Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Ski Bum (1971)

          Flat, ponderous, and shapeless, this snow-capped drama depicts the travails of a dude who makes his living doing easy jobs for crass rich people in an idyllic resort town, yet somehow feels affronted and pained, as if The Man is oppressing him. At their worst, hippie-era character studies presented ridiculous juxtapositions of attitude and context, and The Ski Bum is a prime example. The rebels in Easy Rider (1969) walked it like they talked it, living off the grid while chasing the counterculture dream. Conversely, The Ski Bum’s protagonist, Johnny (Zalman King), is a petulant little asshole who expects the world to give him everything while retaining the right to whine about his circumstances. In one of the film’s myriad annoying tropes, Johnny often responds to simple questions with dull-eyed confusion and the barked response, “What?” Apparently, even the simple act of making conversation is too much of a personal-space invasion when this self-involved dweeb gets his knickers in a twist. Whatever.
          The picture tracks Johnny as he navigates a sexual relationship with Samantha (Charlotte Rampling), the hostess at a ski resort owned by loudmouth businessman Burt Stone (Joseph Mell). Samantha gets Johnny a job teaching Burt and his family to ski, and Burt’s wife and 13-year-old daughter both make passes at Johnny. Even Burt takes a shine to the ski instructor, despite the fact that he’s temperamental and unreliable, so Burt enlists Johnny to run quasi-legal errands. Johnny also hangs out with stoner pals and scores dope from local dealers. The movie wanders from one drab episode to the next, depicting Johnny’s existential malaise without providing any credible explanation for why he’s so upset.
          Leading man King, who later found his niche as a producer of softcore films, delivers a forgettable non-performance, and Rampling barely registers beyond her usual quality of stoic beauty. Interestingly, the picture was shot by master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who gives the piece more visual elegance than it deserves, and famed singer-songwriter Jackson Browne cameos during a druggy party scene. Even more interestingly, New Zealand-born director Bruce D. Clark made this picture while still attending UCLA’s film school, so the end credits report that The Ski Bum comprised Clark’s thesis. Full disclosure: Although the original version of this film runs an epic 136 minutes, I watched the 95-minute cut, so the extended footage may contain virtues absent from the sludge that I encountered.

The Ski Bum: LAME

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