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  Cisco Pike The Big BustBuy this film here.
Year: 1972
Director: Bill L. Norton
Stars: Kris Kristofferson, Karen Black, Gene Hackman, Harry Dean Stanton, Viva, Joy Bang, Roscoe Lee Browne, Chuy Franco, Severn Darden, Herb Weil, Antonio Fargas, Doug Sahm, Howard Hesseman, Allan Arbus, Frank Hotchkiss, Hugh Romney, James Oliver, Nawana Davis
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Cisco Pike (Kris Kristofferson) has been busted for drug dealing twice before, so he's really in trouble if it happens again, and has to seriously consider making other arrangements for funding his lifestyle. He used to be a country rock star in a duo with Jesse Dupre (Harry Dean Stanton) but they split up, and Cisco has had problems sustaining his career ever since, which is why today he goes to try and sell his precious guitar to a music store trader (Roscoe Lee Browne). But he knows Cisco very well, and knows that guitar is part of him so cannot in all good faith take the instrument; thus rejected, albeit sympathetically, the musician is in a quandary until the cop who busted him, Leo Holland (Gene Hackman) shows up...

If any film could only have been made in 1972, just as the hippies were pondering their next move and corruption seemed to be everywhere, then it was writer and director Bill L. Norton's Cisco Pike. Norton would largely work in television but he did make occasional big screen efforts, the highest profile being the sequel More American Grafitti (which was actually a modest hit), but it was his debut here that garnered the real cult following thanks to it conjuring up its specific time and place. Watch this and you could appreciate precisely what the lifestyle of its characters was like, so evocative was it atmosphere, though whether that was down to accident or design was perhaps debatable.

Some films just happen to sum up their era, even the ones which captured such a short time frame as this, you could practically identify the month it took place should you have known the scene to any great accuracy. With such trappings as the marijuana plotting and the word "man" repeated about a billion times, it was clear Norton was going for the counterculture mood, so naturally he cast the actress who encapsulated that. Not Karen Black, though she was here too as Cisco's longsuffering girlfriend Sue, doing a creditable performance as a woman trying to be carefree but finding life dragging her down at every turn, no, not her, but Joy Bang, the hippie chick of many an early seventies flick who could not have hailed from any other era.

Joy Bang (which was supposedly her married name and not some winking double entendre of a pseudonym) could be seen in quite a number of this sort of film though mainly in supporting roles: she's best identified these days as one of Woody Allen's disastrous dates in Play It Again, Sam (the one who is kidnapped by bikers), but before she retired prematurely from the screen she was noticed by many who enjoyed seeing her inhabit these works with her joie de vivre and less an incisive acting style, more a character type from days gone by. Here she played Lynn, a groupie hanging around with another minor icon of the day, the Andy Warhol acolyte Viva whose poor little rich girl promises to help Cisco sell the drugs he has. Wait, you thought he was giving up that life?

Well, think again, because Holland had a mission for him. Hackman, in spite of being the first actor's name we see in the opening credits, wasn't really in this film all that much, but he assuredly made his scenes count as he strongarms Cisco into selling a huge stash of high quality marijuana for him, entirely illegally but if Cisco refuses he's back in jail. The sweatily unpredictable Holland makes for the movie's villain, so that even when he's offscreen we can sense the pressure of his presence on Cisco whether the washed up singer is persuading the Sir Douglas Quintet to take his wares (Sir Doug himself spouts ludicrously of its time dialogue) or finding himself threatened with arrest from other sources (Norton gives us a closeup on the narc's "square" shoes to alert us). Stanton, who appeared in the second half, was a sad case whose heroin addiction has made him a shell of a man, a very delicate performance which makes the ending understandable but no less poignant. This was Kristofferson's leading acting debut, and he held together what is now a perfect nostalgia piece.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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