August 31, 2006

Putney Swope

Reviewer: Erin Donovan
Rating (out of 5): ***

When the president of a floundering Madison Avenue advertising agency keels over and dies on the conference table during a meeting, the board calls for a vote to designate a new president. Each of the men are so disappointed that the bylaws prohibit voting for themselves that they all abstain by voting for the only black man on the board. And this is how Putney Swope becomes the president of the advertising agency. He decides that since the company is already doomed he might as well go down in flames. "Rockin' the boat's a drag," he says, "Whatcha do is sink the boat!" He immediately fires all the white people, renames the agency "Truth and Soul, Inc.", and puts all the clients who make war toys and cigarettes on notice.

The satire Putney Swope is a bit less cutting than it undoubtedly was in the late sixties but the film's earnest weirdness rewards multiple viewings and perhaps demonstrates that LSD was not all bad. The television spots created by the new agency include: a psychedelic montage of topless girls jumping on a trampoline before deciding to have an orgy with a random passerby (to sell Lucky Airline travel, of course), a redneck beauty queen getting pied in the face with chicken pot pies, and a double amputee hocking life insurance by proclaiming "they charge an arm and a leg, but it's worth every penny!" And then there's director Robert Downey's decision to dub in all of Swope's dialogue with his own gravelley, white voice - a decision necessitated by the actor's inability to remember his lines and the low-budget shooting schedule - that now reads like a brilliant stylistic choice.

This new DVD release includes an interview and feature commentary with Downey (who is probably now more famous as a father of a certain actor) who recounts his brief period making television spots for an experimental wing of an NYC advertising agency in the sixties as well as his working relationship with director PT Anderson (whose film Boogie Nights directly lifts a scene from Putney Swope).

See also: Head of State, , I'm Gonna Get You Sucka, Hollywood Shuffle, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Boondocks Season One, Chappelle's Show.

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Posted by cphillips at August 31, 2006 2:34 PM | TrackBack