“Why should Bogart Peter Stuyvesant go to war and kill strangers, when the pickings are better in his own bedroom?”
Written and Directed by Robert Thom who is perhaps best known for his Wild In The Streets 1969. For me, the film that really struck a chord was his configuration of childhood abuse in , The Witch Who Came From The Sea 1976 while a little fractured, and slightly queasy in its linear storytelling, was a startling, unsettling, imaginary, and often disturbing piece of work, much thanks to Millie Perkins’ performance.
Consider that Thom also wrote the scripts for Bloody Mama 1970, Crazy Mama 1975, and Death Race 2000 (1975). Angel Angel Down We Go is perhaps a psychedelic take on the Rasputin archetype with a modern conflation of the Svengali mystique.
The film opens with Tara Nicole revealing to us, through Tara’s childlike imaginings, her childhood, and the mythical parentage by the outre wealthy Steeles, they are as Demi-Gods from Mount Olympus. We see her musings in flashback and via graphic collage work that depicts her life as it was, as it is now, and as it will be.
Tara Nicole recites a glorified fantasy completely contrary to what her life truly is. She is being sarcastic, she is teasing us with the truth. She is the cultivation of a female monster, whose lack of nurturing, and exposure to abuse and mistreatment has manifested something abhorrent to the world, but mostly to herself, a self-loathing, loveless thing, vulnerable to the dark prince in Bogart Peter Stuyvesant, who will come to the palace and awaken her sleeping rage.
On the surface, A perverse, grotesque fairy tale, about an over-weight heiress whose parents are hypocrites and superficial, living in a psychologically toxic battlefield of emotional turmoil, self-serving, repressed, and angry enough to create a bitter, ugly, and lonely world for their only child, a life Tara cannot live up to, nor can she satisfy the expectations put upon her nor fit into this artificial world.
Enter chaos, enter entropy, enter Bogart Peter Stuyvesant. Tara meets him at her coming out ball, a party was thrown by her mother Astrid, not to celebrate her glorious daughter’s coming of age, but as a showcase for Astrid’s bejeweled necklace that ‘Marie Antoinette wore at her beheading’. An opulent bauble, a shiny thing, a symbol of the empty and idle collectors, wealthy Americans become with their plunder of the poor masses. So the film will inform you over and over again.
A lysergic cinematic (ACID CINEMA) tale about a tragic fat princess who refers to herself as ‘Virgin Americanis.’ Until she sees Bogart gyrating his pelvis in skin-tight leather hip huggers on stage, she nearly swoons at the sight of his crotch. He is singing the film’s theme song, “Angel Angel Down We Go”. The theme is the Fall of The American Empire. The fall of the Steele family, the American Imperialist hypocrites who languish in their wealth, and self-hating misery. Hallucinogenics for the now generation, and booze and pills are still the drug of choice for the breed of uptight Americans.
Is there anti-fat sentiment in the film or is it as offensive as it intends to be so? As Tara represents the spoiled ‘fat’ and languid American Bourgeoisie when Roddy McDowall paws at Tara on the bed and spews out “God is America FAT!” while pawing her like a piece of meat.
Also, as offensive as people will find the fat hatred in this film, they might be overlooking the deeper message here. It reveals how we self-loathe our bodies. We become monstrous when we aren’t ideal. Furthermore, Tara is the embodiment of the “American” child. Born out of the union between a repressed father, a man of industry, a ‘fat cat’, and a whoring mother, self-absorbed, self-serving, and yet a devouring presence as well.
Tara was most likely molested by Maitre D’s (Marty Brill) oldest son, which the film alludes to in flashback. As Willy Steele leaves his daughter alone in the restaurant, requiring the working-class man to take her home to his poor family for the night. We see one of the boys in bed with the little girl, as the younger brother warns him, “Papa said not to do anything.”
There are reoccurring motifs of the Anti-American maxim weaved within the scenery, fleeting images of cattle being butchered and the U.S. Meat industry embroidered between opulent and fantastical images of Rubinesque females, their faces cut out and replaced with Tara’s visage. Tara Nicole is often equated with a piece of meat or cattle. She is emblematic of the fat American meat farm…that is the ravenous, self-indulgent capitalist, or the offspring thereof.
Willy Steele –“The only way to HAVE anyone, is to own them, free love and communism notwithstanding, as for Tara Nicole she belongs to the world.”
Bogart as he tells Tara, was named after the real Humphrey, “My mother went into labor pains during a Bogart flick!”
After the ball, Bogart takes Tara’s unpicked cherry, ignites her womanhood, releasing her from her childhood shackles, and awakens the angry woman who has been imprisoned by her parent’s outrageous neglect, lack of love, severe dysfunction, and self-loathing of her own body.
