Monday, June 08, 2015

A Place Called Today

Don Schain and his starlet wife Cheri Caffaro followed up their nasty exploitation hit GINGER with an ambitious drama about race relations. It’s the worst kind of arthouse film. Instead of conversations, the characters speechify. Instead of drama, Schain, who wrote and directed A PLACE CALLED TODAY, tosses out socially relevant topics and buzzwords like slabs of meat to wild animals. The heavy-handed sermonizing gets exhausting quickly. Just fifteen minutes in, and I felt as though I had been smacked in the noggin with a meat tenderizer.

Schain’s ponderous filmmaking extends beyond his screenplay. The film opens without credits and jumps right into longwinded conversations without establishing the setting or characters. This leaves the viewer confused and scrambling to catch up with the story, which is further made disorienting by Schain’s insistence upon shooting close-ups with actors staring directly into the camera. Yes, Schain has Big Ideas, and some of them are worthy of discussion, but not with these actors and not with just fat fingers behind the camera.

J. Herbert Kerr Jr., who did little of note on film, is earnest enough as Randy Johnson (baseball fans may be distracted by the constant use of his full name), a black man with a plan to run for mayor by inciting violence behind the scenes and more or less scaring the Caucasian Establishment sheep into voting for him. Helping him are white revolutionary Carolyn (a miscast Lana Wood, who overacts as if to make up for a lack of confidence in tackling a fiery role with a lot of dialogue) and black Steve Smith (former footballer Timothy Brown). On the other side of the election are Ron Carton (Richard Smedley), Carolyn’s lover who believes in the Establishment and is also making time with wealthy debutante Cindy Cartwright (Caffaro), a goodtime party girl who backs the current mayor (Peter Carew) basically because her daddy tells her too.

A PLACE CALLED TODAY received an X rating in its 1972 release by Avco Embassy, probably because of a scene in which Cindy is graphically raped and murdered by Johnson’s men. Caffaro is stripped naked and degraded in all of her films directed by her husband, which adds a subliminal layer of grime to them.

As for lovers working together, Wood met Smedley on this film and married him. In her autobiography, she claimed A PLACE CALLED TODAY was his first film, but he had in fact acted in several soft- and hardcore sex films prior to it and continued to do so after their wedding. He’s a dreadful actor, and Schain’s self-important dialogue really leaves him hanging. Wood trashed this movie in her book, though she claimed it was ruined in the editing. I don’t think it was edited enough.

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