May 11, 2009

Justify My Netflix: The Ninth Configuration

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Ninth Configuration

Today's movie: The Ninth Configuration, 1980 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix)

Why I added it to my queue: Because it's considered by many to be one of those forgotten cult classics of the 1970s (technically released in 1980, but you see my point), written and directed by the same guy who wrote the counterculture blockbuster The Exorcist, in this case about a straight-arrow military officer (Stacy Keach) put in charge of a mental asylum full of freaked-out Vietnam vets, and who may or may not be a deluded insane patient there himself.

The reality: So to even begin to explain the unwatchable trainwreck which is The Ninth Configuration, let's start with the awkward, needlessly complicated way they justify why the whole thing takes place in a medieval European castle, even though it's supposed to be set outside of Seattle: because see, writer/director William Peter Blatty couldn't get any actual movie production companies to take the project on, so finally convinced the Pepsi soda company to fund it, but with the caveat that he film the movie in eastern Europe so they could write off the entire thing as a corporate tax deduction; and then the way they explain the jarring sight in the actual film is by saying that it was one of those follies of one of those robber-barons of the 1800s, some crazy oil tycoon of the Industrial Age who literally bought an old European castle and had it shipped to the Pacific Northwest brick by brick, like a handful of actual old robber-barons actually did in the 1800s. Man, that's a ridiculous amount of explanation for an undue-attention-causing detail that should've never been in the movie to begin with (because seriously, who would possibly ever deal with insane soldiers by sticking them in a medieval castle and letting them run around free and unsupervised while dressed in elaborate crazy-person costumes?); and so it is with nearly every other detail of The Ninth Configuration as well, a schizophrenic production that I'm sure Pepsi executives took one look at before sighing and saying, "Dude, whatever, we can prove now to the IRS that we spent a million bucks in Hungary on 'economic development,' and that's all that matters."

The problem is that the movie tries to have its cake and eat it too, attempting in a plodding, heavy-handed way to tap into the whole countercultural "the nutjobs are actually the sane ones!" vibe so prevalent in '70s ensemble-cast cinema (see M*A*S*H, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, et al), with a main crazy for example who looks and dresses exactly like a '70s-era Dennis Hopper; but then it tries to shoehorn in all these random shocking weirdo images as much as possible too, for no particular narrative reason but rather in an obvious attempt to have some kick-ass commercials, in order to draw in the same crowd who loved all the random shocking weirdo images of Blatty's previous The Exorcist (which, please note, Blatty only wrote and did not direct). And then in the meanwhile, Blatty tries to tackle some serious human-interest issues within this cinematic mishmash on top of everything else; and so that means that when we're not being inundated with shots of hallucinating astronauts spotting a crucified Jesus on the surface of the moon, we're being forced to watch these unending 15-minute dialogue scenes full of stoned-undergraduate revelations about the futility of organized religion and the like. Ugh! I'm a big fan of '70s cinema, as regular readers know, but unfortunately the decade also gave us some of the most unwatchable crap in the genre's history too; and while there are definitely trippy classics out there that have gotten forgotten over the decades by society at large, there are also a ton of movies like this one that got very rightly forgotten, and which need to stay that way.

Strangest piece of trivia: What, the whole "Pepsi produced this movie but only as an eastern-European tax writeoff and made him shoot the whole thing in an abandoned medieval castle in Hungary" detail isn't strange enough for you?

If I had watched it when it first came out: I would've thought, "Reagan can't get inaugurated fast enough."

Worth your time? Not in any possible way whatsoever.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:59 AM, May 11, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |