The seventies were a time of hard-partying, drugs, rock and roll and…. Disco. Coined as the “Feel-Good Age”- it was the follow-up to the Counter Culture era of the sixties and it epitomized ideas that had worked in the past and introduced new ones. Free-love, racial identity, gender politics, drugs and the evolution of the rock genre were just some of the gifts that this decade had bestowed upon us (and bad-ass cars).
The music and the films that were born from this era ended up standing the test of time- so much so that current films and art nowadays don’t even compare to the genius of the creators that had lived and thrived so long ago. Maybe it’s all nostalgia and in the next twenty years, there will be a resurgence and artists that are thriving today will be seen as gifted or geniuses ahead of the curve. I shiver at the thought of Elvis, Hendrix and Drake all being mentioned in the same sentence twenty years from now.
Anyways, the films that were borne during this time are still being talked about today and are skinned thousands of ways. Films like The Godfather, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, Alien, Kramer vs. Kramer, Dog Day Afternoon, all the Dirty Harry’s, Taxi Driver– these are the films that defined and redefined the culture and are arguably looked to as the gold standard of true filmmaking. A lot of questions in these films were swirling around people’s minds and a lot of it had to do with the ideals surrounding masculinity and sex that were being explored in society. There was a standard surrounding the ethos of masculinity. Guys- they had to be tough; they had to show no weakness; they had to be complete pussy hounds; these ideas had one purpose- to prove how manly you were.
In the nineties, there were two films that accurately depicted the seventies and the masculine qualities that dominated society. The first- the more famous one- was Dazed and Confused by Richard Linklater. The other- my own personal favorite- was The Stoned Age.
If you haven’t seen The Stoned Age I recommend that you stop whatever you’re doing and watch it immediately. Like, seriously. Stop reading this reading and go watch it and then come back. I’m for real. Stop reading, close this tab, watch the film and then come back and read this. I promise you- the article is way more enjoyable if you’ve seen the film first.
The Stoned Age has gained quite the cult following over the years. It’s a stoner comedy set in the seventies and features two metal-heads as they traverse Orange County looking to score with hot chicks. It also highlights the popularity of the rock band, Blue Oyster Cult and it delves deeper into the vulgar and yet wild spirit of the seventies. The film features main characters that aren’t portrayed in the best light. One of them is Hubbs whom is somewhat of a bully. He usually gets his way through sheer force- even with his friends. The other is Joe who is more passive and at times is so indecisive that it drove me insane just watching him. The film asks the dramatic question: is Masculinity flawed? It tries to answer this question through the negative and positive aspects of it’s memorable characters.
Hubbs: The flaws of Hyper-Masculinity
The Stoned Age presents the dilemma of masculinity and at the same time champions and improves upon some of it’s core ideals. It does show how masculinity itself will grow and evolve based on the depiction of the characters and their decisions throughout the film. It assert that masculinity doesn’t need to be “fixed,” but that it does require revision and maybe some sort of accession.
Hubbs, is the more dominant of our two of protagonists (it is also interesting as we can visually see the duality of the two that is a constant visual motif in the film. Hubbs and Joe, the three Buffalo Girls at the end, Tack and Snot-Rag and even Lanie and Jill). He is everything an alpha male should be- or at least what we project what he should be. Hubbs is violent, aggressive, cunning, wild, promiscuous and passionate. He takes what he wants as opposed to merely asking for it. He is respected and feared for it. He is the epitome of the bad boy.
Hubbs’ means of persuasion mainly stems by force. He beats up his rival, Tack on multiple occasions and even his best friend Joe over what kind of music to play in the Blue Torpedo.
With women he is charming and is capable of small-talk. He is assertive when it comes to the seduction of. However, anything in the realm of intelligent conversation- he falls short. To his credit, he is just a teenager and sex is one of the main priorities for males in his age group. He also has the metal-head, stoner, bad-boy thing going for him so, most women are going to be attracted to him.
