Saturday, April 13, 2013

Billy Jack

You know the old movie, Billy Jack? Hippie kids at the Freedom School on the Indian reservation battle crooked, racist locals with the help of Billy Jack, a "half breed" Indian who uses his Green Beret skills to fight discrimination and protect a pregnant girl from her abusive deputy father.

There's a city council meeting where they discuss the problem of the Freedom School. An older girl from the school tells the council that one of the younger children would like to read a quote to them and see if they can tell them who said it. She reads:
The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might. And the republic is in danger. Yes! danger from within and without. we need law and order! Without law and order our nation cannot survive.
And who said this? Was it Nixon? Was it Agnew? George Wallace perhaps? NO! It was-----ADOLPH HITLER!

It was a fake quote. Hitler never said it.

Watching the thing when I was a kid, my first inkling that something was amiss was the scene where Billy Jack decries the lack of gun control in America even though he shoots and threatens several people with a gun over the course of the movie.

That was the same scene where he seems to refer to "Jack and Bobby Kennedy" as pacifists.

And why were they friends with the local police chief?

It was pretty much a right-wing movie. It was pro-cop. It shows the hippies are anti-sex and anti-drug, and all they listen to is folk music. Most of the actors playing Indians are obviously white. Why is there only one boy at the school? He believes in some Indian deity because it left him a bow and arrow when he was a child.

The "villain" in the movie is the somewhat more liberated Bernard Posner. In his first scene, he refuses his father's order to shoot wild horses they're slaughtering for dog food. Apparently he was the villain because he was disobedient. And----well----they did make him a serial sex offender, too. Disobey your father and this is what you will become!

Bernard was much hipper than the hippies---they come to town and go to the malt shop to buy ice cream. One of them is terribly rude to Bernard and in his hurt, he acts out in a racist manner. Then Billy Jack beats him up. The pacifist hippie children are unfazed by the violence and are untroubled that a couple of men are lying unconscious on the ground in front of them. I'm not the least bit violent, but I'm not a pacifist, and I would be traumatized if grown men started fighting in front of me.

I shouldn't be attacking Billy Jack. It wasn't a bad movie. Kids back then would go to it over and over. And that was the target audience. A movie with realistic racist brutality would have been too much for a tweenage audience.

I read an interview with another low budget director, Larry Cohen. He explained that, for movie violence to work, there has to be some balance. It can't be one sided or it comes across as sadism.

They seemed to realize this in Billy Jack. In an early scene, a runaway teenage girl is returned to her father. She's extremely snotty. She informs her father she's pregnant.

"I’ve been expecting this," he said. "How long?"

"Maybe six weeks."

"All right. Where’s the father?

"Where’s the father? That’s funny. I don’t even know who the father is."

"What’s that supposed to mean?"  
"It MEANS, concerned father, that I was passed around by so many of those phony maharishi types who kept telling me that love is beautiful and all that bullshit----in other words, concerned father, I got balled by so many guys I don’t know if the father’s gonna be white, Indian, Mexican or black!"

Even the kids in the audience could understand when the father slugs her.

They hustle her off to the Freedom School to hide her.

"Another beating like that and she'll lose the baby!"

She loses the baby anyway in a horseback riding accident at the Freedom School. She should have stayed home and avoided further beatings by not being a horrible brat.

Of course, the mixed messages of the movie could be a sign of sophistication. The abusive father still cared about his daughter. The violent racist Bernard Posner still hated his violent racist father.

There was the Italian movie, Night of the Shooting Stars, which had an extremely happy, adoring fascist father and teenage son happily working together being violent fascists. It wouldn't have been too realistic or instructive if Bernard Posner and his father had been this way.

The guys I knew who hated their fathers were all exactly like them. Probably a good idea to point this out to young people in the audience. It's not enough simply to hate your horrible parents----you have to actually be different from them.

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