When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
David Carradine & Death Race 2000 (1975)
Categories: Alternative Film

1975 was a year of malaise.

The Woodstock vibe was over.  The economy, after seven years of Republicans at the helm, was in the tank with high inflation and no jobs for recent grads.  Music was wandering a wasteland between post-Psychedelic and pre-Disco.  If you were young that year, you were waiting desperately for something to happen.

What emerged from this lethargic cocoon were some unique cultural icons which manifested the quest for a personal mirroring of our society and our loss of direction and focus.  David Bowie’s song Young Americans was one; another was the Paul Bartel film DEATH RACE 2000

The same year his younger brother Keith was making a more celebrated and revered study of the American anomie of 1975 (Robert Altman’s NASHVILLE), David Carradine worked on DEATH RACE 2000, a more transgressive, outlaw film for Roger Corman.  The movie nailed many sources and effects of the psychic hemorrhaging of the U.S.:  the public’s love affair with the passive consumerism of violence; a broadcast media that was in bed with the government in order to pacify the masses; blaming discontent on outsiders (this time, presciently it’s the French); national leadership invested in the increase of wherewithal for a privileged minority; and the dominating culture of personality worship.  The script was developed by the great unnoticed wit of American popular film, Charles Griffith, whose credits included LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.  The casting was delicious.  The joyous plump blonde Joyce Jameson (veteran of Corman’s horror films and of TV comedy sketches opposite Red Skelton) played media commentator Grace Pander.  Director Paul Bartel’s wife, former Warhol Factory diva Mary Woronov, was one of the cross-country race car drivers who got points for the number of people she mowed down on the way.  Future mega-director John Landis had a bit as a car mechanic.  And a post-porn, pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone was another driver in the pedestrian-kill sport.

REAL MEN WEAR BRIEFS.  Carradine with Simone Griffeth

REAL MEN WEAR BRIEFS. Carradine with Simone Griffeth

In late 1981, while building interest in his unfinished film EATING RAOUL, I was in the audience when director Paul Bartel screened his DEATH RACE 2000 one evening in Melnitz Hall at UCLA.  Bartel stated that his goal was to create a dry, witty black comedy in the British vein, along the lines of KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, but with the blood and T&A that would be necessary for an exploitation flick released by Roger Corman to the drive-in audiences.

He succeeded.

Doug / PoMo Joan

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