It’s not a Very Happening Happening, Man.
DIRECTED BY TOM WHITE/1966
STREET DATE: JULY 25, 2017/KINO CLASSICS
When it comes to who’s crazy in terms of Who’s Crazy?, the list might just be as long as it’s own cast and crew credits, and then some.
Or, maybe it’s just me. When I offered to review this film, I knew that it would be a bigger roll of the dice than usual. When the description of this heretofore unheard-of lost “avant-lulu” tells us “This wild, free-form burst of ’60s experimental filmmaking follows a group of mental patients”, all of whom are played by members of the performance group The Living Theater, I got a strong sense that things could quite easily go either way: Ingenious, or insufferable. Guess which one it is.
“It’s a workout. I realize that…”. So said director Thomas White during a special Lincoln’s Center screening of the restored version of Who’s Crazy? in early 2017. You ain’t kidding, buster. “But,” he continued, “You won’t find many films that look exactly like it or sound like it…”. And, dare I say, there’s a reason for that.
From a thoroughly 2017 point of view, these sorts of films haven’t exactly aged well.
1966 was a different time, we all know that. In that age of free love and shifting social norms, of flower child love-ins and hip “happenings”, Who’s Crazy? wasn’t the only film of this freeform sensibility. I’m thinking of DePalma‘s Dionysus in ’69 and Hi, Mom!; there was also forgotten trip-outs like Candy and Wonderwall, and even studio efforts like Performance and Easy Rider. From a thoroughly 2017 point of view, these sorts of films haven’t exactly aged well. Factor in the shrieking atonal jazz bursts, meandering caught-up-in-their-own-heads “actors”, and the funky handheld camerawork, and it compounds the whole effect.
Shot on monochrome black and white 16mm film, this plotless seventy-five minute amateur oddity begins with a weather-beaten bus making its way across a desolate empty countryside. Sooner than later, all the people on the bus are out and running around and acting weird. Then they find an empty cabin, and occupy that with their weirdness. That’s pretty much the movie.
You see, the reason they’re acting so completely nutty is because they are all mental patients! Make that, escaped mental patients. Every last one of them plays their part not so much in keeping with true acting, but more as acting school performance art. Meaning, the most self-conscious overplayed fluttery whacko pantomime that each player could muster. For the members of the esteemed Living Theater Company, mental patients are dazed hippy animal people, constantly curiously inspecting any commonplace item they come across, and waving their arms about in a dizzy manner.
It’s all set to the highly experimental free form jazz improvisations of the Ornette Coleman Trio. It’s clear from the press solicitation, the included booklet and the disc’s extras that the involvement of the trailblazing Coleman is the main selling point of this blu-ray. There’s also some early Marianne Faithful vocal work on a song called “Sadness”.
Bonus features include director Thomas White’s Lincoln Center Q&A, its own trailer, and a vintage television program about Coleman. The restored image was sourced from the only known print of Who’s Crazy?, one with burned in French subtitles. Fortunately, there aren’t many of them, and in a film like this, what difference does it make, anyhow? It’s all a bit tattered, but what do you want??
We film critics spend our days and evenings pouring over films known and unknown, hoping against hope that we will stumble upon a diamond in the rough. So, when I talk about the risk in watching a movie of this ilk, just know that I’m actually not crazy. Then again, according to the packaging art, such intellectual luminaries of the field as Richard Brody and J. Hoberman apparently had nice things to say about this movie. So maybe we’re all crazy.
The images in this review are used only as a reference to the film and do not necessarily reflect the actual image quality of the disc.