Putney Swope (Robert Downey, Sr) - Philadelphia Independent Film Festival

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Festival Organizers - Benjamin Barnett, James DiFonzo & Melissa O’Donnell

I see so many studio, blockbuster, general public pleasing flicks on a weekly basis, that I anticipated being a little thrown by the cinematic choices and innovative offerings of PIFF (June 26- 30, 2013).  It's was with eager anticipation though; we should all be exposed to things out of our comfort zone from time to time, particularly when it comes to art. And, I also expect during the festival to see some narrative films with a more traditional framing.

The opening night film, Robert Downey Sr.'s Dark Satire Putney Swope (1969) fits into the former category.  It's really too bad the auteur took ill just days before the festival and could no longer attend, because this is a film that would benefit from the filmmaker's statement after viewing.

The film, mostly shot in black and white, with a scene or two in sepia color, takes place at an advertising agency.  It begins with an aerial shot of NYC, a helicopter landing of someone whose arrival seems direly necessary. Out stomps a 50 year-old Hell's Angel looking guy. A suited man ushers him into the building, where 11 men are seated around a board room table. The Hell's Angel delivers two unintelligible sentences about what beer means to the American public and leaves. Supposedly this sage insight costs the company $28,000.

Other advertising business gets discussed that's not interesting to follow, until the chairman of the board arrives. He's a man with a speech impediment and stutters through his address to the board members until getting stuck so long on one thought, he dies mid-stutter.  His death means little to anyone around the table, with only a modicum of concern from the chairman's own son.  The concern is for the bylaws which state a new board chairman must be voted in by majority rules. Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson) is a board member, however he's the only black board member and has been appointed only to handle the music component of the firm. Because it's against the rules to vote for yourself, 9 members of the board vote for Swope, with the thinking that no one else will do this, and therefore it's a safe, almost non-vote.  This thinking of course backfires since the majority have the same thought and Swope is voted in as the new Board Chairman!

After that, I know the movie makes a lot of statements of the times about race relations, hypocrisy, Madison Ave, etc... I'm just not sure what all those statements were.  The movie just gets crazy.  Swope whose voice is like gravel in a blender, changes the agency's name to Truth & Soul, brings in his own board consisting of people that range from soul sisters, to Black Panthers and Africa motherland supporters, a black Arab, the spiritual leader of the group, played by Huggie Bear (Antonio Fargas) from Starky & Hutch and one milk toast white guy which is never explained.

Swope's policy is not to accept clients that manufacture toy guns, cigarettes or alcohol.  But otherwise he's up for crass, over-the-top, controversial marketing of products.  Like one commercial of a black man eating cereal. He's told by the announcer all the nutritious elements present in the cereal - the camera pans in for a close-up of the cereal eater whose line is simply an astonished - “No shit”.

There's a midget President of the United States; an annoying photographer who keeps showing up with his portfolio; a messenger (not black) who keeps being told to use the freight elevator; a secretary cleaning a gun at her desk, and every once in a while something is so outlandish or ridiculous I couldn't help but laugh, but for the most part my reaction ranged from what's the running time? To WTF?

But that's the beauty of an Independent Film Festival.  Come back tonight for another Robert Downey Sr offering – “Babo 73” (1964).

For further PIFF updates & short reviews and happenings during the festival. 
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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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