GOD BLESS AMERICA

Posted: October 6, 2012 in Best of file 23, The Roper Files
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I used to go the movies a lot. That’s an understatement to say the least. Back in the 80’s Fort Worth had a small hand-full of drive-in theaters left and I’ve written about them on this site before.

The Cherry Lane, the Southside Twin, the Mansfield. I can’t remember my drivers license number but I can recite their names in my sleep.  Over in nearby Grand Prairie they had the massive four-screen Century and just a few miles to the east the three-screen Astro. All of them are gone now, much like my teenage years. So much ancient history.

The single-screen indoor theaters like the 7th Street theater and the huge Ridglea struggled and gasped for air for a few brief years after the drive-ins closed but they too fell victims to the changing times.Unless they booked a hit movie like Star Wars that people wanted to pay to see over and over they simply weren’t profitable anymore. The 7th Street like the drive-in theaters fell victim to wrecking ball and the Ridglea became a live venue for bands I’ve never heard of and couldn’t care less about.

And the movies that played at those theaters back then, they too seem antiquated compared to the slick glistening  polish that CGI has brought to the movies in the multiplex theaters now. Back then movies relied on props, makeup and believable performances by credible actors to create their staged illusions; now almost everything you see on the silver screen is faked through digital means. And as if that wasn’t enough insult to injury they are re-making movies I saw 25 years ago like ROBOCOP as if to prove that Hey We Can Do Better This Time Around.

While the drive-ins and single-screen theaters were falling victim to cable television and the advent of the VCR I used to load up my pickup with the ice-chest, the lawn chair and the portable radio and sit under the starry Texas skies and watch films almost nightly. Movies were my escape back then from the deadly dull reality of my humdrum everyday life. The people who ran the ticket booth at the drive-ins got to know me so well sometimes they would just wave me through at the box office instead of charging me admission. Ah … the Good Old Days…

Now going to the movies is almost an ordeal for me. People yakking on cell-phones or theaters packed with unsupervised kids don’t make for an enjoyable film-going experience, not to mention that movies these days are just plain awful. Oh the “special effects” make seem slicker these days and CGI does give film-makers the capability to present more grandeur in their story-telling but movies just seem to have lost their soul. They don’t make you laugh. They don’t make you cry. They pull money from your wallet and present movies that are remakes, sequels no one wanted to see or worse yet movies based on old TV shows or even video games. The last movie I went to see was THE SIMPSONS movie and that was what? Five years ago? Hell the theater I saw that at is closed now. So yeah I’ve pretty much quit going to the movies. So imagine my shock when I watched a movie tonight I actually enjoyed for the first time in years.

I picked up a DVD copy of GOD BLESS AMERICA this morning. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait who I’ve been a fan of for years, it’s a low-budget story about a disillusioned loner named Frank who is divorced from a family who doesn’t love him, loses his job and finds out he is dying from a tumor. He stops short of killing himself when he realizes that he isn’t the problem. He pulls the gun from his mouth and goes on a killing spree across the country in a stolen car (along with a troubled teen-age girl) which to him isn’t just a killing spree; it’s a crusade to eliminate people he sees as being too much a part of all that offends him. The duo execute a Glenn Beck-clone political commentator, members of a Westboro Baptist Church-type group and people at a Tea Party rally. Their safari finally culminates at a “AMERICAN SUPERSTARZ” broadcast where after executing the judges and several audience members Frank and his teenage accomplice are gunned down onstage and on-camera by the cops.

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Along the way Frank shoots the stars of a reality show, some rowdy teenagers in a theater, a guy parking across two parking spaces and a lecherous man who mistakes Frank for a pimp. Despite her mild come-ons Frank refuses to have sex with his teenage accomplice ( he slams a bathroom door closed when he can see her undressing for a shower) and they have several lengthy discussions about all that Frank sees wrong with America and society as a whole. (“What’s the use of having a civilization if we aren’t going to act civilized?” he asks a co-worker) Frank is basically a nice guy despite his penchant for killing people and much of the film works on that I’m Not Going To Take It Anymore attitude that made NETWORK or FALLING DOWN so popular although I feel it’s a superior movie to those.  It’s more like OFFICE SPACE meets TAXI DRIVER.

Make no mistake it’s a brutal film; there are several violent fantasy sequences including one at the beginning where Frank fantasizes about killing his loud, noisy next door neighbors (including their baby who cries all night long) or his co-workers at the office. But Frank is very discriminating about picking his victims; he only kills people he feels deserve to die simply because they aren’t nice people.

Just before he is gunned down onstage at the television studio he makes a very eloquent plea for people to think about how America celebrates all that is vile and mean-spirited. And like Kong falling off the Empire State Building his death seems more tragic and yet inevitable than that of the people he shoots just moments before.

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It’s violent, it’s bloody and in some ways a sadistic film and yet I got caught up in it for the entire length of the movie. When Frank and his teenage accomplice run over the Fred Phelps-type leader of a protesting church they are shown laughing with glee in their car as his body bounces over the hood and roof and I have to admit I laughed too. Bobcat Goldthwait makes a very good case for people to be a little nicer, a little bit more considerate and to accept just a little responsibility for their actions as well as a very good movie. During the two-hour course of the film I not only laughed but felt the pain of Franks character and that is no small accomplishment of the director. Will people watch this movie and think about their actions? Not holding my breath here but I do recommend buying or renting GOD BLESS AMERICA. Just think of it as HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER with a message. And remember: one car, one parking space please…

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