Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cult Satire: Wild in the Streets (1968) and Smile (1975)

As mentioned earlier this week, Friday, April 22 is a particuarly good day for new films coming to Netflix Watch Instantly.  Whether this is because of the sheer number of new titles, so that a certain percentage just ends up being good, is unclear.  But in any case, there are many titles worth considering for your queue.

Here are two satires, one pretty broad the other more nuanced, worth looking at.  I haven't seen Wild in the Streets since it played at Starlight Cinema at the UW-Madison campus back in the 1990s.  Starlight Cinema specialized in cult classics, underground documentaries, and experimental films.  In the case of Wild in the Streets, we had a Hollywood film produced in that awkward period of the late 1960s when the studios were still trying to figure out the baby-boomer youth market and the counter-culture success of films like Easy Rider.  The presence of both Richard Pryor and Shelley Winters should tip you off that they didn't get the balance between the counter-culture and the mainstream quite right in Wild in the Streets.  But it is still well worth your time, for both the intentional and unintentional humor. 

Wild in the Streets (Barry Shear, USA, 1968, 96 minutes)
Netflix: A few years ago, suburban teen Max Flatow (Christopher Jones) was making bombs and LSD. Now he's a rock star using his fame to urge young people to vote at the behest of a senator (Hal Holbrook). But Max hasn't abandoned his love of anarchy. Soon, the voting age is lowered to 15, Max is elected president, and everyone over 30 is shipped to retirement homes. Richard Pryor and Shelley Winters co-star in this satirical cult classic. Netflix link. 

Smile is often considered one of the more underrated American films of the 1970s (it has a 100% rating with 12 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes), and I'm adding it to my list of films that I need to see.  Ritchie had a respectable run in the late 1960s and 1970s, starting with Robert Redford films like Downhill Racer (1969) and The Candidate (1972) and continuing with sports themed films like The Bad News Bears (1975) and Semi-Tough (1977).    In a sense, these are the kind of films that benefited from the experimentation in content and style in Hollywood that began with the films in the late 1960s mentioned above, which eventually led to a period of quality filmmaking in the early 1970s that people now consider a golden age.  Richie's career declined into middle-of-the-road comedies (or sometimes outright bad ones) in the 1980s, when that period of experimentation ended with the Blockbuster era. While Smile might not be a peak film from that period, when the tide comes in all the boats rise, as they say. 

Smile (Michael Ritchie, USA, 1975, 113 minutes)
Netflix: This sharp-witted satire stars Barbara Feldon as Brenda DiCarlo, an icy taskmaster and former beauty pageant contestant charged with coordinating the final round of the Young American Miss contest -- the pride of Santa Rosa, Calif. But despite the pageant's squeaky-clean image, the townspeople are far from model citizens: The contestants are cutthroat, Brenda's husband is suicidal and the head judge's son is a peeping Tom. Bruce Dern co-stars. Netflix link.

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