HI, MOM! (director/writer: Brian De Palma; screenwriter: from the story by Charles Hirsch; cinematographer: Robert Elfstrom; editor: Paul Hirsch; music: Eric Kaz; cast: Robert De Niro (Jon Rubin), Allen Garfield (Joe Banner), Jennifer Salt (Judy Bishop), Lara Parker (Jeannie Mitchell), Charles Durnham (Janitor), Gerrit Graham (Gerrit Wood, revolutionary white director and NYU student); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Charles Hirsch; MGM Home Entertainment; 1970)
“Now considered valued mostly as a relic.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Early anarchist indie from Brian De Palma (“Carlito’s Way”/”Snake Eyes”/”Femme Fatale”)that was made for $95,000 and is now considered valued mostly as a relic. The offbeat comedy, a follow-up to De Palma’s unexpected hit Greetings, is a mess, but some vignettes are strangely amusing in a threatening way.
Jon Rubin (Robert De Niro) is an unsettled young man returning from Vietnam military duty, with ambitions to make movies. He rents a dumpy apartment in Greenwich Village and buys a cheap movie camera. Only sleazy smut producer Joe Banner (Allen Garfield) will give him a break, if he makes a porn film. Jon uses the method of “peep art,” whereby he mounts a camera from his apartment window to face the windows of the hi-rise facing his building (think Rear Window!). He cleverly maneuvers so he can date the loopy Judy Bishop (Jennifer Salt), someone he’s doing a Peeping Tom act on,and sets his camera so he can capture them screwing. But he blows the shot as the camera tilts during the big moment, and the producer withdraws his offer. Jon then gets the part of a bullying white cop in an off-Broadway production called Be Black Baby!, directed by one of the other tenants (Gerrit Graham), a white NYU student living in the apartment below Judy’s, he’s spying on. The black actors, for this black experience production, paint their faces white and paint the white suburban liberal middle-class audience’s faces black. Then the actors cruelly intimidate the audienceverbally and physically by force feeding them soul food and pushing them around in a threatening way. When interviewed by the documentary television show on NIT (National Intellectual Television) after the show, the liberal audience claims to have loved the experience.
Jon remains in the city plugging away as an urban guerrilla, as the radical theater group (he’s now a part of) attacks the near-by hi-rise, but gets repelled by a bourgeois tenant with a machine gun. The discontented lad then marries Judy and finds work as an insurance salesman, and settles into a short and unhappy marriage of TV dinners and being middle-class before blowing up the building after assuring an interviewer he’s against violence.
De Niro was too heavy-handed for the delicate comedy bits to be effective, but the film is a good example of how an indie film can afford to take chances and can be successful even if imperfect.
REVIEWED ON 5/31/2011 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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