Monday, December 9, 2019

The Pyramid (1976)

          Regional productions comprise a fascinating subsection of ’70s cinema, because these may well be the most truly independent narrative features of the era. After all, making a movie untethered to traditional distribution channels gives filmmakers license to express themselves as freely as their budgets, schedules, and talents will allow. It is in this context that one can most generously consider The Pyramid, a peculiar exploration of hippie-era spirituality created by writer/director Gary Kent. (His other credits, scattered across American cinema from the 1950s to the present, include such highlights as portraying “Rapist #1” in Al Adamson’s 1972 schlockfest Angels’ Wild Women.)
          Competently if not dazzingly photographed, The Pyramid concerns a Dallas-based TV reporter who embarks on an existential odyssey. After witnessing one tragedy too many and getting fired for mouthing off to his boss (and wasting company resources on personal projects not suitable for broadcast), the reporter turns inward, exploring group therapy, the healing qualities of making it with a sexy vegetarian babe, and the magical powers of objects shaped like pyramids. Kent’s meandering movie also manages to address Kirlian photography, telepathic messages transmitted from space, and a Hollywood starlet who wants you to understand that she just filmed a nude scene, thank you very much, not a sex scene.
          Clearly, Kent had a lot on his mind—some of it quite interesting, some of it less so—but just as clearly, he lacked the discipline required to distill his thoughts into a propulsive story. As a result, protagonist Chris Lowe (C.W. Brown) wanders aimlessly from one episode to the next, raging at the machine whenever he encounters proof that the system is rigged against freethinkers or underdogs or whomever else he decides to champion. Meanwhile, Chris’ buddy LaMoine Peabody (Ira Hawkins), an ambitious on-air personality, rises through the ranks at a local TV station even though, in his private life, he abuses his girlfriend and harbors self-destructive impulses. What do all of these things have to do with each other? If Kent had a good answer to that question, he didn’t embed it into The Pyramid.
          Every so often, Kent hits a nice groove, whether it’s with a gentle scene of characters getting in touch with their feelings or a satirical scene about the film industry. (In one lively bit, Chris tries to sell an earnest documentary to an exhibitor who only wants pictures with “broads and music.”) Yet the lack of any discernible narrative plan makes it hard to hook into Chris’ story or, for that matter, any other aspect of The Pyramid excepting a few vivid sequences. Still, The Pyramid seems sincere, even when it traffics in such clich├ęs as the bearded mystic who intones profundities (e.g., “You must die before you live”). So, while The Pyramid is nowhere near the transcendent experience that Kent presumably envisioned, it has some truthful moments, and it presents a few ideas worth pondering.

The Pyramid: FUNKY