Bogart tells her that he is ‘kinky’ and she is a ‘loser.’ It turns him on to deflower something that he abhors, that repulses him because, in his way, he is destroying her. It is not lovemaking, it is another assault on Tara, although, in this way, he has ultimately set her free…
Now that the dark prince has awakened Tara sexually, her daydreams and fantasies become even more vivid and volatile. The anger she chokes on toward her mother starts to emerge in bloody pictures as part of her runaway kaleidoscope collages….a purification. She seeks absolution and deliverance from her abject pain.
Bogart asks her, “Don’t you believe in the fall of the American Empire…Rome?…American Imperialism is YOUR dream.” Bogart Peter Stuyvesant, doesn’t hate poor Hindus, or starving Europeans, “they’re not like us, they’re not Americans.” Americans depress him.
As Bogart manipulates Tara with nefarious intent. Tara is insulated from the world. Left to grow up by herself she was surrounded by maids and waiters and exhibited an eating disorder as well as revealing herself as a cutter. Cutting was not even a topic of discussion in the 60s.
So along comes this dark prince, the protagonist Bogart who awakens the sleeping beast in Tara Nicole, and what unfolds is a horrific fairytale set in an opulent, decadent world that starts to implode in on itself. The sins of the mother and father come home to exact revenge…
Under the control of Bogart and his sycophantic trio, Tara experiments with drugs, hallucinates, and ultimately is aroused into a more subdued off screen, Helter Skelter, Lord of The Flies, Suddenly Last Summer consummation of retribution. However, while not as blatantly violent, the outcome is as vile and brutal. But… I will not discuss how this unfolds…
There’s a certain symbiont flicker of familiarity in Angel Angel Down We Go with Roger Vadim’s 1971 exploitation thriller, Pretty Maids All In A Row. The anti-American sentiment is set in an almost surreal modern environment of The Garden of Earthly Delights, and the disillusionment with the American dream.
The film is also comprised of a few singers from that time period, Lou Rawls, Holly Near, and Jordan Christopher whose band The Wild Ones, actually introduced the song Wild Thing, written by John Voight’s brother Chip Taylor. Ultimately it made millions for the group The Troggs and would be adopted by the legendary Jimmy Hendrix.
The film also showcases some great music by writers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
Even the incidental music fits the underlying nightmarish tenor of the film, using music box chimes as part of the soundtrack, creating a sickeningly disorganized fairy tale-like ambiance, that is a very disturbing companion to the visually splintered narrative.
I truly dug all the songs in this film, there are songs for every specific thread that runs throughout the film, and honestly, Jordan Christopher has one hell of a vocal range and a certain mystique, where I found myself swooning for him a couple of times!
The songs contain telling lyrics like –
“Little skinny people that look like barber poles… and super skinny minds and super skinny souls now whoever said that you had to look like that well we say ‘hip hip hurray hip hip hurray’ for FAT… Take a boney body what does it really mean…it’s just a scale of tin with nothing in between. Now those kinda folks are no fun to have around…So when we pick our friends we pick ’em by the pound…”
Bogart isn’t just a sex-hungry rock star suffering from narcissism, he’s a violent protagonist, who spouts a philosophy of negativity, killing, war and revolution.
Angel Angel Down We Go stars Jennifer Jones who was magnificent in Portrait of Jennie 1948, Tender is The Night 1962, Indiscretion of an American Housewife 1953, and Duel in The Sun 1946. She is one of the most iconic beauties of the silver screen. At least in my opinion, possessing a rare gentility that is luminous. I feel that way about Gene Tierney as well.
So this is 60s ACID CINEMA… far out, PSYCHOTRONIC, subversive, and an outre culty film with a menagerie of freaks, weirdos anti-establishment malefactors, and undesirable miscreants. It’s a film about class, race, and varying degrees of sexuality. It’s also about Motherhood, body image, and the cult of beauty.
Jone’s acting ebbs and flows in the role of Astrid whose wardrobe is divine (costumes by Renié), as she dictates her complicity in Tara’s disturbing trajectory. At times, there is somewhat more dimension to her character which gives the actress a chance to stretch outside the plastic effigy of beautiful harpy. Astrid is a bird of prey who claws at her young daughter, with perturbingly vile comments like- “You are a FAT girl… idiot, I don’t know why anyone would even want to touch you.”
And Is this film, a reaction to the preoccupation and hysteria caused by the Manson Murders in August of 1969?
At one point Bogart warns of the coming of a race war. Not unlike Charles Manson. Lou Rawls who plays the disciple Joe, comments after Bogart claims that he is ‘1/32nd part African Negro.’ Joe says in terms of sexuality “Black is better baby.”
