A comedy of disaffected youth, The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker apparently got a very brief and under-publicized release in 1970 (although it did hang around long enough to get reissued under the more marquee-friendly title Pigeons). Shot in and around New York City with a cast of theatrically inclined performers, this understated story of a cynical cab driver falling for a free-spirited hippie chick seems to be the very definition of a sleeper. Even on the modest level of sleeper hit, however, the film fails to live up to its potential.
Pigeons centers around the character of Jonathan (Jordan Christopher), a world-weary college grad in his twenties who is frittering his life away driving a taxi in New York City. The film opens with Jonathan and his equally unambitious friend/roommate Winslow (Robert Walden) opining about life while on break in Central Park. Jonathan believes the ravenous mass of pigeons swarming the park are symbolic of humankind's futility, and so the two guys go on a pigeon-kicking spree. The reckless nihilism continues as we see Jonathan on the job, mocking his passengers in amusing voice-over.
Jonathan is a bitter pill, all right - much of his personal life revolves around battling ants in his and Winslow's tiny apartment, and dealing with his self-loathing mother (Kate Reid) and zoned-out stepdad (William Redfield). Things brighten up somewhat when the guys are invited to a wild party filled with an assortment of hippies, gay men and theatre gypsies. Winslow hopes the soiree will help him lose his virginity, but it's Jonathan who winds up getting cornered by the party's horny hostess (Boni Enten). He ducks out of that, too - even sex has become a bore. The man's toxic worldview brightens (slightly) when a pixie-ish girl named Jennifer (Jill O'Hara) moves into his apartment building. Jennifer is also a child of privilege attempting to find herself, and the two strike up a camaraderie that eventually glides into an awkward romantic pairing. The big question lies in whether they can make it last - or will Jonathan's cynicism curse them to a plastic farce of a relationship, like that of his parents?
Pigeons is an interesting footnote of a film that never quite comes together. A big problem lies in the character of Jonathan and Jordan Christopher's acidic portrayal. It must have been tough to play this rather shallowly written character well, and Christopher gamely gives it a go, but he fails to give him any depth or sympathy. Robert Walden fares better as the needy Winslow, and Jill O'Hara (whose only film this was) gives a fresh spin to the hippie-drippy Jennifer. The film sets up an intriguing premise of wayward youth on the loose in a cold, grungy NYC, but it doesn't fulfill its early promise and kind of drips along with scenes and concepts that were better executed in dozens of other, more thoughtfully crafted films ranging from The Graduate to Diary of a Mad Housewife (talk about a film that needs a DVD release!). On the plus side, it does accurately convey the burnt-out tenor of the Vietnam Era. It just doesn't know what to do with it.
Probably the most interesting aspect of Pigeons is its use of talent active in the New York theatre scene at the time. Director John Dexter was a vet of the city's theatre scene, and he likely had a hand in the casting of Jill O'Hara as Jennifer. O'Hara, who has an elfin quality similar to Shirley MacLaine, had just finished playing the MacLaine role in The Apartment's Broadway remake Promises, Promises when this was filming. There are also a few smaller roles cast with theatrical talent, including Elaine Stritch (starring in Company at the time), Melba Moore (Hair) and Boni Enten (Oh! Calcutta). The wild party scene in this film must be filled with all sorts of Broadway actors, in fact. There's also a bit of interest with the film's groovy, contemporary music score, overseen by legendary producer Phil Ramone. Although the soundtrack doesn't work all the time, it does sport some cool sounds from moog synth musician Edd Kalehoff (who also composed many of those Price Is Right cues we know and love) and Chris Dedrick of the cult band The Free Design.
Overall, The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker is a mess. Scorpion Releasing did a valuable thing of releasing this obscurity on DVD, however, and the film is worth a glance for those who desire to peek into this very "1970 New York" bit of indie filmmaking.
Scorpion Releasing's disc of The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker sports a anamorphic 16x9 picture sourced from a murky looking print that has seen better days. Some scenes are riddled with dust and scratches, which strangely helps the grungy mood of the film.
A basic, somewhat raggedy mono soundtrack is the only option here, with no subtitles. Not a huge disappointment for a small, dialogue-driven film like this, but I kinda wish that groovy Edd Kalehoff music was in clean stereo.
The only extras are some wild trailers for other Scorpion Releasing films of similar vintage: Puppet on a Chain (1971), Quest for Love (1971), Super Spook (1975), Follow Me (1969), and Sweet William (1980).
A definite relic of its era, The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker plays like what would've happened if the people behind those early Sesame Street segments ("Everybody Sleeps," etc.) went on a drunken bender and attempted to film something in the morning-after haze. Not something for every taste, but perhaps worth a one-time peek. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.