Sunday, January 29, 2012

Blue Sunshine (Jeff Lieberman, 1978)

You could look at it as a cautionary tale, one that attempts to shine some light on what could possibly happen if some of the more extravagant excesses of the hippie era ever decided to rise up from their incompetently dug hippie graves to haunt (a.k.a. feast on the brains of...) the denizens of the disco age. I'll admit, looking at Blue Sunshine, a hair-raising thrill ride written and directed by Jeff Lieberman, from that particular angle does make me feel awfully smart and junk. But as most people are acutely aware, appearing smart is not what I'm known for. If you really wanted to, you could look at this film as a sinister effort by wig manufacturers to demonize baldness. Think about it, with the fedora long out of style, the unwashed, shoulder length tresses of the aforementioned hippie era languishing in the dustbin of coiffure history, and, not to mention, the fact that the inexplicable rise of the baseball hat as a non-atheltic fashion accessory is still years away from becoming our national nightmare, the wig is ready to make a comeback. Back in the late 1970s, thick manes of jet black hair were all the rage. Thanks to celebrities like, John Travolta, Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino, and Bert Convy, men could grow their hair long without having to look like they were auditioning to be America's next top drug-addled roadie for Blue Öyster Cult (a band who, by the way, is probably responsible for the whole non-Germans misusing umlauts trend). But what about the baldies? Well, that's where the wig comes in. Of course, the wigs will cause you to become overly sensitive to loud noises (so you can forget about heading down to your local disco to hear the fresh new sounds of the day), and, oh yeah, you might develop the urge to kill some or all of your loved ones. Actually, that makes no sense at all. If anything, the industrial wig complex would probably hate the idea that their clients might turn into disco-hating psychopaths after using their product. It's funny how that happens. You're carrying on like you know what you're talking about, when all of sudden, blamo! Your theory bursts into flames.

In my defense, the wig manufacturers at the time must have looked at Blue Sunshine with some trepidation. I mean, after all, everyone who wears a wig in the movie does eventually go crazy (some even chase small children around with kitchen knives). Which, from a public relations point-of-view, must have a been a nightmare. In other words, my theory does hold a fair amount of murky water.

The only film, at least the only one that I'm aware of, to cause the viewer to constantly question the follicular integrity of every man, woman, and child who appears onscreen–well, all except the fabulous Deborah Winters (there's no freakin' way her finely coiffed hairdo was anything but au naturale), Blue Sunshine is an extremely off-kilter look at the unexpected consequences of taking one too many hallucinogens during the period of free love, and even freer drugs. You'll notice I said "extremely" off-kilter, as supposed to just plain "off-kilter." Well, that because whenever your movie has Zalman King (Trip with the Teacher) as its star, you're bound to detect a slight upswing when it comes to your film's overall weirdness.

Doing a terrific job of sucking you into its kooky world almost immediately, Jeff Lieberman opens the film with three shots of a full moon that are paired with three separate scenes that may or may not be connected with one another. The first features the headache prone Dr. David Blume (Robert Walden) making the rounds at the hospital he works; the second shows Wendy Flemming (Ann Cooper) sitting on the couch reading the story of Rapunzel to the kids she is babysitting (the scene ends with her losing a strand of hair); and the final one has a stressed out Barbara O'Malley (Adriana Shaw)–she yells, "No More chocolate pudding!" to one of her fridge-raiding children–sitting at the kitchen table complaining to Ritchie (Bill Sorrells), a male companion, about her husband Jonhnny O'Malley (Bill Cameron), whose been acting strange as of late. How strange, you ask? Why don't you ask him? He's standing right over there. Obviously eavesdropping on their conversation, Johnny, whose pet macaw is perched on his left shoulder, seems emotionally disturbed.

Meanwhile, in a cabin located somewhere outside Los Angeles, a group of friends seem to be having a blast. And who can blame them? A man who looks like Brion James is doing an impression of Rodan (a mutated pterosaur), Billy Crystal's brother is singing Frank Sinatra's "Just in Time," Zalman King is wearing a sweater with reindeer on it, and Deborah Winters is looking super-sexy in a cream-coloured dress that literally oozed disco chic. Wow, you're right, that sounds like one killer party. Yeah, tell me about it. Oh-oh, it would seem that Billy Crystal's brother has just lost his wig. And, get this, his friends didn't seem to know that he wore one. Funny thing, though, the way Billy Crystal's brother reacts to his wig being accidentally pulled off was quite unusual. You see, instead of being embarrassed like most people would in a situation like this, Billy Crystal's brother seems borderline psychotic.

