Monday, September 25, 2017

Angels (1976)


          Downtown NYC weirdness abounds in Angels, a darkly comic fantasy about recently deceased individuals tasked by God with killing mortals who possess the potential to become angels—although the movie’s premise is so outrageous it could have made for a fun drive-in flick, director Spencer Compton gets distracted at regular intervals by pretentious nonsense. In one scene, a man straightens a wire hanger, then shoves the entire apparatus down his throat like a sword swallower. In another bit, a gangly man wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and a gun belt presents his backside to the camera while sobbing uncontrollably. Still another vignette features a chase scene on roller skates, set to the accompaniment of disco music, during which the pursuers wear brightly colored pantyhose over their heads. And then there’s the scene of a video artist and his model girlfriend smoking a joint in bed while watching a deathbed recording of the artist’s father, a onetime actor lamenting that fate has denied him a final curtain call. 
          The movie begins with a barrage of confusing images. A shrill blonde woman and a biker venture onto the streets of New York. In Heaven, God (personified as a hip black man and played by David Bryant) greets a pair of newly dead mobsters, their clothes riddled with bloody bullet holes. God explains that He needs deadly emissaries on earth because the angel population has dwindled, or something like that. (Even for a fantasy, the logic is incomprehensible.) Then it’s back to the blonde and the biker, who get run over by a nun driving a Rolls-Royce. And so on.
          Angels is wildly undisciplined, with the style and tone fluctuating greatly from scene to scene, and the central plot gets cast aside repeatedly. What, for instance, does the vignette of the crying cowboy accosting someone with a dildo have to do with anything? And why does Compton linger so long on the deathbed recording, an indulgent stretch of over-acting that’s self-referentially about over-acting?
          In some ways, Angels epitomizes what many people hate about the downtown art scene, because the participating eccentrics seem to perceive their every utterance, no matter how asinine, to be art. Similarly, various attempts at satirizing Christian beliefs—such as transforming a nun into an assassin—feel like silly shock-value maneuvers instead of genuine provocation. It doesn’t help that Angels is cheap-looking and dull and pointless. Even the grungiest Andy Warhol productions have tangible themes, no matter how outré, so by comparison to other films that arose from the same environment, Angels comes across as sloppy and underdeveloped. Given how tedious the worst downtown movies are, that’s saying a lot, none of it complimentary.
          Perhaps the only point of interest for film fans is the presence of offbeat character actor Vincent Schiavelli (known for projects including 1990’s Ghost). He plays the cowboy, so that’s Schiavelli’s physique in the bizarre nude scene and that’s Schiavelli’s hand wiggling the dildo. Angels contains a host of images viewers will never encounter anywhere else, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the images are worth seeing.

Angels: FREAKY

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