Gold: Before Woodstock Beyond Reality (DVD)

The revolution has begun. Clothing optional.

Sometime in the pseudo-Old West, a group known only as “the people” learns of gold discovered out in the wilderness. Led by a corrupt a lawman (Garry Goodrow, The Hollywood Knights), the people hop aboard a train and head west. Once there, the lawman holds a mock election, puts himself in charge, and crushes the people’s hopes for a new, utopian society. Watching all this from a distance is a man with an injured ankle (Del Close, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), who plots a revolution to free everyone from the lawman’s tyranny.

At least I think that’s what happens. We’re deep into late 1960s drug-addled hippie psychedelic free love counterculture with this one. Perhaps the plot is best summed up as: hippies = good, authority = bad. Also, everybody goes skinny dipping.

As with many movies of this type, the stories of what went on behind the scenes are a lot more interesting than the fever dream that ultimately ended up on screen. Filmmakers Bob Levis and Bill Desloge secured some funding for a low-budget film, at which point they gathered a bunch of their friends and went to the woods for a month-long “camp,” consisting of drugs, sex, and, when they felt like it, making a movie. Gold is what they ended up with. It had a short-lived theatrical run in a handful of theaters, after which it fell into obscurity. Considered a “lost film” for decades, this DVD is the first time it’s ever been released on home video.

What does the movie have to offer? Marquee star Del Close is considered by many to be the father of improvisational comedy, and there are times when his verbal riffs go off into wild stream-of-consciousness territory, and it’s pretty funny. The extended slapstick scenes of him hobbling around on his hurt ankle are considerably less humorous, though, and they get tiring after a while. Gary Goodrow throws himself into the comedic role of the evil lawman, bringing a “cowboy movie” feel to his scenes. The other big selling point of the movie is the music, featuring five previously-unreleased songs by MC5, as well as tunes by David McWilliams, Ramblin’ Jack Eliot, Beastly Times, and Barry St. John.

Really, though, it’s all about the message. In pursuit of the rarely-mentioned “gold,” the people seek to form a new society. This is illustrated during the mock election, in which one character says the best politicians are the ones who do nothing, and all the rest join in him in calling for a vote for “nothing.” There is no vote, however, and the lawman begins his harsh rule, locking up and even killing the people for crimes such as skinny dipping or having long hair. The movie isn’t as one-sided as you’d think, though, because the hippy movement takes some satiric shots as well, in that the people are seen talking about taking action against authority, but then they never do. Late in the film, Del Close does a clownish impersonation of Che Guevara. This has allegedly angered Guevara’s admirers over the years. Still, by the end of the movie, it’s all about how peace and love and, um, weed are better than rules and authority and, I guess, sobriety.

Unless you really, really dig the counterculture vibe, this movie will likely test your patience. The story barely exists, while the attacks against “the man” are obnoxious and in-your-face. The editing is so sporadic that about half the scenes have nothing to do with anything. Why is the movie a Western at some times and not at others? Why does that one naked guy keep coming back from the dead? Why is there a clown on a scooter? What’s with the funky color filters and the Predator-style heat vision shots? On the plus side, the movie is nicely shot at other times, as the filmmakers liked to wait until sunset to capture scenes, because that’s when the “magic hour” lighting is best, and also because everyone on set probably spent the rest of the day screwing and/or getting high. Speaking of which, it’s true that the nudity is graphic and often, but this is flabby, sweaty, hairy nudity. In other words, it’s “normal person” nudity, and not “Hollywood movie” nudity.

The picture quality on the DVD is surprisingly good, considering the movie’s age and obscurity. The colors pop off the screen and the all-important flesh tones are rendered as they should be. There are some scratches and grain on the picture, but not so much that they’ll ruin the movie for you. The sound is occasionally muddy, obscuring the actors’ voices, but for most part it’s clean and clear.

The good stuff is in the bonus features, which put the nonsensical movie in context. The first commentary, with Levis and Goodrow, dishes all the dirt about what went on behind the scenes, and how, not surprisingly, most of the movie was improvised while the cast and crew were high. The commentary often goes off on tangents not related to the action on screen, however, which made it frustrating at times. The other commentary is with two founding members of the comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade. Why them? Because they knew and worked with Del Close, and this commentary serves as biography of Close, covering not just his performance in this movie, but his life and career overall. From there, we get two vintage interviews with Levis and Goodrow, and a collection of Gold lobby cards viewable on screen.

Gold is more of a historic relic than it is a movie. If this disc were bare bones, there’d be no way I’d recommend it. The bonus features, however, are why you want to buy this, because that’s where the real entertainment value is. They reveal how the movie both was and wasn’t a product of its time. Now let’s all go skinny dipping.

The Verdict

Peace, love beads, etc.

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