Gojko Mitic, the All-Purpose Native American from Yugoslavia

Gojko Mitic plays the title role in the East German western, Chingachgook, the Great Snake (Chingachgook, die grosse Schlange, 1967), directed by Richard Groschopp.

Westerns not made in the U.S. have always carried a patina of the exotic for fans of the genre. There have been the countless spaghetti westerns from Italy and Spain, Australia has turned out several distinctive efforts (The Man from Snowy River, Mad Dog Morgan, The Proposition) and even Japan has their own brand of western as represented by samurai films like The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. But have you ever seen a western from East Germany during the 1960s when their film industry was under the control of the Socialist government? If not, Westerns with a Twist, a trilogy from DEFA (aka Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft) starring Gojko Mitic is a great place to begin. This trio of “red westerns” includes The Sons of Great Bear (1966), Chingachgook, the Great Snake (1967) and Apaches (1973).   Continue reading

Tone Deaf

Everyone loves a good satire and the music industry always makes a great target with such superior examples of the form as The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), Head (1968) and This Is Spinal Tap (1984). The Cool Ones (1967), the story of a has-been pop idol and an aspiring singer teaming up to become the next big thing, certainly deserves credit for taking a lighthearted, broadly comic approach to the world of greedy record executives, egomaniacal producers, opportunistic promoters and wildly ambitious musicians. But the film is so hopelessly out of step with its intended audience and played at such a manic pitch that it approaches the infamous badness of Skidoo (1968), Otto Preminger’s mind-boggling mashup that pits gangsters against hippies.  Continue reading

The Monkees’ Film Debut

It sounds like someone’s LSD flashback. Frank Zappa, boxer Sonny Liston, Annette Funicello, female impersonator T.C. Jones, San Francisco’s legendary topless dancer Carol Doda and other cult celebrities appear in a movie co-scripted by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces, 1970) that showcases the TV-created pop band The Monkees in the leading roles, who in one scene play dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair. Entitled Head (1968), this Cuisinart-puree of pop culture infused with anti-establishment posturing and served up in the then-current style of a trippy experimental film could only have happened in the late sixties when Hollywood studios were in a try-anything phase to capture the rapidly receding youth market.

The Monkees get to play dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair in Head (1968), directed by Bob Rafelson.

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Way Out West With Zoot Suit Jessy

Quick, name your favorite film by Robert Downey, Sr., director/father of two-time Oscar nominated actor Robert Downey Jr. Drawing a blank? If film buffs know him at all it is probably due to his 1969 underground cult film Putney Swope or The Eclipse Series 33 box set from The Criterion Collection, released in May 2012 as “Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.” which included the former film plus Babo 73 (1964), Chafed Elbows (1966), No More Excuses (1968) and Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight (1975). His most representative films are satiric time capsules of his era and the New York independent film scene but I think Greaser’s Palace (1972) is his funniest and most subversive film in his 41-plus years as a writer/director.    Continue reading

…And Bob Dylan Plays a Chainsaw-Wielding Conceptual Artist.

Bob Dylan in Backtrack aka Catchfire (1990)

Bob Dylan in Backtrack aka Catchfire (1990)

Sometimes the casting in a film is so peculiar and unique that you feel compelled to take a chance on it no matter how many negative things you’ve heard about it. Wouldn’t you want to see a movie that featured Jodie Foster, Vincent Price, Joe Pesci, Charlie Sheen, Dean Stockwell, Bob Dylan and numerous other well-known stars? Such is the case with 1990’s Catchfire, one of Dennis Hopper’s least known movies but there’s a reason for that.   Continue reading