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Johnny Firecloud/Bummer! (DVD)


Johnny Firecloud/Bummer! (DVD)

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Interest in human sexuality has long been linked to progressive thinking. Erotica fans may not be aware of the connection, but their prurient interests have helped popularize technology ranging from VCRs and DVD players to the Internet, and many smut peddlers have presented visions of the world where social ills, from racial intolerance to the generation gap, are overcome by a healthy libido. The archivists at Something Weird Video, who have spent more than a decade collecting drive-in and grindhouse ephemera for home-video release, have dedicated their latest double-feature DVDs to a set of exploitation pictures with a message. From the era of the Billy Jack/Walking Tall/Deathwish revenge fantasy comes 1975's David Friedman-produced, William Castleman-directed Johnny Firecloud, which stars Victor Mohica as a Native American who witnesses the degradation of his people at the hands of corrupt lawmen and rednecks, until the day that he snaps and goes on a blood-splattered rampage. The same disc features the 1972 Friedman/ Castleman collaboration Bummer!, about a troop of groupies who go from laughing it up at an L.A. topless club to ducking the violent sexual advances of a psychotic bassist (played by familiar character actor Dennis Burkley, at the start of his career). Also available is a DVD pairing of two youth-culture "exposés": the 1966 Sunset Strip travelogue Mondo Mod and the 1967 San Francisco study The Hippie Revolt, both of which mix documentary footage of druggies, rockers, and political activists with staged scenes of pin-up girls taking their clothes off in front of psychedelic light displays. As usually happens with Something Weird products, the added attractions steal the show from the main features. The Mod/Hippie disc is highlighted by a running commentary from '60s California scenesters Johnny Legend and Eric Caidin, who reminisce about what it was really like to play in a band, score dope, and live on a commune. They undercut the breathless sensationalism of the films' original narration by making honest observations about the tedium of stoned-out sitar jams, as well as the fact that pretty earth-mother types rarely put out. The Johnny Firecloud/Bummer! disc contains a commentary by Friedman, who has talked about his movies for Something Weird DVDs before, but here goes way off topic to discuss his career in low-budget nudie pictures and explain why his brief, profitable detour into hardcore pornography and the Ilsa movie series ruined the fun and cleverness of B-picture huckstering. Both discs also offer copious trailers for period drive-in fare, which demonstrate Friedman-style marketing savvy in their attempts to tease the audience with skin while pretending that the movie being sold represents an honest account of contemporary problems. The sweet delusions of semi-talented filmmakers trying to tell compelling stories in a formulaic, money-making genre—and the customers who hide their lust for violence and carnality behind a feigned interest in hot-button issues—reaches a head in the trailer for Girls In Trouble. In phony man-on-the-street interviews, actors posing as theater patrons praise the film for its up-to-date honesty, while dropping the phrase "so much sex and nudity" with hilarious regularity.