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Man, it is hard to digest some of the bile and acrid animosity of many of the comments here. I saw this when it first came out right as I was about to graduate high school in 1970, and I loved it. I had not read John Barth's novel, so I had no prejudice about the approach. I have watched the film a couple of times since on video (though it is virtually impossible to find) and must testify it more than holds up. Stacey Keach really gives a great, subtly nuanced performance (perhaps the best of his career when he was still getting 'serious' roles) as the guy plagued by occasional catatonia, and James Earl Jones is also fantastic as a brilliant, maverick innovator of psychiatry (think Wilhelm Reich by way of Malcolm X) who, at the end, may be a bit too godlike for his own good. I personally think Terry Southern is a wonderful writer, and I love all of the films from his work from the more favorably acknowledged, like DR. STRANGELOVE and MAGIC Christian, to the less so (CANDY, which is probably my favorite). There are some crazy juxtapositions here as well as absurd humor (that would do the 1920s-30s surrealists proud), but the humor is not stupid by any means. Director Aram Avakian and Terry Southern were a good pairing. It's too bad that they never did another film together. I can only guess that this dark, dark comedy that is about America in the sixties and about human vulnerability, hubris and arrogance touched many raw nerves with not only some of the IMDb commentators, but the few people who saw it on its initial release. A totally uncompromising picture with the courage of it's twisted convictions. The intention of director, screenwriter and cast was to rattle complacent, uptight people's cages -and, judging from the invective here, I'd say they succeeded in spades. I will echo: whomever owns the rights to END OF THE ROAD, put it out on DVD - NOW!
The End of the Road, is probably Terry Southern's most personal work
for the cinema. One over which he had most input and control.
Southern's presence is felt throughout the film, from the use of his
own East canaan home as a location, to Keach holding a pair of Terry's
legendary 'Bono' fly style shades, to Terry's own cameo appearance as a
The film is superbly acted by all concerned, Keach especially and the film is shot and edited as a subversive assault on the psyche and hypocrisy of America at the end of the sixties. Family life and alienation are to the fore, and a profound sadness for the end of the sixties.
The film often goes too far and screams too loudly its in gags and cleverness, but it is genuinely moving and totally unique. One can also say that the ill judged inclusion of the protracted and unwatchable abortion scene, killed any chances the film had of success. Which is a great shame, as this is a film which deserves a wider audience beyond its status as a cult oddity. The End of the Road is one hell of a unique ride if you can stay on board and a great insight into the mind of one of cinema's greatest screenwriters, Terry Southern.
I would like to refute many of the negative comments about this film. It is the closest, I believe, that an American film of the period came to emulating the look and sound of late 60s' Godard or Bergman's Persona. End of the Road would be be a perfect companion to a series of films that might include Performance, the aforementioned Bergman, Mickey One (which director Avakian edited), or William Friedkin's adaptation of The Birthday Party. I am a big fan of Barth's novel, but I feel this radical adaptation extends the original in a way that is equally groundbreaking. The novel was more about the fifties, while the film is shaped by the explosive events of 1968 - Tet, the Kennedy and King assassinations, student riots, the rise of Nixon/Agnew - which take the whole idea of the novel's "politics of the personal" to another level. A DVD restoration of this misunderstood landmark is well overdue.
I first saw "End of the Road" on its theatrical release. Back then, it
seemed a nifty trick, tarted up as it was with pseudo-psychedelia. I saw
more than once because no other movie at the time had so much of what
to my young mind to be audacity.
I just viewed it today for the first time since then. Now what seemed nifty is merely sodden, and the bones of John Barth's novel cannot prop up the sagging flesh of this movie. What is amazing is how much of the novel made it to the screen at all. It's still a compelling story -- so by all means read the book.
The performances are decent enough although James Earl Jones starts over the top and never looks back. And Harris Yulin's role is so badly underwritten that we never have any idea what he's about.
This movie is a cultural artifact of the sixties and so has at least that value. Barth's novel, on the other hand, is a product of the fifties -- yet it did not feel dated at the time of the movie and does not feel dated now.
