Putney Swope (1969):

The vertiginous timbre is set with a telescoped helicopter shot aimed at Madison Avenue, the satire strides into the boardroom along with a motivational speaker, who's there to dismiss the agency's beer as "pippy dicky." The boss drops dead, mid-stutter, so democracy is evoked (or mocked, rather) in order to choose a new CEO; trying to sabotage each other's chances, every member votes for the token black guy, Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson) wins by a landslide. Swope assures his colleagues there will be no change, but that's just the flame-throwing director, Robert Downey, fattening the status quo for the kill. "Rockin' the boat is a drag. You gotta sink the boat!" -- the conference table is populated by radicalized brothas and sistas, the company is rechristened "Truth and Soul, Inc." The white delivery guy is forced to take the freight elevator, Chinese clients throw firecrackers in the waiting room, crudeness turns de rigueur in the agency's sketch-commercials, shot in woozy color. Downey's TV spots are grimy, self-enclosed jibes, giddily obvious and oddly close to Fahrenheit 451 or perhaps Videodrome: "Miss Redneck" (favorite hobby: emasculating) gets a pie in the face, "No shit!" is the zoomed-in punchline for Ethereal Cereal, soft-focus teens warble about soul kisses and dry humping, topless stewardesses bounce around in slow-mo for five minutes to sitar strumming. The skittering grubbiness is that of a less cutesy Richard Lester, or possibly to Vigo, the fellow fractured anarchist who lends Downey the dwarf President (Pepi Hermine) and the utter pulverization of logic from shot to shot. Putney's beard becomes Castro's, a classy Sidney Poitier poster is torn off the wall as Laura Greene promises to "bend your Johnson," but to Downey, a slashing underground jester, the doomed revolution will not be televised, and his flurry of jokes betrays the subversive's rue. Sell-out money ultimately wins, though not before Antonio Fargas, sheik-headdress improvised out of handkerchief and tie, lobs a grenade into corporate America's glass-safe. With Stan Gottlieb. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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