But that’s all he has to offer. Hubbs is a fantasy. He’s capable and clever- true. But he’s also manipulative, dishonest, macho and he speaks with a snarl all the time. The biggest thing however- which blends in perfectly with his own paradigm- is that Hubbs is a tough but only when he’s facing weaklings, cowards and toadies. This makes him somewhat of a bully. Oh yeah- he’ll put his docile buddy, Joe in a headlock over the choice of music and he’ll beat the hell out of Tack on a whim because Tack physically cowers in Hubbs’ presence- but against other characters like Muldoon, Crump’s Brother, Crump, Jill’s Dad, the Police- characters that not only have backbone but clout and status- not only will Hubbs back down, he’ll more than likely abandon you. In short, when it really matters; Hubbs lacks honor.
You may think this is huge flaw in the ideology behind masculinity in that Hubbs is essentially a coward but the thing is that Hubbs isn’t a mere coward. He in fact, displays a general understanding in caution. In short, he is rational.
This is what Hubbs struggles with; he is in a battle with his honor and his own selfish desires. He does many dishonorable things to seduce and have sex with Lanie but he redeems himself when he helps Joe defend the girls against Crump’s Brother and he even rescues Joe from Jill’s Dad at the end of the film. Masculinity has negative traits sure… but honor and courage- like what Stubbs exhibits at the end of the film- are just a few of the positives that masculinity is made up of.
Tack and the Killers Album
Tack serves as the comic relief and is one of the antagonists of the film. He is teenager that is stuck in-between the purgatory that is puberty and manhood: acne, a transitioning voice and skewed view on sexually and women are just a few of his traits. He is the one that sets the plot in motion when he overhears that Crump’s Brother has two hot ladies stashed in Long Beach and he makes the decision to recruit both Joe and Hubbs with the goal of scoring with one of these ladies.
Tack isn’t as strong or clever as Hubbs and that is why he loses out on scoring with Lanie. That’s the beauty of masculinity. It’s survival of the fittest. Honor is a big theme in the film and Tack being one of the most honorable characters in the film is the one that is ironically constantly betrayed. He is wormed out of meeting up with the girls by Joe and Hubbs and is left behind at Muldoon’s party. One of Tack’s main flaws is that he expects others to act honorably and when they don’t, his frustration turns into rage.
Hence, we come to the two things that shape Tack and his flawed ideals on masculinity. First, his rage and his expectations when it comes to women and sex put him in the same bracket as Crump’s Brother and Jill’s Dad. Having his honor broken countless of times by the other characters, Tack’s masculine sensibilities force him to seek retribution.
So, what does he do? He organizes the entire group of stoners and metal heads into a mob and they terrorize Jill’s house. He even takes his wrath out on Joe during these events by pining him down on the ground, straddling him and forcing him to eat grass. This scene itself evokes images of rape as Tack’s capacity for violence and vengeance reaches it’s peak.
Masculinity is about violence and wrath. There’s no denying it. But, one thing that the filmmakers were trying to portray with Tack is that wrath and violence turned against the wrong people- turns you into a monster. Some sort of blind, aimless golem looking to devour any that cross your path just for the sole reason to fill your bloodlust.
Second, Tack’s expectations stem from his own desire as to what a woman should look like. As eloquently stated while tussling with Joe in front of Jill’s house; he wants a babe- a woman with no blemishes with the perfect body- like the one on the cover of the Virgin Killer’s album.
The Virgin Killer’s album is one of the main devices that the film uses to contrast the fantasy girl that all the guys want with actual reality. The album itself was released in 1976 by the Scorpions and is noted for it being one of the first examples of the band’s shift from psychedelic rock to hard rock and… it’s controversial album. Lanie is immediately compared to the girl on the cover of Virgin Killer’s album. This also explains why everyone is obsessed with her. This is an effective device because even I, the viewer, became enthralled with this image- and I haven’t even seen it yet. So, I did some research and what I found gave me pause. The girl on the cover of the Virgin Killer’s album was a nude child- a girl maybe between the ages of ten and thirteen. And covering her vagina was a shard or a crystal which symbolizes the preciouses and value of her virginity- the key to womanhood.
