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Fantasia Obscura: ‘Glen and Randa’

There are some fantasy, science fiction, and horror films that not every fan has caught. Not every film ever made has been seen by the audience that lives for such fare. Some of these deserve another look, because sometimes not every film should remain obscure.

Sometimes, when it’s over, it’s over…

Glen and Randa (1971)
Distributed by: Universal Marion Corporation (UMC) Pictures
Directed by: Jim McBride

Every now and then, it feels like the end of the world is almost upon us. We particularly feel this at times when the news gets really scary.

And come 1971, we were getting a lot of really scary news. Vietnam was going badly, and Nixon’s “law and order” stance was doing anything except making people feel safe on the streets. Add to that the realization that both sides’ increased reliance on missiles over planes in nuclear exchanges meant that civilization would have only 30 minutes or so before it was over, and it’s enough to horribly depress someone.

Like Jim McBride, when he made this:

We get a cold open where the title characters, Glen (Steve Curry) and Randa (Shelly Plimpton), are playing around in the woods. Glen has lots of questions about what life was like before he was born, along with a few (horribly wrong) assumptions, which Randa doesn’t seem to care about. They’re walking around completely naked as they find a wrecked car with a tree growing out of it, where they climb on in and do what young folks left alone have been doing in cars since Emil Jellinek convinced Daimler-Benz to name one of their new cars after his daughter Mercedes.

After we watch them have sex not quite that discretely, the two of them get dressed and go back to their tribe. With Glen now attired in the recovered coveralls from a mechanic at a Shell station, and Randa in a flimsy patterned Schiff, we watch them scavenge the area for cans of food, ultimately finding a large stash amid the wreckage of a Howard Johnson’s.

As they finish their scouring, up rides a Magician (Gary Goodrow) who gives the folks a combination medicine show and history lesson. That night, the scavengers are treated to a dazzling show, complete with a generator that powers kitchen appliances and a record player that spins “Time Is On My Side” by the Rolling Stones, the only music found in the film. Glen is fascinated with him, and the musician takes a shine to the rube.

The Magician doesn’t con a lot out of the folks, save for getting a few feel ups of Randa, but he does try to answer a few of Glen’s ponderings. From the Magician, he gets a sense as to where he can find a city, which in his mind is where everyone wears white and can fly.

One thing we come to realize about Glen is his insatiable curiosity, his ability to read, and his inability to process what he learns. His desire to find this city, called Metropolis, comes from reading the adventures of Wonder Woman in her comic book, which he-

No, they don’t explain why Wonder Woman’s stories are taking place in Superman’s neck of the woods. Maybe with all the other things going on in the film, as noted below, fidelity to accuracy in comic books apparently was not something they were stressing over…

And so, like a hero in a dismal fantasy story, Glen starts a quest to find Metropolis. Randa comes along, partly because she into the sex she has with Glen, and partly thanks to what took place in the film’s opening, to have him there when the baby she’s carrying comes due.

We get to watch these two try to make through their heroic wilderness journey, with not a single lick of sense or even basic outdoor survival skills. Each mistake they make is painful, and they get no help when they find Sidney Miller (Woodrow Chambliss), the elderly survivor at the edge of the ocean, with PTSD that he developed in isolation, making him of little help as they try to survive…

“Try” is definitely the operative word here. We watch this couple make all kinds of mistakes once they start looking for Metropolis, like wasting all their matches at once, catching more fish than they could eat and trying to take the uncooked ones along with them in a suitcase, stuff that could have ended their trip a lot sooner. If the point McBride was making was to show how unprepared modern society was to carry on after nuclear war, he spent far too much time on it, at the expense of his film.

Timing issues also plague the film as it runs, thanks to his scene cuts. Each scene change is bridged by a three-second long fade to black and fade up, many of them as unnecessary as some of the scenes at the other end of that bridge. While this technique served McBride well in his debut film, the pseudo-documentary David Holzman’s Diary, here they’re just a distraction.

The film pays far more attention to its visuals than it does its timing. What destruction the film shows us is done with found items, from junkyard debris to wrecked discarded cars and trains, which because the film’s budget was only $480,000 (about $3.2 million in today’s dollars) were likely found by film scouts and just incorporated into the pic.

(Insert establishing the Environmental Protection Agency joke here…)

The films is less about the wreckage of civilization than it is about the wreckage that is Glen and Randa themselves. Their inability to survive, let alone think above the level of toddlers, gives us McBride’s take on how likely we all would fare forty minutes after the ICBMs lift off.

Their inability to survive is also reflective of what the two stars were going through at the time. Curry and Plimpton had met when they were both in the Broadway cast of Hair, and their marriage to each other was over within a year of the film’s release. You can see subtle signs of the impending split watching the two of them together, even during their sex scenes, which along with the full frontal nudity made the film infamous for receiving an ‘X’ rating in the US.

Their marriage wasn’t the only thing falling apart; Glen and Randa was one of the last films UMC Pictures released before dissolving that year. For whatever reason, the film went out as a theatrical release in that form, unwilling or unable to make cuts to the nudity or sex or run time that might have allowed the film a chance to survive.

Everything touched by the film just fell apart, as though the world had actually come to an end…

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