You know what I like best about stores clearing out their old VHS titles in order to make room for DVD's? It's that once you sort through the five hundred teenage comedies from the 1980's, you come across a little gem like this for a measly couple of bucks.
WATCHED is a fascinating artifact from the last golden age of cinema. While equal parts cat-and-mouse thriller, psychedelia, futuristic drama and failed experimental film, it is no masterpiece by means. However, this film is indicative of a lot of 1970's cinema, which, while far from perfect, can be lauded for trying new things: the attempt is more important than the result. This is why I think even terribly flawed films of that decade are far more relevant than any assembly line crap that Hollywood churns out today and attempts to pass off as cutting edge.
Stacy Keach gives another strong performance in a bizarre film (and in this point in his career, his filmography was littered with unusual material: THE TRAVELING EXECUTIONER, END OF THE ROAD, BREWSTER McCLOUD...). He is a fugitive, a former DA, who is on the run from Harris Yulin, who purposely screwed up too many of the latter's drug busts in the Haight-Ashbury district. In the film's present (1980!), he watches tapes of himself back in the early 1970's. These scenes have an interestingly Orwellian touch to them (tape counter appears in the lower left of the images), but the central logic as to why these exist is lacking. So too do the trippy psychedelic sequences make little sense. The effect, nonetheless, matters more than the cause; plus, the lack of cohesion subtly compliments this story, which is after all, depicted in a society which is itself irrational and out of control.
This is best reflected in the observation that Keach's character purposely fouls up Yulin's militaristic attempts at busting a bunch of hippie kids and burdening the legal system, just because they have a joint in their pocket. It is even more amusing to watch these scenes today, in light of our Prime Minister's ambition to legalize the Mary Jane.
Plus, WATCHED is valuable for its unflinching look at Haight-Ashbury... LONG after the peace and love had faded, yet the drugs just got harder, and people's lives just got more screwed up. It even surpasses RUSH in its depiction of early-1970's counterculture burnout. This is even reflected in its casting choices. What better irony to show that the 1960's had faded by sticking in one of Warhol's superstars well past the glory days (Brigid Polk, who is startlingly good as an undercover narc who is unable to "make" Keach)?
That said, WATCHED is perhaps too ambitious for its budget and screenplay, but viewing it today makes it a fascinating experiment from what now seems like another planet; by all means check out this curiosity. Plus, the opening music is by none other than Weather Report, so how can you go wrong?
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