And then I sat down to watch one of the last Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove (1964), Easy Rider (1969)) penned scripts that I hadn't seen, an adaptation of John Barth's The End of the Road, and then there it was in color, sound, and full-blown strangeness.
I'm not entirely sure what angle to take to relate this film to you. Was it interesting? Sure. Did it have laughs or a message? Both. Had I seen anything like it before? Sort of. End of the Road has the feel of a fair few late 60's anti-establishment films with its surreal elements and avant-garde tone. The characters are less characters and more symbolic archetypes (is that redundant?) who represent any number of aspects of society. The first half of the film where Jacob (Stacey Keach) is treated at the strange asylum of the unnamed black doctor (James Earl Jones) was far more interesting than the maudlin latter half when Jacob becomes entangled in an affair with a fellow teacher's wife. Now, I don't have a problem with a film that's more about ideas than plots or realistic characters, but End of the Road isn't satisfying in that way either, as the style often gets in the way of the substance. Dr. Strangelove, for instance, communicates its ideas far more clearly and with more laughs. Or Robert Downey Sr.'s Putney Swope (1969), which is a super-stylized satirical attack on advertising that again was both more entertaining and far less muddled.
|James Earl Jones munches scenery like he's been starved for days.|
Oddly enough, from a writing standpoint, it seemed to be a very personal project for Southern who also produced, but was ultimately offensive to Barth, even though it was far from his favorite amongst his own novels. I can't say that I would respond well to any production taking my own work, and introducing a "chicken-rape" scene into it for no apparent reason. (I mean that literally, one of the insane asylum inmates does...well...rape a chicken.) And so, I'm even more confused where to fall on this one: I can't exactly recommend it, certainly not in a broad sense, but nor would I say it was without interest (It should probably be viewed if only for one of the wildest, over-the-top performances by James Earl Jones). So I guess I'll say, save End of the Road until your 60's arthouse film journey is getting close to the end of its road.