Peter Boyle is JOE
“I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”. This declaration is, of course, not only a motto here at Furious Cinema, it’s a memorable quote from the 1976 film Network. Although this a line that is said by TV host Howard Beale (Peter Finch) in the film to gain notoriety and ratings for his show, it somehow sums up an attitude from the 70’s really well too. We were hopeless about the situation in Vietnam, we had the infamous Watergate scandal and we had lots of bad problems in general. Apparently, there’s a character in another 70’s film that is mad enough to take care of things by himself. He’s Joe (Peter Boyle), a working-class guy who, like Beale, is as mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore!
Joe is one of the earliest productions from Cannon Films and was released in 1970. Although it doesn’t have the “exciting B-movie with a Hollywood budget” style like what we now associate Cannon with, it’s surprisingly intense and captures many things from that era really well. In the beginning of the film, we see a hippie couple who spends their quality time doing drugs, listening to music and having sex. Then, a chick (played by Susan Sarandon) leaves her boyfriend and does insane things in a store, so she’s sent to a hospital. It is later revealed that her name is Melissa and she’s the daughter of an upper-class couple, Bill and Joan. Since Bill is angry about what happened to Melissa, he accidentally kills her boyfriend. This makes him depressed until he meets Joe (Peter Boyle), a right-wing factory worker who hates everything: from welfare queens to hippies. As the story progresses, their lives will never be the same again.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not an anti-hippie movie. Of course, it depicts hippies as a failed socially provocative movement that became nothing but a bunch of sex/drug addicted people, but the film also doesn’t portray Joe as a nice guy either. He’s outspoken, he sometimes argues with his wife and he has no idea what topics should and shouldn’t be discussed in public. On the other hand, he makes interesting points about many topics and he looks friendlier than what many people might think. It’s kinda the same with Bill. He’s angry that hippies ruined his daughter’s life, but according to one of the hippies, he’s a pretty bad father that doesn’t take care of his daughter very well. It’s the moral ambiguity in this film that makes the plot even more intense and makes audiences have to decide on whether they stand with Joe, Bill, or the hippies. Unfortunately, lots of audiences around the time actually stood with Joe (so much so that they cheered when Joe killed any of the hippies).
So what about the hippies in the film? To say the least, I personally think they were escapists. They were disillusioned at what was going on at the time: from the corrupt government to the Vietnam war to personal issues (like what happened to Melissa) so they loved to have sex, eat weird foods, do drugs and listen to Psychedelic Rock to ignore it all. The group of people in Joe reminded me of another hippie gang in Easy Rider, one of my all-time favorite films. What’s really interesting is the fact that both films captured what was happening during the era and gave a commentary on it. Also, they both depicted hippies as a failed lifestyle and ideology. In Easy Rider, Peter Fonda’s hippie character “Captain America” sadly declares: “We blew it”. What makes hippies become more and more ridiculous is the fact they simply believed in what they believed in rather than done what they should’ve done to solve their problems. In Joe, we see hippies who make a living by being drug dealers. They don’t find real jobs and do nothing but take drugs and have sex. The movie points out just how meaningless this lifestyle was at the time.
Another thing that I liked in this film was its realistic tone. Not only does Joe have slow pacing, minimal use of soundtrack and great period atmosphere, it also captures the 70’s in an up close, personal way.
JOE is an excellent film that ultimately leaves you with a big question: which character do you want to stand with? This is an interesting dilemna since we all grow up in different places, so we have different factors of what drives us mad and how long we are going to stand for things in society. If you want to study about what went on in the 70’s, would like to start a political conversation with friends, or just want to see a good dramatic film from the tail end of the counterculture era, Joe is the solution.