PAUSE IT: What do you see? The animated title sequence to Otto Preminger’s now infamous cult classic, Skidoo (1968). In this playful opening scene, the mood of the picture is given a light comic air as the jumpsuit-wearing criminal–perhaps even meant to be the cartoon caricature of the iconic, bald-headed Preminger himself–skips and dances across the screen. But why bring such a moment to your attention? Generally speaking, a film’s opening minutes are used to try to tell an audience how to read it. In this way, they are akin to a novel’s opening pages in that they establish what a movie’s main themes will be. In light of this, it should be telling that Preminger and screenwriter Doran William Cannon chose to begin this psychedelic romp through 60s counterculture with the image of the most reviled of all mainstream vices–a television. Film and its younger, less respected cousin television have always been at odds. In Skidoo, this opening, with its vacuous commercials and tacky gimmicks, is clearly meant to be viewed as Preminger’s way of poking fun at the television industry, which had by the start of the decade decisively fought for and won the lion’s share of America’s attention. If this war between film and tv sounds familiar, it should. In some ways, the fight between these two entertainment mediums has never ended, but in 1968 the battle that was raging was to culminate with the movies trying to gain the upper hand on its television counterpart by attempting to court the patronage of the budding youth market. Films like Corman’s The Trip, Hopper’s Easy Rider, and Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy would signal the start of The New American Hollywood. The head studio honchos (who were themselves stodgy and increasingly out of touch) thought that if television was going to be the province of square-America, then films should now try to appeal to the young, hip, and swinging crowd. While some today dismissively remember Skidoo as a mess of a movie which tried and ultimately failed to appeal to the youth of the time, it remains nonetheless a fascinating study of industry strategic thinking and gamesmanship.
Director: Otto Preminger
Cast: Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Frank Gorshin, Peter Lawford
Cinematography by: Leon Shamroy
Available From Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.
April 26, 2017