Still, having the girl on the cover had a strong cultural impact on young men at the time. Women that resembled this girl or any girl that was being peddled through the media- were worshipped. Tack is just another causality of the times; men pining for the affections of women that didn’t even exist and the ones that resembled them- wouldn’t even give them the time of day.
It is important to note this common trait in masculinity: what men traditionally find sexually attractive. Even if you research the topic, you will find that on a biological and evolutionary basis- women with big pouty lips, nice skin, wide hips, big breasts and soft features could usually catch any guys eye. That’s because the male species is programmed to objectively find this type of woman attractive and to try desperately to procreate with her in order to advance the human race. These traits prove that this female is fertile and that she has good genes that can be passed down to future generations. Women that didn’t exhibit any of these traits were not only rejected as potential mates but also mocked, ridiculed and bullied by men and the women that did possess these traits.
This form of masculinity is right in a sense. As stated before: Men are combative and we are constantly fighting for the best jobs, cars, houses and the best women. To win is to ensure that our genes are passed on to future generations. The only people losing out are the men that aren’t smart enough to use the gifts that they possess in order to achieve the things that they want.
The Goddess and her Ugly Friend.
Lanie is the object of desire and serves as the main love interest for the film. She’s beautiful, youthful and full of life. At the same time she is selfish, arrogant and traumatized by the amount of attention that his given to her by men. This kind of attention- the willingness to bring her drugs, do anything she asks and to be courted by any suitor- has left her with a somewhat jaded view on relationships. Men are a means to an end. That’s why she can enjoy the attention given by Hubbs and Joe one minute and then the next- jump at the chance to have Tack escort her to a party.
As evidenced with Tack and the male obsession with the female goddess- men fall head of heels for Lanie. Even Jill’s Dad and Crump’s Brother covet her and will almost kill any man that tries to even get close to her- even though she hasn’t promised them anything sexual or otherwise. Being desired by every man can be a curse; knowing that one day your looks will dry up and your self-worth along with your status as a goddess will go along with it.
Jill’s problem is arguably worse. She goes through life feeling unloved by all men including her own father. This aspect of her relationship with her father is Freudian in subtext. She desires and covets her father’s love like how all men desire Lanie. You can see this in the way her father treats Jill and how she responds. During the third act when Jill’s Dad chastises her, he states how even though she isn’t the prettiest girl- she doesn’t have to sink so low as to keep company with the likes of Hubbs and Joe. Jill doesn’t say anything and her eyes are darted towards the floor throughout this moment. The level of shame and worthlessness Jill must feel speaks volumes in her body language. She’s so ugly that she isn’t even worthy of father’s unconditional love.
Throughout the picture, we hear her constantly warning the main characters about wrecking “her dad’s place” and fears him catching the boys there. Even with willing and able young men there that could be interested in getting with her- she fears the repercussions of what her dad may do if and when he comes home.
Jill’s Dad loves Lanie. It’s evident when Joe discovers that Jill’s Dad had gotten Lanie a new bathing suit as well as pooka shells during the pool scene. It is also revealed that Jill’s Dad’s sole reason for getting Lanie the bathing suit was so that he could jerk off while watching her swim. Jill knows this. Even though Lanie is her friend, Jill sees her as a romantic rival that can’t compete with.
Jill always ends up getting stuck with Lanie’s “rejects.” This has proven to be a huge blow to her self-esteem and is the main reason why she treats all men as barbaric pigs. This doesn’t mean though that she will reject a man’s advances. Jill would’ve succumbed to Joe if he had been more assertive and she is the one that seduces Hubbs during the climax. This only adds to the complexity of her character and proves that she hasn’t given up on all men in general and that she is still searching for that one guy to make her whole.
The film is telling us that masculinity not only shapes the identities, ideas and personalities of the men- it applies to women also. The women are still damaged by these ideals, leaving them more bitter about relationships in general but overall are still looking for that one special guy.
Joe and the Future of Masculinity.
