Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Continuous Sense of Happy Nostalgia

Watched CAR WASH with a continuous sense of happy nostalgia for the kinds of things a broad, pop entertainment movie felt free and willing to try back in 1976. My favorite aspect was the structure... a collage of a dozen or so strong, single-character story lines, punctuated by disconnected, standalone sketches involving the larger group. I particularly enjoyed the threads that didn't feel the need to go anywhere, such as Franklin Ajaye's desire to create (be?) a superhero called the Fly, or the elliptical sections centered on the cipher/chameleon played by Lauren Jones. I thought I detected some Robert Altman influence (a stiffer, more sharply outlined and stage-managed approximation of his style) and I believe I was proven right by the closing credits, with their obvious debt to the closing credits of Altman's film M*A*S*H (he later employed a somewhat similar technique in the opening credits of NASHVILLE). I'm not saying CAR WASH was perfect. Take the Bill Duke subplot, for example. The film sees his attempt at political engagement - ANY attempt at political engagement - as an inevitable, self-delusional cul-de-sac. In one scene, Duke debates a fraudulent preacher played by Richard Pryor. Duke's character is clearly in the right, but in filmic terms, Pryor wins. That's the way the movie wants it - a triumph of joyful avarice (and star power) over austere morality. I'm not knocking the scene, which is one of the highlights of CAR WASH (briefly transformed into a musical at that moment). Finally, I will mention that Ivan Dixon gives a layered, moving performance - really the heart of the movie - that made me ashamed for the breezy way in which the "blog" reported his death. Shame on the "blog"!