Quickly realizing that his secret's been exposed, Billy Crystal's brother, his eyes looking as if they're about to leap out of their sockets, clutches at his patchy melon with both hands and runs screaming from the cabin. Staring at each other with confused looks on their faces, the rest of the party guests decide that now is a good as any to call it a night. While most of them do leave, Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King) chooses to stay, much to the displeasure of his stylish girlfriend, Alicia Sweeney (Deborah Winters). While Jerry Zipkin, or as Alicia likes to call him, "Zippy," searches the woods for their balding friend, three women, a trio who are not quite as fashion forward as Alicia, but do have their moments (the one in the red dress sitting with her legs crossed had a snotty grace about her that was quite appealing), remain in the cabin just in case if Billy Crystal's brother decides to come back.

Unfortunately, he does come back. Seething with murderous rage, Billy Crystal's brother grabs the woman in the black dress and pushes her into the fireplace. He did what?!? Yeah, I couldn't believe it, either. As he's doing this, the woman in the red dress and her friend in the white dress try to stop Billy Crystal's brother from burning the woman in the black dress in the fireplace. But it's no use, as the three of them eventually end up in the fireplace when all is said and done. After an intense struggle, Billy Crystal's brother is killed by a truck while fighting with Zippy, who came back from his search only to find his female friends roasting in the cabin's spacious fireplace. However, it's Zippy who gets blamed for the murders. And if that weren't enough, he's shot in the arm by a trucker played by Bill Adler (Van Nuys Blvd.), who, from his point-of-view, sees Zippy as the murderer, not Billy Crystal's brother, who, as I have already stated, is currently roadkill.

Fleeing the scene, Zippy is now a fugitive from justice. The still stylish Alicia tries to convince the detectives working the case that he didn't do it, but all the evidence is pointing in his direction. Luckily, Zippy has a doctor friend in the city he can turn to treat his gunshot wound. You'll notice that Zippy's doctor friend, Dr. Blume, is the same doctor from the film's opening scene. Interesting. It's all coming together. Anyway, treating his injury and providing him with a dapper business suit (smart move, since there's an APB out for a man in a sweeter with reindeer on it, not a man dressed like a banker), Zippy begins his quest to clear his name.

One of my favourite parts of Blue Sunshine were the many clandestine rendezvous that take place between Zippy and Alicia throughout the film. Oh, and not for the reasons you're probably thinking. I liked them because they gave us a chance to savour Deborah Winters' urbane fashion sense in the light of day. Up until now, we've only got see Deborah in dim log cabin lighting. But when Zippy starts his life on the lam, things take a turn for the jaunty. Approaching Zippy at their prearranged meeting point with a brash spring in her step, Alicia makes it abundantly clear that she is going to be force to be reckoned with when it comes to exuding high style in this movie. Sporting a striped red and white turtleneck sweater and a pair of tan pants, Alicia tries to tell Zippy that running makes him look guilty, but he seems convinced there's something sinister afoot.

He's absolutely right, there is something sinister afoot. But I don't think he has any idea how dire things are about to get. Learning the details of another homicide involving a bald individual, zippy travels to Glendale to find out more. Holy crap! It would seem that the guy from the opening scene–you know, the guy with the macaw–has just killed himself and his entire family. Does this mean that everyone who is either bald or going to be bald will eventually turn into mindless killer? What about Wendy the babysitter? Her hair is falling out. Is she a killer, too? Fascinating! At any rate, I wonder if he killed his macaw? Actually, it's good thing he didn't, as the bird gave Zippy some vital information regarding the particulars of this wacky mystery.

Another clue is acquired while snooping around Billy Crystal's brother's photography studio. Leading him to Edward Flemming (Mark Goddard), an oily politician running for congress and the ex-husband of one Wendy Flemming (the babysitter who is losing her hair), Zippy has a chat with him while he's campaigning in the parking lot of a local mall. On top of introducing us to Edward (whose genial demeanour disappears the moment the words "blue sunshine" leave Zippy's lips), this scene also gives us a chance to meet Wayne Mulligan (Ray Young), Edward's ex-college football star campaign manager, and, of course, allows us to see what fabulous outfit Deborah Winters is wearing today. The ensemble she models over the course of the next couple of scenes is probably my favourite out of all of Alicia's many stylish looks. A black cowboy hat (yeah, that's right, a black motherfucking cowboy hat!), designer shades, a red turtleneck, a striped jacket, and a grey skirt with a slit down the front, this getup is bold yet conservative at the same time (which are the hallmarks of a true style icon).

