Released around the same time that real-life graduates from film schools began finding purchase in Hollywood, Cover Me Babe adroitly captures several interesting things—the influence of European aesthetics on young American directors, the insufferable quality of arrogant counterculture dudes, and the tensions running through academia because of clashes between new ideas and old-fashioned attitudes. The movie is ultimately somewhat less than the sum of its parts, because watching leading man Robert Forster play a heartless asshole for 90 minutes isn’t that much fun, and because the story lacks momentum. Nonetheless, Cover Me Babe evokes a specific time thanks to a tasty mixture of angst, art, and erotica. Forster plays Tony Hall, a prize-winning student at a Southern California film school. Best known for an experimental film peppered with nudity and surrealism, Tony is nearing graduation and is considered the frontrunner for another big award, which presumably will open the gates of Hollywood.
Yet Tony resents everything connected with authority and convention, so over the course of the film, he burns every bridge that he had previously built. Tony destroys his relationship with a professor he sarcastically calls “Uncle Will” (Robert Fields), because the professor has the temerity to demand that Tony submit a script for his thesis project. Tony humiliates his sensitive girlfriend, Melissa (Sondra Locke), by commencing an affair with busty coed Sybil (Susanne Benton), and then Tony does a number on Sybil by asking her to have sex, on-camera, with their mutual friend Ronnie (Floyd Mutrux), who is ashamed of being gay and wants to make a go at heterosexual relations. While all this is happening, Tony wanders through Los Angeles with his trusty 16mm camera, stealing footage of strangers: a mother wailing in grief after her young son drowns at the beach, a depressed man jumping off a building, and so on. Tony also stages several shocking scenes, at one point hiring a female prostitute to masturbate on-camera. Eventually, Tony assembles the footage into an abrasive but pointtless montage that, he claims, illustrates the despair of life. (For punctuation, Tony inserts stock footage of Lee Harvey Oswald getting shot by Jack Ruby.)
Headstrong boundary-pushers of Tony’s ilk are staples of film school, and many of them become interesting directors, so there’s a measure of authenticity in George Wells’ script. Additionally, director Noel Black (who peaked early with the fantastic 1968 teen noir Pretty Poison), approaches the material with artistry and craftsmanship, applying lyrical touches to sex scenes, and two songs by soft-rock band Bread give the picture unmistakable early-’70s atmosphere. In the end, however, Cover Me Babe is strangely uninvolving, which is partially attributable to Foster’s chilly performance and partially attributable to the off-putting nature of the lead character’s journey. Believable as the notion of a self-destructive diva may be, it’s a challenge to stay engaged while Tony inflicts pointless psychological wounds and recklessly squanders opportunities.
Cover Me Babe: FUNKY