The film Is not unlike the more sobering and stark realism of director Barry Shear’s The Todd Killings 1971 based on the infamous Pied Piper of Tucson Charles Schmid who went on a killing spree in the 60s. Who’s supposed magnetism held sway over the teenagers who followed him like a cult leader, helping him to evade the law? Shear directed Wild In The Streets in 1969. Robert F. Lyons plays Skipper Todd, the enigmatic opportunistic philanderer and serial murderer.
Critics question why Jones would take the part of Astrid, but, in 1969 who was offering good scripts for fine actresses past their supposed ‘prime’ when studios figured they had lost their salability.
But so goes the culture of youth and beauty. I can’t tell you how many times I cringe when a blogger writes something like “And she looks so good considering she’s 40!” Gee… I’m sure that actress or performer is so grateful for the law of diminishing returns afforded by the freelance film critic.
So… Jeanne Crain turned down the part of Astrid Steele. I wonder if she ever looked back…
Now here, as Astrid Steele Jones plays a shallow ex-porn star who sold cigarettes, given lines like “I was born poor, but I’ve got class.
Jordan Christopher plays Bogart Peter Stuyvesant, a Jim Morrison-style rocker who’s been given the catchy hybridization of the quiet steely masculinity of Humphrey Bogart and founder of New York, Peter Stuyvesant (Bogart, having grown up in NYC’s alphabet city with apparently abusive and patriotic mother.)
The undercurrent of misogyny that Bogart displays might stem from a hatred of his own alcoholic, abusive mother. As he antagonizes Astrid in the form of wooing her, he writes a song inspired by her, called MOTHER LOVER. “Slipping nips and popping pills, she’s the All-American mother machine…bloody mama, what a mother, what a mother, what a mother you are!”
Astrid cares only about appearances, her desirability, and the million-dollar bejeweled necklace that she covets as if it were the fountain of youth. A necklace was given to her for their 20th Anniversary. “Years and years of virtue…”
Bogart asks her, “Did you really make stag films?” She decries, “Thousands, maybe dozens at a time, why maybe I’m a born Communist at heart, share the wealth!”
As Bogart moves in on Astrid, she asks him “Do you want me, or do you want my daughter?” He replies, “Are the two mutually exclusive?” She responds, “There’s a word for YOU, but I don’t think I know what it is.” He answers, ” Ahh, Polymorphically Perverse.”
Bogart not only has a direct line into Tara’s psyche but he knows where to push the knife in with Astrid. She tells him ‘Why don’t you leave my daughter alone’. He tells her, “The way you did?”
Holly Near does a fine job as Tara Nicole Steele. Tara is named after her mother’s love for the grandeur of GONE WITH THE WIND.
And Davey Davison plays Anna Livia, pregnant, won’t tell who the father is, and secretly frightened of an omen her mother passed down to her, that the baby would be the death of her
The filthy rich Steeles eventually do fall under the spell of the enigmatic egocentric rock star, leading his mini cohort of anti-establishment subversives, who run amok all over the Steeles, ultimately demolishing the symbol of the Steele’s ‘American Dream’, as Stuyvesant and his followers symbolically devour, or cannibalize a sanctimonious, self-righteous society.
Astrid to Bogart-“You’re mad”…Bogart-“No lady lady, that was your generation, send ’em away to booby hatches or The White House or give ’em a big toy like ICBM’s to play with…
Why should I go out and kill strangers when there are a lot more luscious pickings right here in my own backyard…in my own bedroom…”
A condemnation once again, the myth of the American ‘ideal’. The film attempts to strike the chord of that time when the sentiment was that the ‘establishment’ was way off in la la land. Too much in control and out of touch, and only renegades and philosophers could stir things up with their radical wisdom, who threaten to charge the gates of the illusion of ‘domestic bliss’ and the rampant Captains of Industry who get fat off the land, while for most, life amounts to unjust enslavement and poverty.
At the fringe are the outliers, a breed of fanatics who would try and take on society, or tear an American family to shreds, particularly brutally to make their point.
Bogart being a wealthy man himself, only sees destruction, and jumping from high places as a way to feel anything. He too is a bird of prey like Astrid and Willy for that matter. Bogart is a predator because society has left the door open for him, the Steeles are ripe for the pickings as the film touts.
Holly Near as Tara Nicole Steele gets to utter lines like, “I’ve been finished, at finishing schools, and untouched by human hands.”
And in the end, she lets us know “I am the last old fashioned girl, FAT girls are of remembrance… are of things past… My childhood was perfect. Paradise… lost…When you’re a fairy princess, everyone dies on schedule, beautifully.”
“Bogart Peter Stuyvesant has a message for the world and the message is ANGEL ANGEL DOWN WE GO.”
If You’re Over 30 This Is A Horror Story!
“Drugs, thugs and freaked-out starlets, ritual murder and cannibalism, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created evil.”
Don’t hate anybody, and don’t kill anybody now! MonsterGirl