It's obvious that Wayne Mulligan, despite coming across as a crude jock, knows style and sophistication when he sees it, because he sneaks away from one Edward Flemming's speeches to hit on Alicia by the side of the road. While flattered by the attention, the only reason Alicia decided to humour the hulking ex-football player was to help Zippy's cause. In addition to being a fashionable woman on the go, Alicia is the ultimate girlfriend. In fact, if you look up "girlfriend" in the dictionary, you won't find a picture of Alicia Sweeney. Which is clearly a mistake on the part of the dictionary people, because Alicia's steadfast loyalty and unyielding dedication when it came to trying to exonerate Zippy went way beyond the thinly defined parameters of what constitutes a girlfriend.

As Wayne is asking Alicia to meet him at Big Daddy's, a local discotheque, you can't help but notice that there's something fishy going on with Wayne's hair (his eyebrows seem a little wonky as well). This fishiness carries over to the scene where Zippy attempts to extract some information from Wendy regarding "blue sunshine." Of course, there was no doubt about the genuineness of Zippy's hair; in fact, Zalman King's thick mane of a dark hair was as profound a hair statement you'll ever see in a motion picture). But as for everyone else, there was definitely an air of suspicion surrounding the authenticity of their respective locks.

The only exception I made when it came to scrutinizing the hair of the characters in Blue Sunshine was whenever the gorgeous Marcy Hanson would appear onscreen as a lithesome campaign worker wearing a red vest. The sheer skimpiness of her white pleated skirt must have distracted me, because it took quite some time for me to realize that she even had a head.

Whether trying to memorize the operational mantra that came with his recently purchased Walther LP3 air pistol ("Hold the baby...") or scoring tranquilizers in the park, Zalman King is the definition of unhinged paranoia as Jerry Zipkin, the most unusual "everyman" to grace the silver screen. In most cases, the hero is typically a sane man trying to come to grips with a world gone mad. But in Blue Sunshine, it was like watching an insane man in a world that is just as insane as he is. This unorthodox technique gives the film an eerie quality that might leave some viewers feeling a tad alienated. However, those who can accept Zalman King as a dashing hero, and Deborah Winters as the woman who will do just about anything to help him out (she even utilizes the soul rejuvenating power of disco to get him out of a tight jam at one point), will find much to love in Blue Sunshine, a creepy thriller that manages to demonize baldness and celebrate Barbra Streisand in puppet form simultaneously.

video uploaded by brujaria


  1. Not related, but have you heard about the MUSIC VEST? It's the latest in fashion technology! I NEED one of these fuckers ASAP:

  2. They're cool and all, but please tell me they're water resistant. I mean, what happens if someone, say, shoots you in the face with a shotgun and the extreme nature of the blast causes you to fall into a lake, wouldn't you be electrocuted?

    Yours truly, A Concerned Music Vest Consumer.

    P.S. The sweatpants that I'm currently wearing are not covered in nacho cheese stains.

  3. You know what, they should publish a book of Music Vest complaint letters. That would be brilliant.

    Dear Music Vest People:

    Your ad implies that your product will enable me to breakdance. However, upon purchasing your product and using it, I find that my breakdancing not only hasn't improved, but has even taken a nosedive. You should be ashamed and I will soon be filing a civil suit against you people and thereby fuck your company in the ass. You messed with the wrong breakdancer. Have a nice day.

    -Tony Mudflaps

  4. See, now I'm unable to see it as anything but about wigs...

    But yeah, I LOVE this movie.

    Great review.

  5. Thomas Duke: Did people really threaten to fuck each other in the ass back in the mid-1980s? Or was Mr. Mudflaps from the future? Anyway, I like how he used "thereby" in his complaint letter; very classy.

    Kev D.: Whenever I see something being demonized in a movie, I always try to imagine who might benefit from it. And in Blue Sunshine's case, I saw the people who make wigs as the main beneficiary of all that demon-based goodness.

  6. Mo Fuzz died. :(

    We are finally caught up on Jeopardy!. Endangered Languages? A golf category? Woo hoo.

    I hate misuse of umlauts.


  7. Mo Fuzz?!? Let me check... Oh, you mean Don Cornelius.

    I can't believe that I blew that Lake Ontario clue. D'oh.

    Speaking of magazines, Aaron Eckhart is featured in an awesome photo shoot with Lara Stone in this month's Vogue (she looks chic, he looks rugged).

    I like how Spinal Tap puts an umlaut over the "n" (which I'm sure was their way of mocking the trend). But for the most part... they're totally läme.

  8. Don Cornelius, Ben Gazzara, and Zalman King, RIP.