For sheer nerve, though, very few movies can beat "End of the Road."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the late 60's up until the late 70's Stacy Keach appeared with pleasing regularity in a sizable volume of seriously offbeat try-and-do-whatever defiantly unconventional and noncommercial oddball indie movies. These pictures include John Huston's beautifully downbeat "Fat City," the gloomy dope addict feature "Watched," the wonderfully outré "The Ninth Configuration," Jack Starrett's delightfully giddy'n'quirky crime romp "The Dion Brothers," and this truly idiosyncratic cinematic marvel of deeply depressed late 60's anarchy, disillusionment and spiritual malaise, which is arguably the strangest of the whole kooky bunch. Keach delivers a typically all-out loopy performance that's all fried nerves, eroding mental stability and spaced-out behavior as Jack Horner, a recent dejected college graduate who seeks psychological help from wacko unorthodox maverick shrink Doctor D (an extraordinarily nutty turn by a bearded, slender James Earl Jones). Doctor D encourages Jack to "do his own thing," a treatment which prompts Jack to get a job at a college as an English professor. Pretty soon Jack is having an adulteress fling with the neglected unhappy wife (superbly played by Dorothy Tristan) of a crazed, pompous colleague (marvelously essayed to smug, callous perfection by Harris Yulin in his film debut), a precarious situation which begets tragic consequences for all concerned. Addressing such pertinent topics as loss of identity, commonplace violence in contemporary society, abortion, drug use, infidelity, insanity and the sheer lunacy and bleak emptiness of middle class American existence with a bracing and fiercely pointed sense of sardonic humor, this grim social satire that was co-written by Terry Southern and garishly shot by Gordon Willis never lets up on its nihilistic, everything's-going-to-hell acid-soaked tone, thus making for a properly harsh, often funny and frequently provocative ridicule of trippy uninhibited 60's excess and messed-upness.
End Of The Road is a compelling and bizarre film from that most elusive of
genres, the "acid" film. Okay, so that may not be an officially recognized
genre. All the same this title emerges from the hippie generation as an
indictment of "establishment" ethos complete with a generous helping of
surrealism and "acid-friendly" scenery.
In and of itself, its a pompous and wholly unremarkable film. It tries to play itself of intellectual and deep, and only comes off as superficial and pointless. The whole is definitely not as valuable of its parts. What is remarkable is the brilliant performance of James Earl Jones as Doctor D who is experimenting with radical psychological treatments that wreak of the mythical MK Ultra mind control experiments alleged to be performed by the CIA and legendary escaped Nazi scientist Joseph Goebles (sp).
Jones really pulls out all the stops and lets loose in this role. He bombards Stacy Keach with traumatic sounds and images as part of his treatment, and he twists and contorts his voice, body, and mannerisms to paint an over the top picture of a cutting edge scientist walking a fine line between sanity and lunacy.
It's hard to suggest that you, or anyone would enjoy this film, but if you have a taste for the twisted, you'll certainly appreciate bearing witness to this oddly beautiful artistic train wreck of a movie.
THE PLOT: Bizarre adaption of John Barth's already bizarre novel
detailing the story of a man (Keach) who goes into a catatonic state at
a train station. He is sent to a strange mental hospital run by a weird
man named Dr D (Jones). After he is considered to be 'cured' he takes a
job as a college Professor and proceeds to have an affair with the wife
of one of his colleagues.
THE NEGATIVE: It has been noted that author Barth disliked this film version of his novel and it is easy to see why. It gives only a basic outline of the story while leaving out all of the deeper meanings. It also tried to tie the story to all the chaos and rebellion of the 60's even though the book was written in 1955. The final result is a very confusing and off putting mess with nothing coming together at all. The characters all act very odd and with no understanding of their motivations it becomes impossible for the viewer to relate to them or anything else that goes on. Most viewers, especially those that are not familiar with the John Barth book, will easily become confused and turned off by this film after the first five or ten minutes if not sooner.
