Sunday, July 12, 2009

Death By Disco (& Blue Sunshine)

In twenty years, I imagine my generation will be suffering from poor ipod damaged hearing, widespread carpel tunnel syndrome, a terribly warped Michael Bayesque interpretation of physics, and a grab bag of other physical impediments brought about by the current daily doings of the 21st century.

That may be a pretty dim view of the future, but at least we won’t have to deal with the after effects of Blue Sunshine.

Made in 1976 by Squirm director Jeff Lieberman, Blue Sunshine is a product of its time and for once, that’s a good thing. The 60s were over. Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison were dead. Love beads were crushed and made into disco balls (right?). Peace and love looked antique and drugs were now about escape rather than freedom. Since Reefer Madness proved to be more a great movie to get high to than a warning about drugs, it was time for a real horror about the consequences of doing illegal drugs.

Quick Plot: A swinging cabin party comes to a halt when Fran the Man’s hair is revealed to be...gone! The sudden baldness unleashes a fury in the smooth-voiced photographer, who promptly tosses a few wallflowers into the fireplace. Poor Jerry (Zalman King, the future maestro behind Showtime's late night The Red Shoe Diaries), an underachieving, quickly aging Cornell alumnus, is a little too slow to save the ladies and too fast to kill Fran without seeming guilty of the rest of the murders (because running away sometimes can do that). Jerry goes on the lam with a little help from his girlfriend and doctor pal. Meanwhile, a few other thirtysomethings of varying economic and professional status display signs of anger mismanagement and Rogaine prescriptions.

As Jerry attempts to find some evidence clearing his name, he slowly unearths a weird little mystery involving Stanford, LSD, politicians, baldness, and rage. This is where Blue Sunshine both shines and gets cloudy. The opening scenes are effectively staged, with the initial killing so manic, you can’t help but feel unsettled. As more characters are slowly introduced with foreshadowing symptoms--a pining castoff wife in need of Pantene, a parrot owning policeman with a tense wife and pudding stealing kdis--we get the sense that something very bad will befall this bevy. Unfortunately, the film is far more concerned with the fugitive aspect of the story, following Jerry’s mission and barely skimming the surface of what’s happening to these people as they descend into manic fits of homicidal rage.

It’s a little bit of Romero’s The Crazies, but slicker and with an added detective angle that never quite takes the film where it needs to go. The idea of these now powerful former recreational drug users becoming ticking time bombs is frightening, especially when we see just how insane they will eventually become. I enjoyed Blue Sunshine quite a bit, which is probably why it feels more of a letdown in the end. A strong opening, a great concept, and some true skill makes it worth a watch, just not the true cult classic I was hoping to find.

High Points
The instrumental score utilizes everything from bells to trombones, and all of it is incredibly effective

I’m no doctor, but I imagine surgery is something that should be carried out by well-rested professionals in a relaxed and ‘indoor voiced’ kind of mood. Hence, the tense operation scene, in which we as the audience are just waiting for another bald rampage, is truly suspenseful

The steady build of bratty babysitting charges taunting the slowly unwinding Wendy is wonderfully built up and even better delivered

Low Points
The abrupt ending followed by fake epilogue text feels rushed and stunted, especially when there are too many characters’ whose fates are left hanging

Zalman King’s performance is far too moodily odd to be the likable leading man we follow and cheer for, something Lieberman acknowledges in his critique of his own directing choices in the commentary track. It’s not that every film needs a vanilla intentioned Will Smith type, but it’s just too hard to root for a character too awkward to like (and I swear my taste has nothing to do with my aversion to men in Christmas reindeer sweaters)

Lessons Learned
When you’re feeling lonely, desperate, and bald, have some coffee

Nothing says senatorial fundraiser like a Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand marionette performance

When trying to dress incognito, avoid wearing cowgirl hats, dangly earrings, pinstriped coats, and gigantic sunglasses. Not only will you NOT blend in; you’ll also look rather stupid (except to bodyguards, who will be inexplicably turned on)

“If you jerk, it won’t work.” Sound advice for firing a gun and everything else in life

Stray Observation
If a man ever asked me out on a first date to a marionette emceed discotech called Big Daddy’s and located in a shopping mall, I would probably marry him

As I compiled my High Points, I realized what worked and what didn’t: individual scenes of transformations scored to unique sound design = great. The overall story that limps with the lead and ends without addressing the main issue? Not so much. Blue Sunshine is a fascinating film, with a great premise that should have been seized upon more in the 70s. There are some aspects, such as the score and infamous disco climax, that are truly well done and/or incredibly entertaining. At the same time, the films is certainly lacking a strong focus as it loses its footing towards the second half. Still, it’s worth a watch for its uniqueness alone. The DVD includes a very self-critical commentary track and interview with Lieberman, along with a short film I didn’t get a chance to watch. Give it a try and share your thoughts. Just don't lick the box or anything. Your hair looks great the way it is.

No comments:

Post a Comment