Friday, March 8, 2013

Gas! Or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It. (1970)

          Also known as Gas-s-s-s, this absurdist riff on the generation gap is a willdly imaginative movie that somehow fails to sustain interest even at its brief running time of 79 minutes. Written by George Armitage, who later channeled his weird narrative impulses into eccentric action pictures (notably the bizarre 1976 flick Vigilante Force), this picture was produced and directed by Roger Corman, as always an adventurous exploiter/explorer of youth culture. The story is a sci-fi lark that takes place after a chemical that was accidentally released into the atmosphere by the military/industrial complex has killed everyone in the world over the age of 25. The surviving kids rebuild a funhouse-mirror version of modern society, and the movie follows a gaggle of hip youths in their search for a place to settle.
          Along the way, Our Intrepid Heroes encounter gangs that have organized in strange ways, like the fascistic warmongers who behave and dress like a football team, or the automobile scavengers who “shoot” victims by aiming guns and shouting the names of cowboy-movie actors. (Best line in this scene: “Maybe I could’ve just winged him with a Dale Robertson or a Clint Eastwood.”) Among the movie’s myriad problems is the fact that it meanders through silly episodes and never defines its leading characters as individuals. There’s nothing human for viewers to grasp. Plus, many of the bits tip over the edge from irreverence into pointless surrealism. For instance, hippie characters engage in sex play by reciting “erotic” words to each other, and the apex of this practice is the invention of the word “arrowfeather.” One must admire Armitage’s imaginativeness, but there’s something to be said for using the rewriting process to focus flights of fancy into a coherent storyline with logic, momentum, and purpose. Gas! feels like something yanked straight from the head of a writer, without benefit of translation so others can play along.
          Still, the movie has a handful of genuinely tart lines. At one point, a motorcycle-riding Edgar Allen Poe (Bruce Karcher) shows up to warn the young heroes, “Now that you are sole heir to our world, you will have every opportunity to achieve wickedness.” In a more substantial context, this might have had more impact, but in Gas! laudatory elements get subsumed into the overall blur of trippy signifiers. (Corman reuses some of his favorite ’60s image-making gimmicks, including the projection of psychedelic film images onto undulating actors during a love scene.) Beyond its abundant strangeness, Gas! is noteworthy for the appearance of three future B-level stars—Talia Shire (billed as “Tally Coppola”), Ben Vereen, and Cindy Williams all play their first significant film roles here.

Gas! Or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It.: FREAKY


valmont said...

"...has killed everyone in the world under the age of 25."
Obviously, it should be "over"

By Peter Hanson said...

Oops! Thanks for catching that. Fixed.