Saturday, July 5, 2008

Bob Levis' GOLD at The Pioneer Theatre

In celebration of GOLD's upcoming Friday-night screenings at NYC's Pioneer Theatre (programmed by my longtime friend, Lee Peterson), here's my take on that hippie-happenin'.

GOLD [reprinted from Shock Cinema #21, 2002]

It’s always refreshing to stumble across an obscure, bizarre and baffling relic from the groovy late-’60s, when coherence was at a minimum and radical ideas were happily embraced by open-minded viewers. This begins with an opening-credit montage that includes police brutality, dead Vietnamese children, JFK’s assassination, Kent State, etc. -- so I was expecting a heavy message flick. But instead, it offered up a hippie-hodgepodge of political metaphor, barely-baked philosophy, sing-a-longs, bizarre camerawork, tinted stock, solarization, split screen, and gratuitous sex scenes that makes you wonder if the cameraman was on peyote. In other words, “Yow!” In addition, this no-budget odyssey stars improvisational comedy legend Del Close, along with fellow member of San Francisco’s The Committee, Gary Goodrow.

Its baffling story is set in an anachronistic Old West town (which contains electric guitars and mini-skirts), with all of the townsfolk in search of precious gold! Along the way, they’re attacked by modern-day soldiers and seduced by right-wing conspirators (led by a stick-in-the-mud referred to as “The Law,” played by Goodrow). There’s also a rigged election, trampled personal rights, evicted citizens, and “The Law” getting pissed whenever he spots nude flower children cavorting in the woods. No surprise, these elected-assholes feast on their power, by murdering anyone who represents freedom (or runs around in the nude) and by keeping all ‘lawbreakers’ in an animal pen.

Let's not forget a wild-eyed rebel (Del) who roams the countryside and is the only voice of reason. Oh, look, he’s hauling a big-ass cross! Could it be any more obvious?! Eventually he teaches the jailed common folk Revolution 101 (including molotov cocktails and guerrilla tactics), so they can rise up against their lowly oppressor, bulldoze their prison, fire off scrap-metal cannons, and to celebrate, everyone gets naked! Yep, there’s always some excuse to strip off your clothes for an orgy or skinny dip.

The film was shot in 1968, in Northern California, but wasn’t released theatrically (in London) until 1972, and didn’t premiere in America until 1996(!), with director/producers Bob Levis and Bill DeSloge credited as “organizers.” Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most of the script was improvised on the spot. Since Close and Goodrow were both experts at double-talk, they’re pretty amusing when left to their unique talents. Optical FX consultant Zoran Perisic later graduated to films like SUPERMAN and RETURN TO OZ, and there are evocative music contributions from Rambling Jack Elliot and Motor City 5 (before they shortened it to MC5). Full of good intentions and crude as hell, this is an indulgent, energetic, 90-minute burst of hoary symbolism and lovable counterculture craziness. No question, it looks like everyone had a blast filming it, and with the proper ‘medication,’ most viewers will too.