I Saw a Film!
Sex Drugs and Rock and Roll are the mainstay of the blue-collar, struggling class and our heroes in their famous comic guise of stoner ne’re-do-wells reveal the heaviness of American social and economic despondency through a series of avant-garde sketches and absurdist philosophy. Cheech and Chong never quite manage to get any of the sex, drugs or even rock-n-roll (Cheech mainly sings to himself broken versions of The Knack) necessary as the currency of lifting their explicit disenfranchisement. Every time Chong turns on a guitar amp to practice his art, some sort of sturm drang ensues occasionally ending in the amp blowing up.
Tommy Chong, a half-Chinese first and Canadian immigrant second, is never quite allowed to complete a guitar phrase, a song lyric or even relax. In fact, in his one attempt to relax with a favorite smoke, he’s forced to attempt smoking an actual beetle discovered hiding amidst his paraphernalia (it is sobering to remember that John Lennon would be shot later that year, “smoking” the Beatles for good). The beetle smoking experience is not a good one, but being that he’s got few other options, he tries a second time to make the best of the situation. The squalor of the fellows’ rental home is as much a character of the tale as any of the brilliant comic actors surrounding our protagonists. It is evident that the landlord has long been off-duty, and irate neighbors add to the poison of the day to day existence of our heroes.
Struggling with identity as a marginalized minority both Cheech Marin, a Mexican American, and Tommy Chong try to impart as much of the hustle and oppression of American culture as possible. Even taking a left turn on a busy road erupts into a confrontation with a bunch of Latino car enthusiasts who intimidate and threaten Cheech, though he attempts to placate them through obsequious colloquial phrase and behavior, proving his strange removal from all cultures in an America presumed pregnant with opportunity. When a gate guard asks Cheech for a his “pass” Cheech imagines he’s been told to pass on through, creating one of the many moments the film brings, almost in the manner of another artist, Tommy Smothers’s, ferocious send-up of our law and order culture, in which even inanimate signs demand we stop, go, and not participate in hundreds of common activities, eventually ending with us being disposed of as a kind of unwanted refuse.
Mr. Marin plays a pair of roles in the film, one as his usual self, the partner of Tommy Chong (though we are only briefly allowed to see the connection with an LGBTQ+ message through a motorcycle ride Chong receives, but does not accept the offer of drink and likely relations from), and the second role a Texas cousin coming to visit after years of separation. Tommy meets “Red” at a hotel in which none other than Pee Wee Herman is in charge, and Herman’s authoritarian position is a beautiful contrast to the slack lifestyle of the extreme low-expectations our protagonists embody. After circumventing further financial oppression the fellows head off on an adventure of mythic proportions.
The second half of the film is a kind of ode to Brunuel’s moving feast picture The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in which a series of epic failures follow a posh group of diners around as they try to eat a meal, occasionally through nearly Monty Python-esque levels of absurdity and horror. Cheech and Chong find themselves drifting aimlessly through a dystopian mass of unsatisfying gaffs and gags highlighted by Pee Wee Herman and the great Edie McClurg of the famous Groundlings (also with Herman) comedy troupe). Cheech laughs almost non-stop, riffing and quipping and ad-libbing, bringing the nervous and “coping” every-man to the forefront. He hasn’t much choice but to be a clown in these upsetting circumstances.
The fellows finally attempt to pick up a supply of drugs to replace their lost stash (signaling back to the famous cocaine load hidden in the gas tank of Wyatt’s bike in the seminal Easy Rider) and instead finding themselves first hounded by the law, and then abducted by pot harvesting UFOs. This last suggesting the only real escape for the down-trodden in our world is through absolute vacating of the premises (and possibly being carried off to a kind of Heaven suggesting, ultimately, death).
As a document of systemic oppression and economic inequality forcing a blue-collar response in terms of unsatisfying work and the levels of enjoyment of paltry leisure leading to unlimited fantasy (some of which happens during a prolonged dream sequence) Cheech and Chong’s Next Film should be kept alongside other race and class conscious efforts like the recent Parasite and perhaps Bicycle Thief.
I’m just kidding, this is just a really stupid Cheech and Chong film.
It’s 4.00 dollars on Prime.