Insomnia File #45: The Pyramid (dir by Gary Kent)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep at one in the morning, you could have turned over to TCM and watched the TCM Underground premiere of a low-budget oddity that was first released in 1976, The Pyramid.

The Pyramid is a collection of disjointed scenes, some of which are unsettling, some of which are rather amateurish, and some of which are oddly poignant.  It’s perhaps as strange a film as a film about hippies in Dallas could be.  The film opens in North Dallas, with a disturbing scene of an old man having a heart attack while driving his car and crashing into a school bus.  (As far as school bus crashes go, it was almost as disturbing as the one that would later open Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue.)  Two reporters show up to cover the carnage — supercool L.A. Ray (Ira Hawkins) and his cameraman, Chris Lowe (C.B. Brown).  In the style of Medium Cool, they’re both detached from the tragedy and the carnage around them.

The film moves on from the school bus crash, which is never again mentioned once L.A. and Chris file their story.  We get a series of scenes that may or may not be connected.  L.A. argues with a woman who might be his wife.  Chris wanders around Dallas and tries to film people talking about their lives.  At one point, Chris and L.A. drive through Dealey Plaza and Chris stares back at the Book Depository Building.  At a party, Chris tells a random woman that both Jesus and Richard Nixon were Capricorns.  L.A. and Chris smoke weed while driving around.  Later, they take part in a slow motion flag football game with a group of hippies.  An old man in a steam room suggests that everyone should imagine being dead.

Chris and L.A. stumble across a shoot out involving the police.  A young black man is gunned down by the cops.  L.A. spends several minutes loudly vomiting.  They go to an abandoned church that is sitting in the middle of the countryside and talk to an old man who says that he’s had religious visions.  Back at the station, Chris’s boss accuses Chris of shooting out-of-focus footage and accuses him of being pretentious.  Chris is fired.

L.A. disappears from the film for a while as Chris wanders around with his camera.  Chris interviews a hog farmer who is worried that he’s going to lose his hogs.  He covers a vacuous fashion show in the backyard of a Highland Park mansion.  In Oak Cliff, he stops to stare at a rooster.  (For the record, the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas is famous for its roosters.)

Chris meets a “confrontational therapist” named Merleen (Tomi Barrett).  Merleen screams at a middle-aged man until the man starts screaming back, his entire body shaking as if he’s become possessed.  Chris meets with his friend Bubba and asks if this is the way that we want the world to be.  People gather underneath a makeshift pyramid.  An astronaut is interviewed about conducting ESP experiments in space.  The real-life suicide of newswoman Christine Chubbuck is crudely recreated and then not mentioned again.  The entire cast appears gathered around a pyramid and starts to sing.  Meanwhile, the sun rises over the Dallas skyline….

The Dallas skyline and the sun rising over it is a sight that’s often seen in this film.  As a Dallas native, I enjoyed that part of The Pyramid.  Even though the film was made long before I was even born, I still saw plenty of familiar sights in The Pyramid.  It’s rare that I get to watch a movie and yell out, “Hey, I’ve driven through that tunnel!”  That part of the movie was fun.

The Pyramid was an odd film.  Just from my own research, I discovered that The Pyramid was filmed over the course of at least two years.  If nothing else, this confirmed one of my main suspicions about the film.  Though production on the film started in either 1972 or 1973, it still features a recreation of Christine Chubbuck’s 1974 suicide.  That would seem to suggest that the film itself was kind of “made up” as things went along.  (It also potentially explains why the suicide is never again mentioned after it rather abruptly happens.)  That certainly explains why the film is such an episodic and disjointed experience.

What’s the film really about?  Your guess is as good as mine.  In many ways, it feels like a Texas version of Medium Cool but it’s also obvious that the filmmaker’s had grander goals in mind than just paying homage to Haskell Wexler’s classic portrait of alienation.  As you can tell by looking at the advertisement at the bottom of this review, The Pyramid was advertised as being “a positive mystical experience.”  The ad also states that “For this engagement, the theaters have been energized with pyramid power.”  The film suggests that we’re all connected to each other and that we need to seek out and embrace the positive, lest we become so consumed by all the negative and hate that we end up like Christine Chubbuck.  It’s a message that’s both naive and kind of sweet.  Whatever else can be said about this movie, it can’t be faulted for a lack of sincerity.

The Pyramid‘s a mess but I kind of liked it.  Of course, I have a weakness for low-budget passion projects.  Whatever flaws this film may have (and it has many), it’s obvious the someone really felt that they had something important to say with this film.  It’s not necessary to agree with the film’s conclusion to respect director Gary Kent’s commitment to bringing to life his own vision.  That said, it bears repeating that The Pyramid is definitely a flawed film.  The acting is frequently amateurish.  The sound quality is far from perfect.  The narrative momentum starts to seriously drag during the 2nd half of the film.  But it has its strengths too.  The shots of the Dallas skyline are impressive and there are a few cinema verite sequences that are interesting from a historical point of view.  (This film basically is a time capsule of the early 70s.)  In the end, it stays true to its own bizarre vision and there’s definitely something to be said for that.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run

14 responses to “Insomnia File #45: The Pyramid (dir by Gary Kent)

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