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September 14, 2010

Flicks: WUSA (1970)

Rheinhardt to Earth: In America, our shoulders are wide...and sweaty.
Banned for 40 years w/no jugs in a movie that takes place in Nawlins? The terrorists have won.

Tonight on the Sleaze Blender: we feature WUSA (1970) a movie so controversial, so inflamatory, that since it's release in 1970 it's been "grey-listed". That is to say after being ran out of the same theaters that featured Tootsie and Deep Throat - WUSA hasn't been officially released on Laser Disc, VHS, DVD or Blu-Ray for the home entertainment market as of 2010[0]. WUSA is only available for limited previewing at Youtube.

The film stars Paul Newman and Anthony Perkins in each actor's top form. WUSA was written by a best-selling author and helmed by Stuart Rosenberg the director of Cool Hand Luke (1967) - so why the ban?

To explain, Paramount's late 1960's and 1970's endeavors were to make more "personal" films. The studio financed "outsider" directors/writers whose pictures were shot outside of Hollerwood in an effort to re-connect with the American movie going public.

In 1970, Paramount brass chose director Stuart Rosenberg, whose Cool Hand Luke (1967) had achieved commercial and critical fame for Paramount. Rosenberg's job was to simply direct a dark political thriller set in New Orleans with some of the grit employed in Cool Hand Luke. The screenplay for WUSA was written by Robert Stone (author of Dog Soldiers and a Viet Nam war correspondent) whose book Hall of Mirrors, WUSA would be adapted from. It seemed like nothing could go wrong.

Much to Paramount's disappointment the result was WUSA: starring rage, racism, radio and cold, hard reality. WUSA was not exactly what the Easy Rider (1969) crowd was ready for. WUSA is a gut-wrenching portrait of social chaos set in the Big Sleazy of New Orleans, USA. Upon release, the film was promptly ripped to ribbons by shocked contemporary reviewers[1] and failed to find an audience. Today, WUSA clearly rumbles and simmers with heartbreak and injustice that unwillingly became part of American consciousness in the late 1960's with the assassination of JFK and MLK and the war in Viet Nam.

Paul Newman stars as Rheinhardt - a washed up musician turned talk radio mouth piece. After being hand picked by Boss Bingamon (perennial character actor Pat Hingle) the CEO of a right-wing WUSA radio station Rheinhardt is promoted with words to the effect of "Whut is all these nee-gras doin' in mah city, Luke?". As the perpetual burnt out drunk, Rheinhardt dejectedly agrees and files away this verbal gem to polish into his own special brand of venomous hate-mongering on-air at America's Station: WUSA.

Rainey, played in brilliant form by co-star Anthony Perkins[2] is a counter-point to his friend Rheinhardt. Rainey serves as what Stone by way of dialogue calls "the voice of Christian conscience". Tortured by the lack of morality or sanity in the Big Sleazy writer Stone puts a gun in Rainey's hands as he declares his intention to assassinate the CEO of WUSA, big Boss Bingamon.

Some gems of dialogue from the film include:

Random priest to Rheinhardt: "Gospel group? Man, they're stoned directly outta their minds!"

Rheinhardt to panicked crowd: "When we drop our bombs on gibbering slants - it's a bomb made out of love. The American way is innocence."

Rheinhardt to panicked crowd: "In America, our shoulders are wide...and sweaty. But our breath is sweet."

WUSA resonates and jolts as Rainey visits the gutters of New Orleans where life is a cheap one-way trip into a dark alley. Rainey confronts the Good Ol' Boys where they live with their crimes (debating the nature of fear in his characteristic brittle and overwhelming certainty) to absolute wretchedness as Rheinhardt, momentarily setting down his breakfast beer, shrugs off the news that his prostitute girlfriend Geraldine has hung herself in County jail.

During the climactic final act of the movie, a riot rages outside the New Orleans Convention Center, much as the Chicago Democratic Convention did in 1968, while the pretense of righteous jubilation overcomes the crowd inside. All the while, WUSA's trained cobra Rheinhardt, who could easily be substituted with a modern Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly (who all started as right-wing radio stars!), reminds the crowd of their "Loyalty Oathes" to their country and that they must strive for "Faith, flag and future." The crowd, whom Rheinhardt has described only minutes before as "...the only beast in the arena.", is in a triumphant state that can only be described as orgiastic, patriotic ecstasy.

At a "When The West Was Wild" gun fight is staged for the Convention Center crowd's amusement ("An important cultural tradition in America!" insists Boss Bingamon) Rainey takes aim and begins to fire a pistol at the WUSA leadership missing Bingamon completely but killing an aide and seriously wounding a 10-gallon hat. Chaos ensues.

Except for some typically awkward 70's style folkie score the movie is nearly pitch perfect. Four skulls outta four for WUSA!

[0] = The Ol' Sleaze-A-Saurus found a bootleg DVD site calling itself "Loving Classics" that MAY or MAY NOT send you a copy of WUSA for $15 smackarinos. Caveat Empor, manlings.
[1] = New York Time film reviwers are known for being notoriouslly off the mark. The official and original review of WUSA by Roger Greenspan from November of 1970 described WUSA as " Lacking either the grace of art of the vitality of guerrilla theater, it can offer only the coarsest nourishment—and only to the elaborately self-deceived". Wow, are you sure you aren't describing your own movie review, manling?!
[2] = Sadly, Anthony Perkin's widow, Berry Berenson, was killed when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the WTC during the September 11th attacks in 2001. Berry died just one day before the ninth anniversary of his death.

IMDB, WUSA (1970)
Wikipedia, WUSA (film)
Movieposter.com, WUSA Stills and Posters

WUSA memorabila is available at:

1 comment:

rksguit said...

Hey people,The Australian ABC television,just screened the official cinema release of "WUSA" tonight 2/5/12,at 1.15am.

It seems like Paul,also thought it was one of his best films,I enjoyed it.