Altamont Now

Dir: Joshua Brown, 2009. Starring: Daniel Louis Rivas, Frankie Shaw, Raphael Nash Thompson. Cult.
Altamont Now

Ever since Marlon Brando’s Johnny in The Wild One was asked, "What are you rebelling against?" and he answered, "What have you got?" youth rebellion has been a mainstay in movies, making for some good, bad, and often subversive films. From Rebel Without A Cause to Wild In The Streets to Rock & Roll High School and Over The Edge -- all films that have elements of screwing the man. Altamont Now, directed by Joshua Brown, is more of a spoof of the genre but still keeps the spirit alive.

Like the late '60s films of Peter Watkins (Privilege, Punishment Park) or Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, Altamont Now has faux-documentary elements and mixes in a lot of old B-roll using numerous film sources. Unlike the acid pace of those films, this has a more modern, hyper visual and editing style that helps contribute to the movie's anarchy. The film opens a la Blair Witch Project, reporting to be lost footage; luckily that angle is never really pushed (unlike the recent fake doc Catfish where the directors are still doing press claiming the obviously staged film is real). The "this is lost footage" claim is actually making fun of an already stale storytelling element. We never for a second believe that it works as a documentary; when only two people are in a room, there always seems to be a third person in the room working the camera.

We meet rocker Richard Havoc (Daniel Louis Rivas, in a funny performance, subtly aware of the joke in his seriousness) who claims to have been born during The Rolling Stones' famously violent Altamont concert. The film makes many references to the Maysles Brothers' landmark documentary about that show, Gimmie Shelter. It’s one of a hundred pop references that are scattered throughout the plot. Though we are told that Havoc is a huge recording star, he now leads a group of misfit flunkies who are hiding out in a converted missile silo (in Altamont) turned faux TV studio, broadcasting their anti-social messages to millions of frenzied fans (though we only actually ever cut to one lone watcher).

One of the best jokes in the movie is the fact that Havoc’s girlfriend and most adoring fan is Karen Kennedy (Frankie Shaw), an ex-child actress on a bad sitcom. His cohorts always ask her to repeat her famous catch phrase, "Why’s daddy acting funny?" This line continues to bring them much pleasure, taking them back to their happy childhoods, while Karen is still lost in a daze from her post-childhood stardom.

The film is seen through the eyes of a nerdy, older reporter, Mark Clark (Raphael Nash Thompson), whose documentary we are supposedly watching. Another good joke, the gang is constantly spewing anti-authority '60s jargon, which he represents to them. So though he is a black man, they constantly refer to him as "the man" - just another clever way the film turns the ideas of '60s youth culture on its head. It has a manic twist up of William S. Burroughs' hodgepodge of sci-fi stoner antics and angry youth not knowing what they are angry at or why - like spoiled brats, they just know they want to be angry.

Though the characters constantly malign their parents' Woodstock generation, the filmmakers seem to actually admire the '60s attitude and are making fun of later generations' low attention spans and inability to create their own coherent culture and values without it being spoon-fed to them through the media machine. The filmmakers have a good point. Like Kubrick (and author Anthony Burgess) with A Clockwork Orange, they were able to make a statement about violence by creating super violence on the screen (and in the book). Altamont Now successfully makes fun of today’s disenfranchised youth by mocking some of their most idiotic ideas and poses. Hey, I guess that’s called satire. And as a piece of pop culture satire, Altamont Now is very successful and worth checking out.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Sep 16, 2010 12:42pm
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