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Gas-s-s-s
(1970)
 

Director: Roger Corman               
Cast:
Bud Cort, Cindy Williams, Robert Corff


When you are as big a movie buff as I am, and you've read countless articles and books concerning the motion picture industry, you will learn that in Hollywood, everybody seems to have their own unique idea on what went on during the production of a movie they were involved in. When I did research on the movie I am reviewing here, Gas-s-s-s, I came up with two different opinions about what went on during a key part of production. Producer Samuel Z. Arkoff in his memoir Flying Through Hollywood By The Seat Of My Pants had this to say about Gas-s-s-s and the movie's director, Roger Corman, after shooting was complete: "When Roger left for Europe to shoot Von Richthofen and Brown for United Artists, he turned over the rough cut to us. Jim [Nicholson] and I viewed it, and realized it needed substantial work. We so informed Roger, who didn't disagree... Roger's handpicked editors eliminated lines, entire scenes, and even one of the leading characters in the film. They also cut out a final shot that Roger adored, in which he positioned the leading man, his lady, and three hundred extras on a mesa... The camera panned back while the words of God were heard in a voice-over. For some reason, the voice of God had an accent. Roger thought it was one of the most spectacular shots of his film career. The editors thought it belonged on the cutting room floor, which was right where they left it... We had tried, but the editors just couldn't save the picture. When Gas-s-s-s was released, it was promoted with ads that proclaimed, 'Invite a few friends over to watch the end of the world.' The picture didn't make any money."

That's Arkoff's opinion on what happened during the making of Gas-s-s-s. Roger Corman, on the other hand, had a different viewpoint, one that he told in his memoir How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime. He tells of the major difficulty in just shooting the movie, though when he gets to telling about the movie's post-production period, it's where it gets really interesting: "I went off to Europe to plan for Von Richthofen And Brown in Ireland. I should have known something was up. It had happened on [Bloody] Mama and The Trip. I turned in the final cut, left for Europe, and changes were made without my knowledge. When I saw what American-International Pictures did to my film I realized we had come to the end of the line as a team. The unkindest cut of all was the last scene. I ended the film with a spectacular shot from on top of the mesa, with a view sixty, seventy miles to the horizon... God, who was a running character throughout the film, made his final comments on what went on...There must have been three hundred people on top of that mesa. It was one of the greatest shots I ever achieved in my life. And AIP cut out the entire shot. They ended the picture on the couple's cliched kiss - because they didn't like what God was saying. The picture ended and made no sense... Final cut approval had never been put in writing at AIP. It was more a tacit agreement... AIP had grown into the biggest independent in the U.S. It was now a publicly held company. The more irreverent the film, the greater the financial risk... Jim [Nicholson] had grown conservative and it was his objections to my work that lead to the cuts. Jim had done this on four films in a row. [Gas-s-s-s was] the one that really did it for me." (As a result, Corman severed his ties with AIP and started his own company, New World Pictures.)

So who is correct in what happened during the post-production period of Gas-s-s-s, Arkoff or Corman? After comparing the two stories, and reading the rest of both those books from cover to cover, I've come to Gas-s-s-sthe conclusion that both sides got some points correct. Corman complained that AIP had muddled with his movies without his blessing before Gas-s-s-s, and Arkoff admits in his memoirs that AIP had at least done this once before with The Trip, editing the final scene over Corman's objections to make the movie seem like it was anti-drug instead of the original intent, which was that the audience had to make its mind up. On the other hand, in Corman's memoirs, he admits that the shooting process of Gas-s-s-s was chaotic, to say the least. Corman admits that he started shooting with just a first draft of the script, and the script kept being rewritten as shooting progressed. Weather problems in the Southwestern United States at the time slowed production down and resulted in more script changes. Corman spent thousands of dollars of petty cash for all the expenses that kept piling up. From this and other accounts, it does seem that Arkoff's claim that the rough cut needed work was probably correct. But whatever happened, did the end results work? First, the plot description from the back of the DVD box: "Anarchy goes airborne in this 'insane, often uproarious' (Leonard Maltin) farce about vaporizing the generation gap! When a deadly gas kills everybody over 25, the world devolves into a chaotic - and zany - struggle for power. And as a band of peace-loving hippies goes cross-country seeking utopia - only to find football fascists and demented dictators - they soon discover that even the American dream has a touch of gas!"

