WHERE IT’S AT (1969)
Running Time: 106 mins. Rating: xx Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Garson Kanin
Distributor: United Artists
Cast: David Janssen, Rosemary Forsyth, Robert Drivas, Brenda Vaccaro, Don Rickles, Edy Williams, Anthony Holland, Vince Howard, Warren Ott, The Committee
Where it wasn’t.
I have this interest in an as yet unrecognized sub-genre, films “old” Hollywood made in the ’60s to appeal to the new “youth culture”. Think of some sixty-year-old studio exec or agent exclaiming about how the kids love David Niven, their idea of a hip swinger. The most typical film of this genre is PRUDENCE AND THE PILL, which is based on the asinine premise that women couldn’t tell the difference between a birth control pill and an aspirin. Ha ha. Obviously made by people who had never seen a birth control pill FOR people who had heard of but had never seen a birth control pill. Its like the Orson Welles story about the frog and the scorpion – Hollywood was trapped by their very nature.
The pity here is that the auteur of WHERE IT’S AT is Garson Kanin whom I greatly admire. He tells some great stories in his memoirs which I recommend highly. However, he hadn’t directed a film, except for an unsold TV pilot, since 1945. He adapted his own novel, published the same year as the film’s release, which suggests that it was more novelization than novel. It must have been frustrating for Kanin, whose wife, Ruth Gordon, was having a rare American second act playing in counter culture epics, which ‘broke all the rules’.
In general the Hollywood old timers complaint was that, for instance, what was called dirty in an American movie was merely lusty in foreign films. They resolved to, as always, give the audience what it wants. If this is what the kids want, we’ll damned well give it to them. If that means breaking all the rules – then fine. So after an attempt at psychedelic credits, which turn out to be out-of-focus Las Vegas neon, the opening shot proceeds to ‘break all the rules’. A darkened room, whose inhabitants can’t be discerned, is backlighted from a picture window with not one but two lights distractingly flashing in the distance. Other colored lights illuminate, to no purpose, the immediate foreground. We find out from the dialog that its a man and a woman in bed but even though the scene goes on for some time and the man walks out of the shot nothing is revealed about the couple because of the dim lighting.
Yeah there’s some sex or an attempt at it with what may have been Rosemary Forsyth’s (Janssen’s real-life mistress) ass seen in a mirror for 4 sec. Kids love nudity and sex. We eventually learn that it’s a man named Smith (!) (David Janssen) who owns Caesar’s Palace and is waiting for his son to arrive in Las Vegas.
The son (Robert Drivas) is wearing a double-breasted blazer with a big collared shirt with the collar outside, pink slacks and a silk cravat. Not typical hippie or even young guy duds circa 1969. More like Harper’s Bizarre band kit circa 1965. Maybe ’64. His hippie hairdo is one that I was tossed out of school for having in 1964. It’s actually a monster comb over which prefigures that of The Donald. Drivas looks something like David Cassidy who would have been perfect in the role as Drivas is at least 10 years too old. Janssen hires a bimbo (Edy Williams, famed for being topless at Cannes for decades) to prove his son isn’t a fag.
There are non-narrative flash insert edits, a scene where Drivas is seen as a boy of different ages and as a soldier while being talked at by Janssen. A little razzle, no dazzle. There is no back story on their relationship. Drivas’ mother died and he’s just graduated from Princeton but it’s like dad was in the raj and the son is returning to India after having been away at school in England since he was 8 years old. Drivas seems as if he’s learning that his father owns Caesar’s Palace for the first time and is not impressed. Janssen mentions that Drivas is looking a lot more like him but this is patently untrue except for the part about needing hairpieces.
Big band riffs are played on a Hammond organ.
There’s some very quick cutting during a conversation between Janssen and Drivas.
There are improv voice-overs, at random moments, by a sub-Nichols & May comedy group called The Committee scattered throughout the soundtrack.
There is a hand-held tracking shot following Janssen and Drivas out of an elevator and another, even more senseless, handheld shot.
Halfway in one realizes that not only are there no clocks in Las Vegas there are no calendars. Except for Drivas’ ridiculous costumes there is nothing “Sixties”, nothing “youth culture”. The very title was as passé as “hep” and not even used in the correct sense. What we have is the same crapola which drove people from theaters 25 years before when Clark Gable played the gruff operator, the aggressive ubermench who must toughen up his candy ass son to take over his place in the food chain but which he also resents.
There is a big deal concerning the control of Caesar’s Palace stock, the financial equivalent of a couple getting married by stopping a minister in the street. No Gaming Commission, no governmental oversight. Time makes no sense at all, man.
Sure there are all of these gimmicks which Kanin has worked into his script but it just doesn’t make it, man. There was a certain arrogance amongst the Hollywood big shots, that they could entertain a bunch of children with the latest toys but they all failed miserably. As The Incredible String Band said – “You played all the notes and learned all the words but you never quite learned the song she sang…” or as Dylan said, “You know something ‘s happening but you just don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones.”
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