Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr. (Babo 73 / Chafed Elbows / No More Excuses / Putney Swope / Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight)
The Criterion Collection
DVD | Box Set
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Rarely do landmark works of cinema seem so . . . wrong. Robert Downey Sr. emerged as one of the most irreverent filmmakers of the new American underground of the early sixties, taking no prisoners in his rough-and-tumble treatises on politics, race, and consumer culture. In his most famous, the midnight-movie mainstay Putney Swope, an advertising agency is turned on its head when a militant African American man takes charge. Like Swope, Downey held nothing sacred. This selection of five of his most raucous and outlandish films, dating from 1964 to 1975, offers a unique mix of the hilariously abrasive and the intensely experimental.
TWO-DVD BOX SET INCLUDES: Babo 73 Taylor Mead plays the president of the United Status, who conducts his top-secret international affairs on a deserted beach when he isn’t at the White House (a dilapidated Victorian), in Robert Downey Sr.’s political satire. Downey’s first feature is a rollicking, slapstick, ultra-low-budget 16 mm comedy experiment that introduced a twisted new voice to the American underground scene.
Chafed Elbows This bad-taste riot was a breakthrough for Robert Downey Sr., thanks to rave notices. Visualized largely in still 35 mm photographs, it follows a shiftless downtown Manhattanite having his “annual November breakdown,” wandering from one odd job to the next, and encountering all sorts of sordid types, from desperate low-budget filmmakers to destitute dirty-sock sniffers. And there are incest, murder, and bad pop songs—something to offend everyone.
No More Excuses Robert Downey Sr. takes his camera and microphone onto the streets (and into some bedrooms) for a close look at Manhattan’s swinging singles scene of the late sixties. Of course, that’s not all: No More Excuses cuts between this footage and the fragmented tale of a time-traveling Civil War soldier, a rant from the director of the fictional Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, and other assorted improprieties.
Putney Swope The most popular film by Robert Downey Sr. is this oddball classic about the antics that ensue after Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson, his voice dubbed by a gravelly Downey), the token black man on the board of a Madison Avenue advertising agency, is inadvertently elected chairman. Putney summarily fires all the whiteys, replaces them with Black Power apostles, renames the company Truth and Soul, Inc., and proceeds to wreak politically incorrect havoc.
Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight “A film without a beginning or an end,” in Robert Downey Sr.’s words, this Dadaist thingamajig—a never-before-seen, newly reedited version of the director’s 1975 release Moment to Moment (also known as Jive)—is a cascade of curious sketches, scenes, and shots that takes on a rhythmic life. It stars Downey’s wife, Elsie, in an endless succession of off-the-wall roles, from dancer to cocaine fiend.
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I've a Robert DOWNEY SR AND JR forever
I tried getting into the other movies, but what I saw was so purposely weird to the point of being frustrating and not fun. But Putney Swope is so brilliant that I'm glad to have this collection with a high quality transfer.
Perhaps it was the times, the context in which they were originally seen--in underground New York theaters where the hippy audiences were indeed blitzed out of their minds--but these films failed to resonate with me completely as successful (sober) movies.
They're so amateurishly threadbare as to make John Waters movies look like Mercury Theater Productions. It is indeed impressive that Robert Downey was able to make these movies the way he did,--shooting guerilla style in the streets, sometimes illegally with a motely crew of assembled actors. There is a sense of wildness and abandon in creation that is both their brilliance and their shortcoming. In this way, this set is certainly important in documenting the beginning of underground cinema. And there ARE very funny parts if you want to sit around and suss them out from the slag.
These films would be great for someone not too picky about their comedies and easy to laugh. Maybe given their unevenness, watching the films at parties with friends, where full attention is not required, might be beneficial, as well.
This Eclipse set does document the beginning of the underground midnight movie phenomenon, but it's probably not as great as that might sound.