Warner Bros./Warner Home Video .
R4 . COLOR . 109 mins .
M15+ . PAL
Ever since seeing this film first on television what seems like about 120 years ago, I’ve always wanted to walk up to someone peeing me off and quote the fantastic line:
"I’m going to take this right foot, and I’m going to whop you on that side of your face."
"Smell it! I said smell my foot! SMELL IT!"
Then I’d unleash fury upon the unsuspecting clod and hammer his testicles into the ground. Problem is, the one time I tried the actual kick described above, on my younger brother during some Billy Jack ‘play fighting’ in the backyard, I slipped and fell on my arse so hard I couldn’t walk for half an hour.
But I have no doubt that I looked incredibly cool and amazingly impressive right up to the moment where my left foot slipped and it all went pearshaped. Had I not fallen, and instead connected my right foot with the left side of his face, he would have been in a whole world of hurt. Then my parents would have beaten the shit out of me and I would have been in a whole world of hurt as well. But you can bet your balls that there’s no way my mum could have pulled off such an impressive kick on me, so it all would have been worth it.
So that was the effect this film, the first in the Billy Jack series, had on me. Sure, over time the various storylines had blended into each other to the point that I was no longer clear as to what actually constituted the plot in any of the films, but what did it matter? As long as Billy Jack got angry and let fly with a torrent of feet and fists all was fine for yet another night in front of the box. At that point in my life, I didn’t care about plot, character, tension or cinematography, I just wanted a new move to show off in the schoolyard the next day or something cool to say to the teachers when they gave me yet another week of detention. And a pair of cowboy boots and a hat like his would have been cool to have too. I would have been the baddest looking 12 year old on the block. No 11 or 13 year old would have messed with me.
I think the irony of all this probably wouldn’t have been lost on Tom Laughlin, who played the well meaning but violent Billy Jack. The message the film preaches about choosing peace, promoting freedom, expressing love, showing tolerance, and using karate to settle your differences is lost on many people when all they can recall is that Billy Jack has an anger management issue which normally results in him kicking someone up a tree. Lord knows he tries to contain it, his best friend (Delores Taylor), who runs the Freedom School, tries to change his ways. But Billy will have none of it. The way he sees it, if a bigoted redneck has to be straightened out, it’ll be done the old fashioned way, with his feet, not with a hippy tofu peace-pie offering.
The new age, hippified, freeform fashion that much of the film takes will also have many people today shaking their heads in disbelief. It rambles along, often taking up an excessive amount of time to say nothing. Over-long street theatre scenes, a rambling town meeting and obscure conversations pepper the story, creating a disjointed narrative.
However, all the negatives aside, it still has a place in my memory, and a fond one at that. It kinda makes me want to call my brother and invite him over for another round of Billy Jack fighting in the yard. I’d kick his arse good this time, if my back wasn’t so sore from sitting in this chair all day.
With that particular colour and look of films from the '70s, this 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) transfer looks every one of its 30+ years. It has its ups and downs, most problems stemming from the condition of the print, which shows up some wear and tear with long runs of scratches and spots and what appears to be a tear or two. On the upside, it has long stretches where the picture is very clear and reasonably well detailed, and the actual transfer process has been pretty kind with nothing overly ill to report to you dear devoted masochists that you wouldn't expect from a low budget 'classic' as some might think of it.
Well you can safely get off your arse and unplug every speaker in the room bar the centre channel, and even that one might be better off disconnected as well. About as mono as they come, this has no ‘atmosphere’ or presence to speak of, and when things get a little loud it starts to crap out with a bit of distortion and lacings of sibilance here and there. As long as the levels stay low and the only thing coming through the speaker is the characters spouting inane new age loveydovey hippy peace bullshit to each other the clarity is fine enough. It basically sounds exactly like you might remember it did when you last saw it played on telly, on your folks' old colour television with mono sound. Put on an old pair of pyjamas, grab a pack of chips and tell someone to bug you every five minutes to do your homework to complete the authentic old time movie watching experience.
The rednecks done gone stole all the extras to sell at the slaughter house for six cents a pound, so Billy Jack went done beat crap out of them with some fancy style foot fighting. He was too late though, all the extras had already been sold for dog food, so there’s nothing on this here disc but the fillum and a shitty looking menu.
Newer, more sophisticated viewers ought to stay 200 metres away from this DVD, as they’d probably laugh themselves dead or fall unconscious out of sheer disbelief that such a trite film could ever be released. Others, such as myself, will welcome the opportunity to revisit another little piece of our cinematic heritage, from an age when life was simpler and pleasures far easier to find. It’s a bit of a downer that the release is so bare and average looking/sounding, but then I’m one of those few people where it’s the film I’m actually interested in, not the extras.