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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Counterculture > Hi, Mom! (1969/De Palma)

Hi, Mom!


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C-     Film: B



Brian De Palma is primarily known for his thrillers and Gangster films, but his cutting-edge origins go back to the late 1960s.  After varied work that included co-directing The Wedding Party (1963, issued 1969) with Cynthia Munroe, he first directed on his own with Murder a la Mod! (1968).  Greetings (1968) followed; an experimental, satirical reflection of late 1960s counterculture that originally earned an X-rating.  While we intend to catch it on a recent low-budget DVD, MGM has issued the sequel from 1969, Hi, Mom!  This is a welcome surprise.


You do not need to see the original to appreciate this very funny, daring, smart and rather politically incorrect further look at the counterculture, in which De Palma’s long-known extended delving into Alfred Hitchcock territory begins.  Robert DeNiro is a Vietnam veteran who rents a dump of a place so he can film his neighbors on film.  The Rear Window reference is as visual as it is figurative, but the connection to Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) is also there and becomes stronger as the film moves along.  The twist here is that this is a much more urban setting and minorities will play a larger part.  This extends to De Palma’s twist on the “film within a film” by sending up public TV at the time.  Before it was renamed PBS, the Public Broadcasting System was known as NET, or National Educational Television.  You can still see the logo in early episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on the first model house the camera starts on.


The idea was a system of stations that would serve the community and give people who never had a chance to be seen or heard a voice for the first time.  The problem is that the network was always considered “too stuffy” and De Palma (with co-story writer and producer Charles Hirsch) in a way that may contradict its mission, so they present their version: N.I.T., or National Intellectual Television.  That is amusing (maybe nit, as in nitwit?), but the real point is having a group of radical Black Power advocates having their own TV show.  The show is “TV within a film” called Be Black, Baby!  It offers several “segments” that address the problems with institutionalized racism of the time that still exists to enough of an extent and caused social upheaval in the first place.  This goes from interviews on the street that become confrontational, to the radicals painting their black faces white and blackening the faces of their white guests so they know how bad the experience of discrimination is.


DeNiro gets into this by way of his founding of Peep Art, sex acts that “happen” to be captured by his camera (talk about foretelling future events), he signs up for the role of an abusive policeman for the NIT show.  This is very hard, bold material and includes hard language and male frontal nudity, but it tells the story.  The subplot of the TV program you would never see anywhere, even on TV today, fits in perfectly with the main narrative of the road to “real-life” subversion DeNiro’s Jon Rubin exercises.  Jennifer Salt, Allen Garfield, Lara Parker and Charles Durning are among the more familiar faces in a cast filled with some great acting moments and maybe a few people who are not aware they are on camera.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image is not bad for a low-budget film from its time, but is especially impressive against the pan & scan flipside version, which is missing frame image on all four sides!  With that said, the print and film shows its age a little, but looks pretty good without the comparison to the butchered version.  Cinematographer Robert Elfstrom does a great job of pulling together the various types of shooting here, including a great mock up of black and white TV broadcasts (as many channels had not gone color yet, though with the racial issues addressed, may be yet another in-joke) and is much great footage of the streets of New York.  Note that there is also mock sex film moments that are aside from other nudity in the film.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is also not bad for its age, including the hilarious title song that sounds like it is in the style of very early (or even pre-Walter Becker/Donald Fagen) Steely Dan.  Eric Kaz did the score, while John Andreolli wrote the lyrics to title song (sung by Jeff Lesser) in its slick New York Rock/Jazz style, Grady Tate is “right on” in his vocal on Be Black, Baby and Boney Srabian offers vocals for I’m Looking At You.  You have to wonder if the Skye Records soundtrack release was in stereo or not, because this sounds good in mono and suggests there is even more sound to uncover.  De Palma often has more interesting sound on his films than he is given credit for.  The only extra is the original theatrical trailer, which is especially interesting considering it was an independent release.  Yes, it was a time of a more challenging cinema and Hi, Mom! Holds up better than most such films from the period.  You’ll see why De Palma was on his way as one of America’s best filmmakers.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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