Glen and Randa has enjoyed a cult reputation for 38 years, possibly because it's been such a difficult film to see. VCI's new DVD changes that with a quality transfer of this truly experimental independent effort, made by what director Jim McBride describes as "a group of hippies that (smile) didn't know what they were doing". McBride's crew may have stumbled over technical and production problems but his narrative vision is clear and direct: if civilization should come to an end, how quickly would the survivors lose contact with culture, science and technology, collapsing into ignorance?
Glen and Randa is a post-apocalyptic story that skips over the usual catastrophe scenario. Exactly what kind of holocaust is not stated, although we do see a plastic suit that may have been for protection against radiation or chemicals (and, of course, posters that feature a graphic of a mushroom cloud). It is already twenty years into the new existence. The surviving older adults are traumatized scavenger-survivalists that drag carts from one locale to another, looking for canned food. They're beaten down, mostly speechless and barely have a sense of being alive. Glen (Steve Curry) and Randa (Shelley Plimpton) are a young couple living in total ignorance of the past. Neither has seen a city. Glen knows how to read comic books, and dreams of going to a place called Metropolis. They wander and play naked in the woods, while Glen theorizes about the purpose and origin of ordinary objects. We're not half a generation beyond doomsday, and civilization no longer has a future.
The very episodic story consists of a long string of blackout scenes, many consisting of only one shot. Glen and Randa join a group of scavengers and meet a talkative mountebank-comedian-trader called The Magician (Garry Goodrow). The Magician has a functioning record player that can play one warped Rolling Stones tune. Nobody has a clue as to what it is, not even Glen. Easily distracting Glen with a map, The Magician makes love to the pliable Randa. Glen wants to go to the City, and he and Randa set out on their own.
The trek is a pitiful adventure, as the couple is incapable of keeping their minds on practical survival. They're joined by a friendly horse, but foolishly burn up most of their precious matches just for fun, because Randa thinks they look pretty when they burn. They eventually reach the seashore and meet a pleasant old fellow, Sidney Miller (Woody Chambliss). He feeds them cooked food and gives them an old trailer to live in. When Randa become pregnant, none of them know exactly what to do.
Director McBride describes his approach to Glen and Randa as "anthropological", a key word for appreciating what at first might seem a directionless narrative. The camera observes the couple's behavior as if they were animals in the wild, which is not far from the truth. Their behavior is completely instinctual and often repugnant. Variety's reviewer (June 2, 1971) saw only "frontal nudity and vulgar displays". More accurately, the film is an uncensored and unflinching expression of how primitive people probably behaved.
Glen and Randa are aware of their problems but seem incapable of concentrating on their solution. Glen ignores Randa's concern about what to do when the food runs out; when it does we're treated to a sight of them busily eating grubs and sow bugs. More troubling is a scene in which Glen catches large fish in a shallow stream. He bashes fish after fish against rocks and pummels them with stones until he has more food than they can possibly eat. We then see him foolishly trying to carry raw chunks of fish in a briefcase, with the idea of saving it to eat later. These post-apocalyptic survivors lack the common sense of the most primitive humans.
Student filmmakers of the 1960s often reacted to movie technology by questioning the nature of cinema, as seen in the playful early concept films of Brian De Palma. Jim McBride had already become a celebrated counterculture filmmaker with his film David Holzman's Diary, an expressive faux documentary of a (fictional) character attempting to document his own life. In Glen and Randa technique is subordinated to basic human observation. McBride's camera takes time out to watch the characters regard a sunset. They don't understand the sun any more than they remember what death is. As the time approaches for Randa to deliver her baby, we aren't left with much hope for a positive outcome. Glen and Randa isn't wholly pessimistic, as it shows its dazed survivors behaving toward one another with gentleness and good will. It's as if they're all too weary to be hostile -- or the hostile survivors all died out years ago.
Glen and Randa was quite a buzzword around UCLA when it opened, as it actually won a couple of weeks' run at the Plaza Theater in Westwood. I was working on a parking lot next door and can sadly say that the attendance wasn't very impressive. The movie attracted plenty of positive reviews, yet it has remained relatively obscure. As it turns out, a neighbor of mine, the famous artist and muralist Terry Schoonhoven had been impressed with the picture and painted several noteworthy canvasses depicting post-apocalyptic vistas. Terry came from the same counterculture gene pool as Jim McBride, and was already responsible for some very memorable historic murals in the Venice-Santa Monica area, including The Isle of California, a spectacular image of a freeway bridge ending at the new edge of America, after the Big Quake drops California into the Pacific Ocean. Terry mentioned Glen and Randa more than once as an inspiration.
VCI's DVD of Glen and Randa is a good enhanced 1:85 transfer of this rather primitive-looking color film. The camerawork is smooth but not remarkable. The audio is much improved on the DVD, with all dialogue clear for the first time.
Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor are exactly that: trims from the head and tails of scenes and random footage of the trek to the beach. A lengthy video interview with Jim McBride consists of inane questions asked by someone who knows nothing of McBride's accomplishments. The director patiently smiles through the process, eventually coming up with some interesting observations -- and then the unseen host changes the subject to his TV career. We do learn that Glen and Randa began with a small writing grant from the then- new American Film Institute, and was produced with money provided by Sidney Glazier, the producer behind Woody Allen's first film Take the Money and Run as well as Mel Brooks' The Producers and The Twelve Chairs. McBride says that although Glazier didn't expect a mainstream audience-pleaser, he wasn't very happy when he saw the completed, stubbornly uncommercial Glen and Randa!
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