Cisco Pike (2005) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
We had some non-disagreement on this film which appeared to be a
disagreement because of our radically different expectations. We
both found the film mediocre, but Tuna expected to enjoy it
immensely and found it disappointingly mediocre, while Scoop
expected to despise it and found it gratifyingly mediocre.
Tuna's notes in white
Cisco Pike (Kris Kristofferson) was a rock star who lost everything due to drugs. Pike is hoping to make a comeback in the music industry with his estranged partner Jessie (Harry Dean Stanton), but all of that is on hold as he awaits trial on a second drug dealing charge. Out of nowhere, the narc who busted him twice (Gene Hackman) coerces him into dealing more drugs! The narc gives Cisco gets 100 bricks of high quality evidence pot, which Cisco must turn into at least $10,000 to be given to the narc after one long weekend. In return, the narc will make Cisco's current drug charges go away and will allow him to keep anything he can raise in excess of the $10,000. (The theoretical street value is at least $20,000, at the minimum price of $200 per kilo.) Of course, things do not go smoothly as we watch him trying to unload all of the pot.
IMDb lists the film as a drama. I would say more drama/comedy. It rather accurately depicts the "hippie generation" nearing the end of the 60s, when many were in legal trouble, and many had fallen from fame to poverty. The narc is also very believable. I, for instance, knew of one police detective who was the biggest fence in Southern California.
This 1972 film marked the acting debut of Kris Kristofferson, and the sound track was a real treat for me. It featured four Kristofferson songs, and a theme written and recorded by the blues harp master, Sonny Terry. It is also a film set in a period and an area I am well acquainted with, the early 70's (read 60s) in Venice, California. That's three reasons why I should adore this film. Add a topless performance from Karen Black as his old lady, and Gene Hackman as corrupt cop/villain, and it sounds like it was custom-made for me. However .. I found the film terribly dated, and not that enjoyable. It didn't offer any insight into the times, and seemed like yesterday's news.
Scoop's notes in yellow
My overall appraisal of this film tops out near the same level as Tuna's, but I reached a radically different conclusion about how the film got to that point. When I saw this movie in 1972 (yes, I was the one) I thought it was just another rambling, drug-addled cinema verite movie which attempted to ride on the Easy Rider bandwagon with a deliberately casual hand-held aesthetic and various other similarities to the Fonda/Hopper box office phenomenon.
Let's see. Pretty cool drug dealer with a
conscience. He's not really a "hero" but a classic late-60s/early-70s
antihero. He wanders around making deals, but is really hoping to get out
of dealing. He spends a lot of time driving around wordlessly while
complete songs play on the soundtrack, creating trite "mood footage."
He has a buddy who is not as cool and, in fact, is kind of wasted and
pathetic. They meander from place to place, pick up two hot chicks and
have drug-distorted adventures. Karen Black is on hand. Cops are mean
pigs. Along the way, the dealer loses one of his companions to 70s
Death Syndrome, a disease which had two variants, either OD or KBR
(killed by rednecks). The whole thing leads up to a wildly
melodramatic guns-blazing climax.
When this film came out it was a complete failure. It just seemed to consist of a bunch of stock 1972 characters running around doing the usual stuff they did in all counter-culture movies. It didn't provide any insight because you could walk down the city streets yourself for 48 hours and experience the same sorts of random characters and disconnected events. The critics raped the film. The DVD box is promoted with the damnation of Leonard Maltin's faint praise that it is "surprisingly good." One might make the point that this is not really praise by noting that his comment is "surprisingly accurate." Audiences stayed away from Cisco Pike, and I hated it as well, after watching it in an empty theater as part of a double feature. That's right! The studio was so convinced of its total lack of drawing power that they packaged Cisco as part of a double bill (a rarity in 1972) with some dubbed four-year-old "Spaghetti gangster" film called Machine Gun McCain, a film which held a certain fascination for me because Jim Morrison of the Doors had a small acting role.
We see Cisco Pike in a different light today. In 1972 all the cool-ass 70s iconography in this movie was lost because it was familiar. Hell, in 1972 you'd never really notice a lava-lamp on a guy's desk because it was just part of the background. Today, however, lava-lamps are iconic and ironic 70s symbols, and they draw immediate attention to their presence, as the one in this film did. That provides a metaphor for the entire film - it's a cinematic lava-lamp. It draws one's attention to an alien culture long since disappeared, and offers a snapshot of times and attitudes generally forgotten. It pictures the era as it saw itself, and also gives us an intimate glimpse at Hollywood's 1972 theories about marketing to the counter-culture. It is a priceless cultural artifact which provides an authentic time-travel experience that could not be duplicated by watching a 2006 film about 1972.
Tuna called Cisco Pike dated, and I have to agree, but to me that's what makes it so much more interesting today than it was in 1972. People would watch it in 1972 and ask "What's the point?" Now, 34 years later, there is a good answer. Cisco Pike is a magnificent time capsule.
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