Saturday, May 17, 2014

Why all the FUTZ (1969)? NOT the worst of its type

FUTZ! Directed By Tom O' Horgan (1969).
Review By Greg Goodsell

Interested in a story involving incest, bestiality and murder in a rural rustic community? Performed by a cast of hippie hillbillies that screams, sings, shouts and flail about as if in an epileptic seizure? If so, you are directed to see Futz (1969), a notorious counter-cultural bit of flotsam that serves as an argument that what may play well in a 99-set equity waiver theater may not translate that well to the screen.

Futz first dropped on my radar when Neal Gabler on PBS’ “Sneak Previews” (1982; both he and Jeffrey Lyons replaced original critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert) declared it as the worst film he had ever seen. Unable to find film clips, Gabler showed black-and-white photos of the cast’s spastic farmers as proof that this bizarre feature, about a sustenance farmer’s love affair with his pig, existed. (On the same show, Lyons had announced the Charles Manson-inspired schlocker Sweet Savior (1971) starring faded teen idol Troy Donahue, as his personal worst.)

Carrot Top -- the homeless years.

Based on an avant-garde play by Rochelle Owens, Futz was adapted to the screen by none other than Joseph Stefano, the man who adapted Robert Bloch’s Psycho for director Alfred Hitchcock in 1960! Futz likewise deals with psychosexual issues in a far less successful way.

By the light of the silvery moon -- incest!

The “story” if it can be called that: Our hero, Cyrus Futz (John Bakos) has foresworn off all normal human relations to the consternation of his erstwhile girlfriend Majorie Satz (Beth Porter). Futz has sworn all his romantic allegiance to his pig, which is hopefully platonic. No, Futz doesn’t plumb the depths of The Wedding Trough, aka The Pig Fucking Movie (aka Vase de noces, 1975) – wait for it. Meanwhile in the village, Oscar Loop (Seth Allen), the village idiot has brutally murdered a girl, saying that what he saw in Futz’ barn drove him to it. Oscar is executed, and Futz is tried as an accessory to murder.

Audience reaction to FUTZ!

This thumbnail sketch can’t begin to convey the texture of Futz. People scream, fly across the screen, strike poses and speak incomprehensible dialogue. It pretty much wears out its welcome within the first 10 minutes, and navigating through the film’s 91 minutes is quite a chore. Beginning with a highbrow orchestral recital that descends into chaos, Futz gibbers and screams across the screen. 

Have we ever seen a flutist flouting it as heavily as we do here?

Behind the camera is world-class photographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who was still cutting his teeth on negligible grindhouse fare such as Al Adamason’s Satan’s Sadists (1969) and Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970) at this point. His photography is by far the film’s best fea-ture, with beautiful compositions of the stark country-side. Futz has solid production values, with great photography, high-strung performances and an important mes-sage. At heart, the story of Futz is one on the importance of personal liberties, and how a community can work to ostracize those who are different. It’s all buried underneath attempts at being unconventional. As such, Futz remains a highly dated vision of hippie utopia as filtered through an old Bethel Buckalew hicks-ploitation film.  

This is the film in essence. Ugly hippie art.

Believe it or not, as lame as it is, Futz is NOT the worst film of its particular type. This reviewer argues that Strong Medicine (1981), also based on an avant-garde play by director Richard Foreman is THE WORST film of this particular type. Calling to mind a mixture of Samuel Beckett and Edward D. Wood Jr. with dialogue recorded verbatim from the dementia ward of a retirement community, Strong Medicine’s “story” is open for debate.

O.K. everyone get up on stage, and present their ideas on how to get out of this movie.

Strong Medicine’s heroine, Kate Manheim attempts to take a vacation but is met with opposition by characters dressed in 1930’s attire. Everyone wears thick eye makeup, men included. Sentences spoken by the performers change in midstream and usually end with the actors flailing about on the floor. At one point, Manheim dresses up as a chicken to everyone’s disinterest, and then stabs herself to death to satisfy the unspoken wish fulfillment for the audience. Buck Henry has a one-line spoken cameo and actors Raul Julia and Carol Kane are also reportedly somewhere in the debris as well. 

Quick! Before the church buffet is picked clean!

Anyone interested in seeing films that are different, very, very different – but not good, should put both Futz and Strong Medicine in their movie-watching queue. You can see Futz for absolutely free on YouTube by going here!

                                    STRONG MEDICINE: Chicken woman. Cluck cluck cluck.

Push the button, Frank!
Oh, you Futz! He majored in animal husbandry until they caught him at it.

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