WATCHED! (1974; Just For the Hell of It).
No question, Stacy Keach is one of the kings of cult cinema. THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, UP IN SMOKE, BREWSTER McCLOUD, THE DION BROTHERS, THE TRAVELING EXECUTIONER, the list goes on and on -- and you can also add this deliriously half-baked feature from first-and-only-time writer-director John Parsons. A late entry in the 1960's-counterculture subgenre, the film is a frantic, overwrought, frustrating mess, but not without its offbeat appeal... Keach stars as Mike Mandell, a former drug-case-prosecuting District Attorney who switched sides and was eventually busted by bullying narcotics cop Gordon Rankey (Stacy's longtime friend Harris Yulin, who earlier co-starred with him in Aram Avakian's mindblowing END OF THE ROAD and Frank Perry's DOC). It's now a decade later (we're told it's "sometime in 1980") and scruffy, balding Mandell sits in a rundown loft, reminiscing about his past via disjointed old films, audio tapes, diaries, lengthy flashbacks, and black-and-white police surveillance footage... We see Mandell at the beginning of his D.A. stint in late-'60s San Francisco, but he's soon disillusioned with this idiotic war on drugs after fuckwads like Rankey haul in entire communes full of men, women and children for only a handful of grass. After seeing firsthand how the police lie and stomp on people's rights, he instead decides to defend the drugged-out schmucks who've been railroaded by Rankey, only to be set up by his old colleague. As unhinged Mandell sifts through the debris of his past, trying to make sense of it, he takes on the persona of NYC mobster Sonny Monaco (huh?) and awaits his long-overdue reunion with Rankey... You really have to admire Keach for putting as much effort into this rambling, barely-released farrago as he did for his highest-profile studio gigs. Yulin, on the other hand, seems less adaptable to this type of bullshit and plays it broadly. The supporting cast includes Warhol "starlet" Brigid Polk as a nutty, nun-attired informer; Valerie Carter is a groovy chick Mandell falls for (then arrests for possession); Turid Arstad plays a "foxy" blonde 'enlightened' Mandell gets it on with; and civil rights attorney Tony Serra appears as himself. This whole project is so untethered from standard narrative that it often feels more like an experimental underground film (though not a particularly good one). Much of the dialogue seems improvised and, when it doubt, Parsons tosses in a dreamy fantasy sequence. There's also plenty of cool footage of the Haight-Ashbury area, five years past its hippie expiration date, plus a soundtrack by '70s jazz-fusion band Weather Report with songs (including "Gypsy Boy") from Canadian singer Bob Carpenter.
© 2011 by Steven Puchalski.