Friday, September 16, 2016

J.C. (1972)



          If you’ve ever felt something was missing from your life because you’ve never seen a biker movie with religious themes, then J.C. is the answer to your prayers. That is, if you’re willing to overlook the fact that beyond its periodic blending of Christian imagery and rebel-cinema iconography, J.C. (sometimes known as The Iron Horsmen) is an inept vanity piece by writer, producer, director, and star William F. McGaha, whose obscurity is entirely deserved. McGaha’s only qualifications for playing a hog-riding messiah appear to be a shaggy beard and some with-it lingo, since he lacks charisma, formidable physicality, and rhetorical style. One gets the sense that if he hadn’t put this picture together, he’d be one of the interchangeable slobs in the background instead of the main focus. Reflecting its auteur’s shortcomings, J.C. is derivative, jumbled, and sluggish. That said, the notion of a savior on a Harley is so peculiar that it’s fascinating to watch J.C. partially to see if it fulfills the promise of the premise, and partially to marvel at the myriad ways McGaha bungles the storytelling. Plus, it’s not as if J.C. totally lacks the pleasing tropes of the biker-movie genre, although these tropes are delivered clumsily and in small doses.
          The picture opens in a city, where hirsute J.C. Masters (McGaha) gets into various hassles because of, you know, society. For instance, he quits a job on a construction crew after the supervisor has the temerity to critique J.C. for smoking dope at the job site instead of working. Also tormenting J.C. are occasional visions of a “giant winking eye” that he perceives as the voice of God. Eventually, J.C. announces to the members of his gang that he’s had a holy vision and wants to spread messages of peace and love. His people dig the idea and agree to accompany J.C. on his journey. However, the journey somehow morphs into a casual trip to J.C.’s hometown in backwoods Alabama, where J.C. reunites with his sister, Miriam (Joanna Moore). The bikers hang out at Miriam’s farm for several days, but the presence among their number of a black man irks the redneck locals. Enter racist Sheriff Grady Caldwell (Slim Pickens) and his vicious deputy, Dan Martin (Burr DeBenning), who vow to run the bikers out of town.
          By now, of course, the plot has devolved into nonsense, since it’s unclear why someone out to spread peace would beeline to the most intolerant place he knows and deliberately antagonize people who already hate him because of youthful transgressions. What’s more, the bikers’ version of “spreading peace” involves trying to rape Miriam, getting into fights with townies, and threatening to tear up the town if the Man gives them any shit. Very late in the picture, McGaha provides a threadbare explanation for the religious stuff, revealing that J.C.’s father was an evangelist who trained his young son as an apprentice, thereby making a mess of the boy’s mind. Or something along those lines.
          J.C. is discombobulated right from the beginning, and it’s also weirdly casual because McGaha’s performance is easygoing to a fault. Still, there are minor compensatory values. In one scene, J.C. introduces the folks on his crew, and their names include Beaver Bud, Beverly Bellbottoms, Dick the Disciple, Happy Von Wheelie, Mr. Clean, and Shirley the Saint. Later, J.C. opines to his sister about how silly it is for adults to use made-up names, justifying the behavior under the general rubric of being “free,” whatever that means. Your guess is as good as mine whether McGaha meant to celebrate or satirize counterculture behavior, but the most interesting moments in J.C. capture . . . something.

J.C.: FREAKY

1 comment:

Eric Colin Reidelberger said...

Despite the sluggish pace, terrible acting and muddled storyline, I do dig this bizarre little flick.
It may be the disparate elements that are doing a lot of the heavy lifting here.