There's more to the movie than just that, of course. The events of the movie center around hippie couple Coel (Corff) and Cilla (Elaine Giftos), who are traveling around the country to reach a specific place in New Mexico where many survivors are traveling to... though just why so many survivors are traveling there is never made clear. Along the way, they are joined up with four other hippie types played by Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley), future Broadway star Ben Vereen, Bud Cort (Harold & Maude), and Talia Shire of Rocky (billed here as "Tally Coppola".) Normally, this would be around the place of my review where I could comment on these characters and the actors playing them. But despite having watched the entire film, I have very little I can say about them. That's because there is practically nothing about these characters that differentiates themselves from each other. Coel and Cilla may be a couple, but we never understand why they are in love with each other. There are no real moments when they really talk to each other and reveal their desires, ambitions, and feelings to one another. They're not a believable couple. In fact, both of them seem to think it's okay for both of them to suddenly stray in a sexual manner with other people, then get back together a few minutes later with absolutely no consequences or discussions about it, which isn't exactly endearing. We also never get to know how they and the other four lead characters each personally feel about the fact that everyone over 25 is dead, or what they hope to get out of the destination they are all headed to. About the only noticeable difference there is between the characters is the fact that Ben Vereen's character is black, a fact which I also mention because I observed that he is practically the only black character in the movie despite the group meeting hundreds of survivors along the way.

The various characters the group encounters along the way are all alike in the same annoying way - they are all goofballs. I know this is supposed to be a comedy, and I know these characters are supposed to be characters that are funny in their own way, but they are all so over the top that there's no credibility to them. Take for example, one town the protagonists travel through that has been completely taken over by jocks. Since you don't normally associate government with sports fanatics, having jocks suddenly be in a position of power previously out of reach to them is ripe for comedy. But how does this movie portray them? Wearing football uniforms 24/7 and driving around in dune buggies to capture people to add to the football teams in the area that they play against. It's so unbelievable that it isn't funny. The various characters in the movie don't even resemble human beings when they talk to each other. A policeman confesses to police brutality to a priest, and the priest says that his penance will be to demonstrate bicycle safety to the Black Panthers. One person, suddenly confronted with some intruders on his turf, immediately says, "You've got seventeen seconds to beat it!" The movie is so determined to make this a non-stop laugh riot that it introduces characters that make no sense. Edgar Allen Poe - riding a motorcycle with his squeeze Lenore as well as a raven - zooms into the movie a couple of times to speak some nonsense before making a quick exit. Established characters constantly and suddenly bring in issues out of the blue, like when one of the thee leading ladies declares forty minutes into the movie that not only she is all of a sudden pregnant, but she is about to give birth.

I don't blame Roger Corman for such stuff as that that suddenly comes our of the blue with no warning, then disappears and never is referred to again. Arkoff and Corman agreed that the movie was drastically reedited, and it shows. Right from the beginning of the movie, when an unidentified man is seen running with a crossbow as two uniformed cops are in pursuit of him for reasons never revealed, we are bombarded right to the end with scenes that either make no sense or cut down so drastically that we have to guess what happened when the next scene suddenly starts up. The audio is also poorly edited, with obvious post-production dubbing and background music that suddenly halts in mid-song instead of slowly fading into the background. Still, Corman has to take some of the blame for Gas-s-s-s' failure, not just because the movie's characters are thin, obnoxious, unbelievable, and not funny scene after scene. Although Corman claimed that he filmed a spectacular shot for the movie's original ending, you wouldn't believe it just by judging by how the rest of the movie looks. Most of the movie is shot in the rain, or with overcast clouds in the sky, giving the movie a dreary look. As the characters drive across the desert, and make stops at various points along the way, Corman never gives us a good look at the surroundings, always keeping the camera tightly closed on the actors. There's no feeling of desolation, or any kind of atmosphere. About the only good thing Corman did for the movie was to bring in the rock group Country Joe & The Fish, which perform the songs in the movie  A couple of their songs give the movie a haunting feel in appropriate places, and the rest of their songs, while not classics, are agreeable to listen to. Instead of wasting your money buying or renting Gas-s-s-s, track down and buy the soundtrack album instead - you'll be a lot better off.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check Amazon for Samuel Z. Arkoff's memoirs
Check Amazon for Roger Corman's memoirs

See also: Cracking Up, Neon City, No Blade Of Grass

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