I had completely forgotten that this was directed by my old friend, Richard Rush, who began his career with cult movies like Hell’s Angels on Wheels and this one, then made the superb The Stunt Man … and seems to have spent the rest of his life lecturing on college campuses after showings of his motorsickle film. Ah, those were the days, spent lounging around his pool in Bel-Air, with his real stunt man friend recently turned TV director, Chuck Bail, listening to Richard’s tall tales about Peter O’Toole and many others. We’d work on the Millennium script for an hour, order in a huge plate of sushi, work a little more, and then Richard would get itchy feet. “Let’s go to Catalina!” he’d say, and we were off to Santa Monica Airport where we’d check out a little Cessna and be in the air in a trice. Two trices at most. He let me fly except for takeoffs and landings, and headed us, at first, directly to LAX. This seemed insane to me, until he pointed out that 5000 feet over a major airport was the safest place for a small plane to be, as it was the one place where the big jets never went. We’d land on top of the mountain, enjoy buffalo burgers made from the very wild bison that roam the island, and be off again (thus making me one of the few people who has ever visited Santa Catalina but never been in the only town, Avalon) for a fly-in at a little airstrip somewhere in Santa Barbara county so I could ride in Steve McQueen’s old Stearman biplane. Sometimes the movie biz just takes your breath away.
Oh, yeah, the movie. It’s way better than the double feature on this DVD, The Trip … but that doesn’t mean it’s very good. A deaf girl (Susan Strasberg) goes looking for her whacked-out brother (Bruce Dern) in the Haight-Ashbury. I guess nobody really knew much about the deaf back then. This girl may or may not be suffering from hysterical deafness, but she sure doesn’t talk like deaf people talk, which is pretty much like Marlee Matlin talks. This film at least has a story, which The Trip doesn’t, but it’s not much of one, and it just goes on for a while and abruptly quits. Bruce Dern is over the top. The guy who falls for the dead girl (maybe), one “Stoney,” is played by Jack Nicholson, and he’s by far the best thing in the movie. He’s got the youthful dangerousness and presence that would soon be serving him so well in Five Easy Pieces and Carnal Knowledge. (He was actually 29, perilously close to that age beyond which no one could be trusted, according to one of the more fucked-up gurus of my generation.) He’s got a band (didn’t everybody in 1968?) that really, really, really sucks. Somehow they get invited to play in the Avalon Ballroom, something that would never happen, believe me … and it all falls apart, what little of it there was. But we stuck it out to the end.