autobiographical docu-fiction debut David Holzman's Diary (1967), his Godard remake Breathless (1983) starring Richard Gere, the multi-genre crime-thriller-romance hybrid The Big Easy (1986), and especially the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire! (1989) starring Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder, Glen and Randa is a sort of offbeat and laidback pre-Mad Max post-civilization piece about a seemingly half-autistic feral hippie boy and his equally unclad and mentally challenged girlfriend who decide to trek across a rural wasteland to reach the imaginary city of ‘Metropolis,’ which the boy reads about in a vintage Wonder Woman comic book. Sort of like a stripped and bare-bones American independent take on Vera Chytilová’s Fruit of Paradise (1970) aka Ovoce stromu rajských jíme, albeit minus the kaleidoscopic imagery and special effects, as a sort of counter-culture influenced reworking of the story of Adam and Eve, McBride’s film seems like it was actually made for a post-apocalyptic population, as a superlatively slow-moving flick that will surely put to sleep and/or severely irritate most ADD-addled contemporary audiences. Indeed, set in a world where broken televisions, horses, comic books, and outmoded sex technique manuals are quite intriguing to the borderline infantile protagonists, who have never seen such things before, Glen and Randa is a sort of subtle yet paradoxically overemphasized reminder how tainted modern humans have become. A sort of post-Christian pagan parable as co-penned by talented novelist/screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer (Two-Lane Blacktop, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Walker), McBride’s celluloid second genesis is probably the most benign and pure of spirit X-rated films ever made. Certainly a work of its zeitgeist such that the director has confessed that he was high at least half the time he made it, Glen and Randa seems like the more bitter than sweet results of what might have happened had the hippies got their decidedly deluded dreams of “simpler times” and “greater self-reliance.” Despite being listed as one of the top 10 films of 1971 by Time Magazine, the film essentially fell into celluloid ash heap of history immediately after it was released due to poor distribution, among other things, thus making for one of the best and strangest kept secrets of both counter-culture and post-apocalyptic cinema. Indeed, a film has to be doing something right if I somehow managed to enjoy it despite the fact that it was made by drugged out hippies for drugged out hippies.
Glen (played by Steve Curry, who is probably best known for being one of the various one-time husbands of busty Warhol superstar turned TV actress Patti D'Arbanville) is a sort of neo-caveman who lives in a primitive post-apocalyptic world and enjoys the simpler things in life like creating stone tools and tickling his girlfriend Randa’s flesh flower with flowers. Despite living in a sub-hunter-gatherer fashion, Glen and his extremely petite girlfriend Randa (played by Shelley Plimpton, who appeared in counter-culture cult classics like the 1960 works Robert Downey Sr.’s Putney Swope and Arthur Penn’s Alice's Restaurant) fight like contemporary lovers, as neither of them seems to agree with one another on anything aside from their mutual love of fucking one another. Despite not having electricity or even clothes, the two lovers find much fun, excitement, and adventure in their lives. Indeed, at the beginning of the film, the two find a totaled car in a train and make love in it. Unfortunately, their tree-based carnal pleasure is probably responsible for the pregnancy that will ultimately result in Randa’s death. Both Glen and Randa live for figurative ‘Forbidden Fruit,’ but it is the former’s desire for finding a seemingly mystical city where people can apparently fly that will inspire the two to take a deadly trek in a land that they know nothing about. Of course, if their innocence was not already lost beforehand, it is certainly lost after the pilgrimage.
Things ultimately change for Glen and Randa when they meet a nomadic Magician (Gary Goodrow) on a motorcycle that proclaims he is “not here to steal your food or feel your women” or “grab your stuff or treat you rough” but “here to play” and provide “fun and games.” The Magician seems like a creepy pedophile with unsavory intentions, but he does provide the “fun and games” as he advertised, including introducing the two lovers to the poetry of English Romantic poet John Keats, as well as a beat-up vintage Wonder Woman comic book that will inspire Glen and his lady love to travel to the city of ‘Metropolis’ where people can fly. After reciting, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness; but still will keep a bower quiet for us, and a sleep full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing,” from the beginning of Keats’ 1818 poem “Endymion,” the Magician states of the poet, “That guy died when he was 25…I guess that’s the name of the game.” Unfortunately for Randa, she will come to know the name of the game all too well. Aside from Keats and Wonder Woman, the Magician also introduces the lovers and various other rural hobos to The Rolling Stones via a scratched LP of “Time Is On My Side.” If something is for sure, Glen and Randa have a lot of time on their hands, or so it seems.
