The war in Vietnam is raging, and Paul Shaw (Jonathan Warden) has just received his draft card. There must be a way to get out of this situation - he doesn't want to go abroad and kill people so his two friends, Jon Rubin (Robert De Niro) and Lloyd Clay (Gerrit Graham), who may well be in a similar situation themselves soon, invent various excuses for him to tell the army so they won't wish to enlist them. Their first idea is that Paul should pretend to be gay, really act up so he will be turned away, but he is not so keen. So what about adopting an extreme right wing attitude, would that work?
Brian De Palma's third film was Robert De Niro's first (and Gerrit Graham's first, too), a counterculture satire. If you wanted a snapshot of the concerns of the anti-establishment in America during the late sixties, and early seventies for that matter, then Greetings was an ideal port of call for your inquiries. It was all here, with the war looming large, along with sex and conspiracy theories, which preoccupy our three heroes who are kind of like the Monkees if there were three of them (imagine those Monkees episodes where Michael Nesmith wasn't present) of the underground.
Of course, the Monkees made their own counterculture satire in 1968, which in many ways was a better film than this lower budget effort, but De Palma really tapped into the spirit of the times as well as his own cinematic passions. You can tell he and his scriptwriter Charles Hirsch had recently viewed Michaelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up because there are quite a few references to it in the dialogue, as well as a theme of believing your eyes, whether it's with voyeurism or the photographs of the John F. Kennedy assassination which Lloyd obsesses over.
All the women are not so much characters as sex objects, so feminism had patently not made much of an impact on the youthful De Palma and his cohorts. To take his mind off the war, Paul signs up for a computer dating service and meets the kind of women who would not be out of place in a Robert Crumb cartoon strip, from a Bronx secretary determined to take offence at whatever he says (but quite happy to go into the bedroom and whip off all her clothes) to a bored housewife who sexually exhausts him in a speeded up sequence that Stanley Kubrick must have seen judging by that similar scene in A Clockwork Orange.
When they're not indulging in half-jokey, half-serious conversations that go round in circles, they're pursuing their hobbies, which for Jon means being a peeping tom. Or rather, it's his "Peep Art" - as opposed to Pop Art - so he films women pretending to be alone in their bedrooms. It's nice to see De Niro doing comedy decades before he adopted it as his forte, as here he is far wittier than he is in the likes of Meet the Fockers, but he is matched by Graham, who works out the bullet trajectories of the JFK killing on the naked body of his girlfriend, rants about various paranoid theories and ends up suffering an all too appropriate fate. Greetings is not laugh out loud funny too often, but it has an exuberance about it, an enthusiasm of being young and willing to experiment with the medium that goes a long way, entertainment-wise.
He's not aversed to directing blockbusters such as Scarface, The Untouchables and Mission Impossible, but Bonfire of the Vanities was a famous flop and The Black Dahlia fared little better as his profile dipped in its later years, with Passion barely seeing the inside of cinemas. Even in his poorest films, his way with the camera is undeniably impressive. Was once married to Nancy Allen.