We finally come to Joe whom serves as one of the lead protagonists in the film. He is indeed a complex character from the start. He isn’t assertive or aggressive like his buddy Hubbs and he has strong sense of honor. At the same time he has proven to be indecisive which is his biggest character flaw of the film.
It is shown that the vision of the eyeball that Joe had seen at the Blue Oyster Cult concert, changed him in more ways than one and it is strongly implied this is why he is so indecisive. We see him being hit with the beam of light at the concert which triggers his vision.
In the vision we see an older Joe eating a burrito at table by himself. Older Joe is also surrounded by a white light and an open grassy field. This scene denotes Joe seeing his own death and it mirrors the song “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult.
There’s a specific line that states:
The seasons don’t fear the reaper,
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain,
We can be like they are,
Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper,
Baby take my hand, don’t fear the reaper,
We’ll be able to fly, don’t fear the reaper,
Baby I’m your man.
Joe is immediately transferred into space, surrounded by a force field, dressed in baby garments as he looks down on the Earth. This scene is taken out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This scene presents the idea that death itself is a form of transcendence- something not to be feared but longed for. Joe is hunted by the song, the vision and the events in the film. What does it all mean?
We can go back to the song for confirmation. As it’s debated in the film by various characters (it’s a pussy song vs. it’s a love song) the song itself is in fact a love song where subject is being seduced by the personification of death. Death or the fear of it shouldn’t be feared bur embraced.
The fear of death is the basis of masculinity. To be devoid of the fear of death is to be invincible. The Spartans, the Vikings- the ancient noble warriors that the characters in the film try to emulate- didn’t fear death or they had found ways to cope with this inescapable future. Masculinity involves risk-taking and action. Fear or indecisiveness is looked down upon at best and considered weakness at worst. Joe struggles with this the entire film. He gets pummeled by Hubbs in the beginning film displaying his lack of aggression, conviction and confidence, has to be coerced into tricking Tack which displays his indecisiveness and his many multiple rejections by Lanie only display his inadequate and bumbling attempts at seduction with the opposite sex.
Joe only overcomes these flaws when he finally understands his vision- to embrace death and as result he stands up to Jill’s Dad, becomes Jill’s lover and even beats up Hubbs at the end of the film for the right to play Don’t Fear the Reaper.
Joe finally understands that aggressiveness, decisiveness and cunning are necessary traits in the masculine world. Men are competitive. To try to opt out of this life leaves a man feeling like an empty shell and an easy target for stronger males. It is the fear of death that is the root cause of these problems and as we all know- death is inevitable.
Joe had also found a way to improve upon masculinity when he rejects the notion of merely sleeping around and he embraces the idea of a monogamous relationship. This idea was heavily criticized by all of the characters but is a sign of maturity for men. Monogamy entails responsibility and Joe is willing to accept it.
Masculinity in The Stoned Age is both criticized and applauded. It can range from barbarism to chivalry and is proven not only to advance growth within the characters of the film but also forms a basis for all of them to fall back on.
It stands as a testament for the present day where we are surrounded by a plethora of feminized men and where the role of men in society is constantly questioned and put under scrutiny. It’s important to re-watch The Stoned Age and to take all of the lessons that it teaches to heart. It serves as both a cautionary tale of fear and a hopeful message of bravery and honor.
Reservoir Dogs is a crime-noir picture about criminals with code names- whom have never met before- being brought together to do one a once-in-a-lifetime heist. They are given a job to steal uncut diamonds being shipped from Israel during rush hour in Los Angeles. The characters are: Joe Cabot (boss), Nice Guy Eddie (underboss), Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Orange, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue and Mr. Pink. All of the criminals have some connection to Joe except for Mr. Orange whom is recruited on spec. Which I might add is a pretty big no-no in the criminal underworld. Especially for a supposed experienced and aging crime boss. The gang spends a significant amount of time planning the robbery and when the day of the heist finally goes down- all hell breaks loose. Mr. Blonde- our lovable psychopath- executes the hostages one by one when the alarm is tripped. The gang is immediately ambushed by cops. The film primarily takes place in a warehouse which is set as the rendezvous after the heist. There, the surviving gang members determine that one of their own is a rat. With the cops closing in, they are on a race against time to figure out whom the rat is and to escape with the diamonds. To casual movie-goers: this story is a fun and yet violent neo-noir crime film. But, does the film have a deeper meaning? Let’s find out.
