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Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Roger Corman gave the world of B-grade sci-fi many fun films. His career as a director did not go out with dignity, however. His last film with American International Pictures, Gas: Or, It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It (GAS) was a threadbare epilogue to Corman's works. GAS barely qualifies as sci-fi (and even that, only in the initial premise). The story attempts to be a post-apocalyptic comedy but manages to be more of a middle-aged man's view of hippy culture. Music by Country Joe and the Fish does manage to give the film at least, a period flavor.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The army accidentally releases a gas which affects neurons of people over 25, causing sudden old age and death. The world then belongs to the youth. Coel and his girlfriend Cillia run away from Dallas, seeking an ideal commune in New Mexico. Along the way, they pick up two other couples. They have their car stollen by Billy the Kid. They proceed on foot, but are captured by a college football team who sack, pillage and rape. The six are rookie recruits, but manage to escape. Thinking they need to clean up their hippy image, they don middle-aged clothes and come to a country club. The club is populated by scruffy biker types who parrot middle-aged blather about rebellious youth ruining everything. Their lawman: Marshall McCluen, thinks they can be redeemed, so gives them menial jobs. They escape with yet another absurd chase. Eventually they come to the pueblo commune with the requisite preaching about love and non-violence. That is, until the football team arrives to sack, pillage and rape. There is arguing about whether to defend themselves, and lapse back into the evil old ways, or resist in a better way. Coel convinces everyone to wear red cross arm bands. The football team can't harm red cross workers, so all are safe. All the trivial and miscellaneous characters from earlier skits join the crowd who dance to a rock theme "This is the world that we all dreamed of…" A yellow army truck pulls up and people get out wearing big paper mache heads of Lincoln, Ghandi, JFK, MLK, etc. The End

Why is this movie fun?
It wants to be. Some people find it funny. A couple of the gag lines are mildly amusing. GAS might be funny if you're drunk or stoned, but then, even wall paper can be funny in such a condition.

Cultural Connection
Writer George Armitage (who also helped produce GAS, and acted as "Billy the Kid") was apparently trying for something thoughtful, but allowed it all to become base-level pandering to The Youth Movement. The "hippies" end up winning, defeating all their "establishment" overlords -- who (ironically) happen to be other youth. Even though Armitage was just 28 when he wrote GAS, he was apparently already over the hill. His script rings of middle-aged points of view in its social satire. Both Armitage's script, and Corman's direction provide just as much mockery of the youth they were pandering to..

Post-Apocalypse -- Corman was more adept at apocalyptic visions in his earlier days. Not of this Earth ('57), Attack of the Crab Monsters ('57), Last Woman on Earth ('60) or even Teenage Cave Man ('58) were all low-budget too, but at least had some sincerity. The premise of a gas killing off civilization was part of Last Woman on Earth also.

Dark Doom -- Black humor over the apocalypse was not new. Dr. Strangelove ('64) managed it well. The Bed Sitting Room (68) was a British humor look at nuclear doom. GAS seems more like self-congratulation than facing doom.

Youtharchy -- Several 60s films pandered the notion of a world unencumbered by stuffy adults, and ruled by self-wise youth. The youth voice rose softly at first, seen in films like The Blob (58), and The Giant Gila Monster ('59) with tropes of the "teens" being right-all-along and the stodgy adults being narrow-minded and wrong. Many beach party films pandered to this conceit as well. A nice (cheap) metaphor for Youth Rule! was Bert I. Gordon's Village of the Giants ('65) in which the "bad" youth become giants and impose their will. Wild in the Streets ('68) had a similar sort of Youth Rule message, with all the darkness and social satire, but without the self mockery.

Poor Timing -- Roger Corman had many talents as a low-budget director, but comedy was not a language he spoke well. The script aspired to be something like Mel Brooks or Monte Python. In other hands, it might have. Some of the lines in Armitage's screenplay were almost funny. A couple of the set pieces almost work. You could tell they were written to be funny, but Corman's ham-handed directing left them laying there like a burp escaping on a first date.

Bottom line? There is virtually no science in this fiction, so sci-fi fans will find little satisfaction. GAS wants to be a dark comedy, but fails to be funny -- like a 15th knock-knock joke. Unless you're looking for a mockery of hippies, GAS is not worth the effort to find.


charlie013 said...

You have a typo in CFP, where he says: In its eerie electronic voice, Colossus addresses the world to say that it is not in control of the world.

Not should read now. Have a nice day!

Nightowl said...

Thanks for catching that one, Charlie. Darn auto-correct feature keeps trying to "help" me.