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FOFF Programs

May 10, 2009: 8:45pm
Roxie Cinema
3117 16th Street
San Francisco

The Delinquents (1957) by Robert Altman 72 min. BW 35mm
Robert Altman is best remembered for his masterpieces of the 1970's (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, Nashville, etc.), less so for his 1950's efforts, separated from his mature work by a long journeyman period in TV. His early industrial/educational shorts (eg. How to Run a Filling Station, Better Football), made for-hire in early '50's Kansas City, show a quaint but timely concern for keeping the nation's youth off the streets and out of trouble.

Juvenile delinquency, by various names a long-time staple of exploitation films, became the subject of Altman's first feature, 1957's The Delinquents. Tom Laughlin (to become famous for his Billy Jack movies) channels the late James Dean (much admired by Altman) in his first starring role as a teen driven from the arms of his girl and into the clutches of a vicious gang which includes Richard Bakalyan in his debut.

Altman has always used certain conventions of what we now call vérité style, applying his own poetics to the multifarious scrappiness of real life. If the party scene in The Delinquents seems to have the dynamics of an actual party, it's because it is one. Though Kubrickian perfectionism was never one of Altman's hallmarks, he nevertheless came later to dismiss this early work as "meaningless". But he could never deny that it's fabulously entertaining.