The whole college megillah circa 1970, with basketball as the chief metaphor ("to you itís poetry, to me itís staying after school in your underwear"). Courtside slow-mo against darkened backgrounds introduces the athletes, the action turns grainy on a black-and-white TV watched by members of a guerilla theater, raptly reciting the poem that gives Jack Nicholsonís directorial debut its title. The star player (William Tepper) is a placid jock undergoing a mid-championship crisis, wondering whether to go pro when not humping the faculty wife (Karen Black) in tbe backseat of her car. The raucous yin to Tepperís stolid yang is his roommate (Michael Margotta), a jumpy mass of agit-prop antics who stages anti-Vietnam War mock-executions (complete with the Stars and Stripes popping out of a toy pistol), nearly pukes on the Army psychiatrist, thrashes his dorm with a samurai sword, and generally spits at "the rah-rah jive game number" the coach (Bruce Dern) holds sacred. "Tear the mother down, man!" screams the one-man revolution. Nicholsonís Counterculture Campus is a fractured, pulsating place: Henry Jaglom demands to be imprisoned along with the guerillas, Robert Towne adds an Osbornian note as Blackís abstracted husband, the final hoop shots are crosscut with a sexual assault. The student body and its dreams, youthful unrest and the draftís many forms, the games people play in and out of the gymnasium. Handheld shots and graphic matches are prevalent, a variety of films (La Chinoise, Medium Cool, Downhill Racer, Aliceís Restaurant, Zabriskie Point) are cited throughout. Tepper recedes into himself in an image from Magritte, while Margotta enacts a most tranquil freak-out, naked in a classroom and alone but for the reptiles and insects heís just freed. "Iím right and Iím sane," he declares to the men holding the straitjacket. (The closing view is from the back of a departing ambulance.) With Michael Warren, June Fairchild, David Ogden Stiers, and Cindy Williams.
--- Fernando F. Croce