B.J. Lang Presents (1971)

I haven’t been watching TVS much of late, cos my reception (or their transmission) has been so flaky for quite a while now that I haven’t been able to watch it. It behaved itself tonight, though, and let me watch one of the strangest goddamn things I’ve ever seen. They showed it as The Manipulator but I have a trailer for the film as part of Umbrella’s Drive-In Delirium DVD under the name B.J. Lang Presents, which I suspect may be the original actual title (the title card in the print TVS used was markedly unlike the rest of the opening credits). B.J. Lang is a mad old man played by Mickey Rooney (maybe the film should’ve been called Mental Illness Finds Andy Hardy?) who kidnaps a woman and hallucinates the making of a film of Cyrano de Bergerac inside a warehouse full of mannequins and other oddities. The first and only film by Yabo Yablonsky (actual first name Richard, apparently) seems to be widely regarded (by the few who regard it at all) as a weird catastrophe, though I like this review which questions that judgement: “It’s too strange a movie to know whether or not it should’ve been done in some other manner.” Yablonsky seems to have come from theatre (his only other IMDB credits are a handful of TV movie scripts) and indeed was apparently doing it on stage in the mid-80s, but his cinematic style here seems to have taken several cues from the experimental cinema of the previous few decades, rife with overcranking, undercranking, distorting lenses, etc. The overall result is a film that clearly fears no excess as it leaves us perhaps wondering exactly whose hallucination is this, and though we may question its success (Luana Anders as the kidnap victim simply did nothing for me; this is Mickey’s show as far as the acting goes) there’s certainly no denying its singularity; while the material is limited, it somehow remains weirdly compelling, and I’m fairly sure the end result was exactly what Yablonsky was trying to achieve.

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