THE POSITIVE: The film-making style is refreshingly audacious in a way that is rarely seen anymore. Everything is just thrown out there no matter how outrageous with little or no regard to mainstream acceptance. The kinetic imagery and music has a certain hypnotic effect that keeps you connected to it even if you don't understand what is going on. The film culminates with a very intense, grizzly, and tasteless abortion scene that will not be soon forgotten by anyone who sees it. Jones gives one of the most bizarre and over-the-top performances that you will ever see anywhere. Anyone who is a fan of his or has an interest in acting MUST see him in this film.
THE LOWDOWN: The film is a misfired experiment that manages to be enough of a period artifact to make it an interesting curio. It definitely has the ability to stay with you for awhile after it is over.
THE RATING: 6 out of 10.
"End of the Road" is very much a product of its time, but its still a
pretty damn good film. Its not the masterpiece that some proclaim it
as, but its far from the self-indulgent tripe others hail it to be. The
film touches upon many current events and social issues of the day and
is made (and written) in a heavily psychedelic manner. Like a lot of
other art of the era, it alternates between actually being insightful
into the human condition and aggravatingly pretentious and dense (to
the point that one may have to be on psychedelic drugs to get all of
it). Fortunately, it always remains a compelling story even in its more
self-indulgent moments and always has a sense of obtuse weirdness. This
is one strange flick folks, and if you enjoy head films, you'll
definitely enjoy this one.
The production values are really high (no pun intended, I swear) all around. Stacy Keach has always been one of America's most underrated actors, and his performance here ranks with "The Ninth Configuration" and "Fat City" as his finest. Dorothy Tristan is even better, playing a very difficult role with much depth and sympathy towards the character (the sequence where she gets an abortion remains to this day one of the most disturbing things ever in film). Harris Yullen and James Earl Jones (in a hilariously over-the-top performance) offer fine support. The screenplay (whose writers include Terry Southern) manages to balance the absurd, tragedy, and comedy seamlessly. "End of the Road" is definitely not for all tastes, but its an unique and fascinating film even nowadays. (7/10)
End of the Road shouldn't be completely dismissed. It is hard to watch
not only for what happens to the people in the cast but because it
tries to be arty about something that isn't. A man in a catatonic state
because he is overloaded by what is happening in society isn't arty.
And if his catatonic state is played out too long with obscure or trite
images we just become impatient. We aren't absorbing what we're seeing.
As hard as it is to allow yourself to become absorbed in this it's hard to shut it off. And when a female character decides to have an abortion we just know we're going to be subjected to the brutality of it and we don't want to be. Not after we have seen a man come out of a catatonic state and behave oddly in public and with his students. We're already alienated by the characters to have to endure anymore.
The acting is good by everyone even if we don't like any of the characters. The film does have an impact I'm just not sure what the message really is and why we need it. Maybe someone else can figure that out.
That's actually perhaps a bit harsh, but at 110 minutes the over the
top acting and tedious 2 characters in a room trying to "out-strange"
each other, first half of the film will turn most people away. The two
great lead actors make the, can you top this for over the top
performance, moments interesting only because they are such good
actors, but at it's heart this is a drug or alcohol script, culled from
a novel with much internal thought that can't really be done as a film
anyway. Writer/producer Terry Southern was an unfocused, from what I've
heard increasing bitter man, and his flashes of inspiration here and
there just make the rest of it that much more unforgivable. Sure it's a
product of the era it was made in, but the best of those can still
speak to today, most of this is just a collection of bizarre behavior
(people having sex with chickens, flashes of photos of mutant babies)
with no sense of reality and nothing but a, "I wrote the script in a
brothel with no sleep and 5 bottles of scotch in me." feel.
There is a funny telephone conversation near the end that reminds you of some of the phone conversations in Dr Strangelove. But by that point in the movie it's totally out of place.
There is really for the first hour no sense of purpose at all, then something that resembles a plot emerges and it all ends in a rather memorable scene that really is just the "I woke up sober and wanting to die" bad hangover ending.
The photography is occasionally fascinating, Gordon Willis first feature. The movie is not a reflection of insanity in the world or of the times, it's a reflection of substance abuse masquerading as a exploration of a crazy world. The bottoming out and turning of 60's ideals into recreational drug use as an excuse for self examination. It's the drunk who opens his mouth after saying, "do you like see food." A waste of talent and time ultimately.
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