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fascinating but frustrating
on 27 November 2011
At its best, which is not where it is enough, this is brilliant filmmaking depicting a side of the 60s we don't generally get to see, decidedly more punk than hippie and ferociously angry and alienated. The main character, Max, a short-haired, angularly handsome young man deranged by rage and dressed perpetually in white lives in a dingy bedsit covered in febrile black scrawls. At some point, like an English Iggy Pop, he rips into the walls and tears the place to pieces, then goes out to plan a spectacular protest suicide.
The flat trashing and a few other sequences are like passages from some genuine lost classic, one that could take its place alongside Performance and Easy Rider while actually looking more modern than either of them. I love, especially, the non-narrative shots of Max violently shaking his head and body, creating Francis Baconesque blurry disfigurements. The effect is both visually extraordinary and so simple you wonder why no one else in film history seems to have thought of it. I also think it's fascinating that both this film and Performance reference Bacon - and this one does it better.
Sadly, the lost classic status is undermined by some out-and-out badness: frequent, tediously repetitive resorts to standard-issue film-school artiness (the cover's dominatrix, prancing around King's Cross with an umbrella for no reason, passages of hum-drum psychedelia) and a script that is an amateurish muddle. In particular, it seems unsophisticated in its assumption that the advertising industry would want to co-opt the protagonist's suicide to defend high flown moral values, as if capitalism wouldn't happily sacrifice religion, traditional morality and the family unit to keep on flogging product -- a 60s counter-culture assumption that the most astute commentators recognised as fallacious even at the time. Or, if you like, a bit of hippy naivety putting the fly in the ointment of all that proto-punk nihilism.