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I'm not sure why this film so completely slipped through the cracks--I don't remember it coming out at the time, and it seems to have evaded all conventional release to VHS, DVD, etc. (Maybe there were legal issues--the soundtrack is wall-to-wall famous late 60s "oldies," and perhaps the filmmakers didn't pay for the music rights beyond theatrical release.) In any case, it has a good reputation from the few who've seen it. But it doesn't hold up particularly well.
Perhaps its typical coming-of-age story of a young man worrying about the draft, what his parents think of his long hair, etc. has been done too many times by now. But the problem is how routinely "Purple Haze" tells that story, with rote characterizations from fairly colorless lead actors and variably amateurish support ones. You could forgive that and other clumsy aspects from a firsttime filmmaker, but the director/coscenarist had made a few features before (including the truly awful horror movie "The Meateater;" I'd like to see 1976's "Loose Ends," which got some critical acclaim at the time), and what appears to be a pretty pedestrian later career of TV movies (including lame biopics about Sonny & Cher, the Partridge Family and Jackie Onassis).
I imagine this was a more personal project for him (it was shot in his native Minnesota, and some of the actors have a very "local talent" feel), and in some ways it's pretty ambitious for an indie feature of the era. But it just doesn't have the spark of personality in terms of writing, performance or direction to make a memorable impression. A later movie (by another prolific TV-movie director) that likewise fails to make anything distinctive of a clearly autobiographical late-60s-young-manhood tale (and likewise shows practically no interest in women as anything but interchangeable sex partners) is Bobby Roth's 2005 "Berkeley."
I'm sure anyone who came of age circa 1969 thinks their experience of the era was unique and unforgettable. Sure it was--to them. Trouble is, too many of those stories all begin to seem generically alike when they're dramatized. It takes a savvier dramatist than this movie has to recapture what seems exciting in nostalgic recall and actually make it interesting for viewers.
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