First let’s analyze the title. “Reservoir”- our first word- means to keep. Pretty straightforward. Joe Cabot is an Italian mob boss, probably one of the last in Tarantino’s universe that controls Los Angeles. Cabot in some way, shape or form has access or personal relationships with most of the main players or “Dogs” (Mr. Blonde, Mr. White, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown). Cabot acts as a reservoir for the criminals. He reigns them in to do one a once-in-a-lifetime jewelry heist.
The second word in the title- “Dogs.” You could interpret Dogs to mean the characters themselves and the lives that they lead. They are all murderers, rapists, thieves.
The picture is all about anecdotes. Stories. Tales that each of the dogs tell to gain the others respect and to build comradery. It’s a way to subconsciously tell the other murderers that you’re just like them. You’re a team player. You’re not going to get any of them killed being selfish or stupid.
Empathy and having common interests is key. Example: one of the reoccurring motifs in the film is music. The film begins with Mr. Brown’s analysis to a song. The song in question is “Like a Virgin” by Madonna. The deconstruction of a ditzy pop song avalanches into an argument about whether or not it’s honorable to tip waitresses.
This dialogue is only meant to do one thing- to show the bonding between the characters. You’ve probably been on a sports team, worked a job or were on the girl scouts and so you know that communication, respect and bonding with your teammates is essential to success. You get to know your partners- their weaknesses, their ticks- everything. Without that level of intimacy, failure is the only outcome- and that goes double in the criminal underworld where the outcome is either getting killed or getting pinched.
Mr. Orange is one of the key characters in the film. It is revealed towards the end of the second act that he is the undercover cop that the other dogs are looking for. His job is especially dangerous. Unlike the other gangsters whom are tasked with performing the perfect robbery and maintaining a working relationship with their crooks- Mr. Orange must also pretend like he’s one of them. How does he do that you ask? With the Commode Story.
The Commode Story is an anecdote about a drug deal Orange’s alter ego was on and the other source of “dogs” in the title. In it, Orange walks into a bathroom before the deal goes down and discovers four cops and a police-dog standing right in the middle of the men’s room telling war stories amongst each other. As one of the cops comments on how close he came close to blowing a suspect’s head off during a traffic stop- Orange becomes increasingly paranoid when the police-dog starts barking at him. The dog can obviously smell the drugs on him. Even as the cop tells the dog to “shut up” that’s not enough to ease Orange’s mind. Orange presses a button that operates the hand-dryer on a nearby wall and there is a beat where all of the cops look and stare at him. Pretty intense stuff right? Well, Orange practices this story for days before telling it to Joe, Nice Guy Eddie and Mr. White. They all laugh and agree that Orange was in a super stressful situation but got through it, proving that he had the stones for job.
It is this bit of storytelling that sells his character to Mr. White. He bonds with Mr. White who is both the one of the most competent and emotionally weakest among the gang. Mr. White is so convinced and invested into Orange’s character that he reveals White reveals his true identity to him and defends him when Joe and the others discover that Orange is a cop. This of course leads to one of Tarantino’s famous Mexican Standoffs. In a sense, the whole film plays out like a Commode story.
The biggest theme of Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is that although essential to success- emotional attachments to others can compromise one’s judgement. Mr. White is truly the main victim of the story. He was so convinced that Mr. Orange was the real deal that he chose not to see any of the clues pointing to Orange.
White represents that emotional part of the criminal that people seem to gloss over. He isn’t a psychopath like his counterpart Mr. Blonde, nor is he a cynic like Mr. Pink. He’s someone who’s been double-crossed by an undercover cop before and because of this incident, distanced himself from his lover and partner, Alabama (another one of Tarantino’s characters). White and Orange’s relationship is the key to the entire picture and the overarching theme of the title.