Friday, August 7, 2020

joe--fifty years later

Sometime in 1970--it likely was the fall after Kent State-I saw, on the Albany State campus, the movie Joe.  One of the great things about going to a large research university (and working at one) is that there are daily so many things going on that one, if one so chose, could spend the day attending one event after another. When I was an undergraduate at Albany I, appropriately I guess, often engaged in sophomoric activities as opposed to those academic ones held for the benefit of Sophomores.  But I did go to see Joe. It was not in the movie theatre, but there was a screening--as I recall it--in a room in the library.  I spent a fair amount of time in the library during my college years.  It could have been that I was stumbling out of it one day and saw a poster advertising the screening. And it could have been that a crony had seen it earlier and urged me to go.

Fifty years later, last night to be exact, I thought to use the On-demand feature (misnamed for sure, since unless you want to shell out additional money beyond the exorbitant amount one pays for cable, many of the movies you want to see are not available on demand without shekels).  Joe, however, was available. 

I think of the movie from time to time when I write about organizations and culture. And recently, I have been doing that.  (The fourth edition of my org comm text is, lick your chops, essentially done and will be available for those hungry for my wisdom and recap of theories in January--knock on wood).  I think of Joe because the main character in the film Joe, a bigot, is first seen in the movie spewing a venomous monologue disparaging minorities and "hippies." It is a classic rant of an Archie Bunker three notches down.  Bunker, but nothing funny about it.  He, Joe, is moaning about how the culture is going south because of everyone but those of his ilk.  Later in the movie he issues another rant about how culture is being ruined by hippies.  I think of Joe and include mention of him in the book, because among the many things Joe does not get, one such thing is that culture is a function of communicative behavior. And what becomes societal (or organizational) culture is the distillate of all peoples' communications.  So Joe can squawk about how the so called hippies are ruining the culture, but the reality is that the culture that he claims is being sullied is a function of his rants and behaviors just as the amalgam that becomes the culture is affected by those he derides.  

The movie was apt for the era around Kent State because it attempts to present a clash between "hippie" culture and their parents. I recall being affected by the movie and thinking it was powerful.  

How does it hold up fifty years later?

Well, I knew how the movie ended up so any drama and powerful effects that were based on surprise were gone.  I was surprised at how I remembered specific lines from the movie exactly as they were uttered, and remembered scenes precisely as they happened.  So, I knew what was going to happen and that could have limited its value on the second viewing. Still.....

It is a lousy movie.  Stunningly trite at least from a distance of half a century.  The opening scene--which I remembered nearly event for event--is as lame as a scene can be.  I don't remember thinking that was the case at the time.  Peter Boyle as Joe is very good. And the young Susan Sarandon as the female lead, is excellent as well.  But the story is just a cliche.   I was "there" so to speak and recall the counter-culture (which as I suggest above is just another part of the culture).  The so-called hippies in the film are caricatures. There is an orgy scene in the movie which, at least to my experience, was beyond unlikely. 

Were there "Joe's" during that time? yes.  Were there people in the counter culture who bore some resemblance to those played in the film? Yes.  But the event on which the film sits, is very unlikely to have occurred, and what happens in its aftermath, just is ridiculous.

So, how does the movie hold up in retrospect?  Not that well.  The media is a powerful player in creating culture. That film could not have done a good deal to inform our troubled 1970 society or affect our culture positively.  Probably worth it to see Peter Boyle as a young actor, and Susan Sarandon as well.

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