Secret Honor is overindulgent, maddening, and while it references real people and events, it’s pure fiction.
As the sun sets on George Bush’s presidency I am sure some people hope that Bush will look back upon his legacy and fall to piece as he confronts the mess that lays in his wake. The vision of a drunken Bush wrestling with demons of his own creation and the guilt of eight years of lies, corruption, and mismanagement is like a Democrat’s fantasy, one made of pure schadenfreude. Robert Altman‘s filming of Philip Baker Hall‘s one man performance could serve a template for a a film about GW’s day (or night) of self-realization. Hall, who looks nothing like Tricky Dick, plays a drunken Nixon, railing at his enemies and ghosts as tape recorders and video cameras capture the meltdown of a former President defrocked and derailed not by his own lust for power but merely a pawn of more powerful men; a simple man trying live out the American dream.
The video cameras, the booze, the gun, the cursing at political demons and crying out to his Quaker mother. It’s all too much and it’s all too perfect, like the wet dream of some liberal fly watching as one of America’s most notorious President’s slosh about in a shitpile of his own making. It’s no wonder this film is sometimes referred to as Secret Honor: A Political Myth.
Of course, this is not to say that the film is not wonderfully enjoyable for those who love to watch a human car wreck. I, however, having no love for Nixon, find this sort of filmmaking to be a tab bit disturbing. While it attempts to present a man coming to terms with his demons, it also take great, guilty pleasure in watching him suffer.
Teetering between madness and genius
End of the Road begins with an English teacher (Stacy Keach) slipping into a state of catatonia and being taken by Dr. D ( James Earl Jones) to an psychiatric facility known as “The Farm”. The experimental techniques employed by the doctor include bombastic audio and visual stimulation ala A Clockwork Orange and encouraging patients to act out their fantasies, one man goes so far as to screw a chicken.
Produced and written for the screen by Terry Southern, End of the Road is also directed by Aram Avakian who assisted Bert Stern in making Jazz on a Summer’s Day. The picture was lenses by Gordon Willis and based on a John Barth novel. Reputable, if not bankable names, these men created a counter culture movie both more daring, dizzier, and darker than Easy Rider. While Hopper’s drug trafficking biker drama beat End of the Road to the big screen this film actually started production early than Easy Rider. The production of End of the Road began shooting days after Bobby Kennedy was gunned down. The senseless death of Robert Kennedy, along with the death of the hope for a better America that was gunned down with MLK and JFK and can be felt throughout the film. Here, hope is not a cross-country road trip cut short by rednecks, but a unmooring of the mind as it collapses under the weight of a wicked world.
Though End of the Road could be dismissed as a maddeningly disjointed experiment that goes off its rails. Teetering between genius and godawful mess, I cannot help but embrace the film’s schizophrenic qualities. Must films about insanity appear sane? End of the Road certainly dives inside the mind of madness, but perhaps it went too far for mainstream, even counter culture tastes.
With its combination of Stacy Keach, an experimental psychiatric retreat, and a deranged approach to cinematic story telling makes End of the Road a logical double feature with The Ninth Configuration. While William Blatty’s 1980 trip into delusion interjects comedy and action into its psychodrama, End of the Road feels weighty, dark, and distraught. I enjoy them both, but I grapple with the End of the Road.
Nothing to see here, other than Zalman King as a brooding psycho. Trip with the Teacher is a rather conventional exploitation movie, but Zalman King’s sadistic biker makes it less than boring. An early scene with King getting angry with a gas station attendant is not to be missed. The rest is just a field trip gone bad. One girl is a slut, another is a virgin, then there is titular teacher who takes the brunt of the brutality.
While the titillating threat of sexual violence against the teacher and her female students are the high selling points of the sleazy little picture, the only parts really worth watch are the episode between Zalman King’s psycho and an elderly gas station attendant (Edward Cross) or the valorous, but hopeless defensive tactics of the bus driver (Jack Driscoll). These scenes are laughably entertaining. The rest of the picture never rises above the average grindhouse scuzziness.
Can she explain why some of her co-stars agreed to be in this picture?
The Teacher is a slightly twisted sexed-up, coming-of-age drive-in film. Jay North (aka TV’s Denis The Menace) is caught between the very appealing (an undressed) Angela Tompkins and Anthony James as an above average, offbeat psycho-stalker. What perplexes me is why the hell Katherine Cassavetes and Lady Rowlands have bit parts as two gossiping old biddies.
Even though their names are slightly mis-spelled in the credits, it’s not enough to hide the simple fact that John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands‘ mothers have taken a bit part in a sexploitation film. There is also no mistaking the two women once they come on the screen. Anyone who’s seen Minnie and Moskowitz or A Woman Under the Influence or Opening Night will recognize these two ladies. And, it’s not as if these women were acting in any old film. In fact, outside of the three films her son directed, this is the only movie Katherine Cassavetes took a role in. Why? How? Please, someone explain.