Monday, March 23, 2015

"End of the Road": a counter-culture cult classic from the Nixon years

I don’t recall the controversy over “End of the Road”, the avant garde X-rated film by Aram Avakian, coming out in 1970, the year I started working in my adult life.  (By comparison, I remember Antonini’s “Zabriske Point” real well.)  But it seems like a dream, stitched together, of even some of my own rebellious fantasies from the time. The film is based on a 1958 novel by John Barth. 

The film starts with lots of anti-war and anti-everything images for the Vietnam era, before we’re introduced to the graduating college senior (or perhaps grad student or assistant prof) Jacob Horner (Stacey Keach), leaving the shelter life of campus.  Standing on a commuter rail platform near New York, he goes into a catatonic state.  (The imagery would inspire similar scenes decades later in the sci-fi thriller “Source Code”.)  He is “rescued” by the unscrupulous Doctor D. (James Earl Jones), and taken to a rural asylum, where he is “cured” by all kinds of bizarre sex and fantasy therapy.  The “Doctor” gets him a job teaching English, and stipulates that he must avoid all attachments (and political interests).  He must join Nixon’s Silent Majority.

Perhaps this sounds a bit like “The Manchurian Candidate”. But it goes into a different direction. Jacob meets Joe and Rennie Morgan (Harris Yulin and Dorothy Tristan), who might resembled a young couple I would have socialized with in my pre-second-coming days, living in garden apartments and New Jersey suburbia.  He has an affair with Rennie (forbidden, and that isn’t what I would have done), and faces an abortion, which becomes the controversial high point of the film.  D makes a lot of the fact that he barks orders – to her, not to eat anything before the fatal procedure. 
The moonwalk during the closing credits is interesting.

The film also brings some memories of my time as an “inpatient” at NIH in 1962 (right through the Cuban Missile Crisis) as a “god damn MP”. 

The film was originally released by Allied Artists but the DVD comes from Warner Brothers (Netflix).  It;s noteworthy that it predates "Roe v. Wade" by over three years. 
The DVD contains an extra, “An Amazing Time: A Conversation about ‘The End of the Road’”. 

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