While the Magician, who grew up in the Bronx and was apparently 15 years old when “the whole place was totaled,” warns Glen and Randa to forget the city, they decide to ignore his wise words and begin their pilgrimage across the wilderness where they meet a new friend in the form of a horse that they are initially scared of and mistake for a camel. Indeed, upon bumping into the horse, Glen pathetically pleads to it, “don’t hurt us, we just want to go to the city,” as if the wild beast can talk. Naturally, as the film will demonstrate, the horse should have more reason to be afraid of the two humans than the other way around. While the two bring canned foods and boxes of matches upon which to survive, they soon run out of their supplies and before they know it they are eating rolly pollies that they find crawling in a totaled car near a river bank. Glen also manages to catch and beat a gigantic fish to death on the way. Of course, things eventually become rather desperate when the two reach a rocky mountain, so they are forced to eat their beloved horse, though Glen has to literally force that meat down his terribly delicate girlfriend’s throat, as she is disgusted by the whole ordeal of having to devour her new four-legged friend. Unfortunately, Randa also discovers that she is pregnant, so it is probably not a good time for her to be starving in the middle of the wilderness. Luckily, the two lovers eventually reach a scenic beach just in the knick of time where they meet a kindly yet semi-senile old fart named Sidney Miller (played by Woody Chambliss, who appeared in the made-for-TV 1972 cult flick Gargoyles and Robert Fuest’s 1975 career-capitulating work The Devil’s Rain featuring Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey and John Travolta), who has not seen another human being in 20 years and gladly gives them a dilapidated house that, in spite of being covered in moss and missing part of its roof, Randa can reside in until she gives birth. Indeed, to the slight chagrin of Sidney, Glen tosses out a skeleton that is lying on the couch in the home and makes himself comfortable. Of course, the anonymous skeleton will not be the last piece of human remains that will grace the meta-humble abode.
Upon talking to Sidney, Glen learns that a city that “used to be a city called Boise” used to exist only 10 miles away from the house but it apparently burned down long ago. Of course, that does not stop Glen from maintaining his almost religious dream of reaching his much idealized imagery utopia of ‘Metropolis.’ Meanwhile, Randa becomes increasingly lethargic due to her pregnancy and Glen ignorantly complains to her that she should stop acting like she is sick all the time, not realizing just how exhausting gestation can be. Glen also finds some old books around the home and begins developing an idealized view of civilization, so when Randa urinates on the floor of the home in a frolicsome fashion, he freaks out and yells the following while pronouncing about half the words wrong: “We’re not animals; we’re people. We have to start living like people. We have to be civilized.” When Glen finds an old book on various sex techniques, he decides to try them out on Randa, but her pregnancy has made her too incapacitated to derive pleasure from such things. When Glen does finally get her to have sex, he does so in front of horny old geezer Sidney, but their pleasure ends during mid-coitus when Sidney touches the young lady’s stomach and she begins to go into labor. While Randa manages to give birth to a healthy baby boy, she dies in the process, so Sidney burns her body inside the dilapidated home in a ritualistic fashion, with Glen not quite realizing that his lady love is gone forever. At Glen’s demand of reaching Metropolis and against Sidney’s better judgment as an old man who has “never been anywhere else before,” the young man, old man, and baby get in an old small sailboat and begin to sail to an ostensible utopia. The End.
Interestingly, in a 30+ minute interview featured as an extra feature on the 2009 DVD release of Glen and Randa by VCI Entertainment, director Jim McBride explains in an unintentionally humorous fashion how he remembers virtually nothing about production of his minimalistic post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick nor what inspired him to direct the film in the first place. When the interviewer asks McBride if he attempted to use certain metaphors in the film, the director denies it and simply states, “It’s just a movie.” As to whether the film was supposed to have a message or not, McBride stoically states, “not really.” In fact, the director more or less discredits the film, even describing it as “embarrassing,” though adding: “I shouldn’t be putting down my own movie on camera for the DVD…and I don’t mean it as a putdown but it really is something of another time that just seems a little odd in the present. You know, it’s useful to look at these ancient artifacts…particularly for a younger generation, because it does reflect something about the times that your standard, pop-culture, Hollywood movies may not have really reflected.” Indeed, Glen and Randa is, in its essence, gloriously outmoded to the point where some younger viewers might think it is a collection of deleted scenes from Michael Wadleigh’s 1970 Woodstock documentary and the fact that McBride stated of the production, “I was stoned half the time and I really don’t remember it all that well […] We really were a hippie production” is certainly no surprise, but luckily it lacks the bellbottoms, bad music, and senseless sense of optimism typical of similarly themed works. With its utilization of a real, half-demolished house covered in plants, rusted derailed train cars submerged in water, and moss-covered antique automobiles in trees, Glen and Randa also has a sort of mystifying intrigue about it that Werner Herzog might describe as “ecstatic truth.” A strangely ‘cozy’ celluloid odyssey of perennial aimlessness that makes the post-apocalyptic realm seem lonely and banal yet at the same time, paradoxically exciting as it would probably be if most of humanity was really wiped out in a devastating nuclear holocaust, Glen and Randa may not be an unsung masterpiece or a super sophisticated analysis on the failing of civilization and humanity as a whole, but it is certainly one of the most idiosyncratic and delightfully ‘lighthearted’ post-apocalyptic flicks I have ever seen, as a sort of American big brother to the equally eccentric and experimental Spanish post-nuclear-holocaust sci-fi flick Animales racionales (1983) aka Human Animals directed by Eligio Herrero, albeit minus the darkly humorous dog-on-girl style comic relief. Although somewhat disputable, Glen and Randa also has the distinction of being one of the few quasi-pro-doomsday flicks ever made. Indeed, while the lead characters live like hippie hobos and one of them even dies a painful death that ultimately denies her the opportunity to raise her child, there is a certain purity to their sub-meager existences that almost seems heavenly, which is certainly not something I can say of similarly themed works, which tend to fetishize the modern world, as if the death of Americanization, globalization, technocracy, bureaucracy and other contemporary social ills would be a bad thing.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 4:56 AM
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