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Multiple Maniacs

Less grandiose than his alter ego, Waters is content to take potshots at the current system. The DeMented gang desecrates a biography of David Lean, shoots up a theater showing the "director's cut" of Patch Adams, battles Teamsters to disrupt the filming of Gump Again with Kevin Nealon in the title role, and takes refuge in a friendly porn theater. Honey, ultimately made up to resemble Waters's first diva, Divine, is tricked into launching a terrorist attack on the Maryland Film Commission luncheon and consequently considered to have joined the gang. Although the cult has a Yippie-like appreciation of the media and uses a few Manson Family formulations, this is Waters's version of the '60s-ending Patty Hearst story. (Indeed, Patty herself has a celebrity cameo.)

The movie is disappointingly flat, but at least it's not mawkish. Where Steal This Movie! delivers a final insult by ending with a sappy blast of Crosby, Stills, and Nash ("Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice"), Cecil B. DeMented has the grace to send the audience out with a piece of Waters-written rap that brags, "We ain't got no budget. Fuck keeping it clean. Ain't nobody putting us in turnaround. We ain't recouping shit."


"Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice": D’Onofrio with fellow life-actors in Steal This Movie!
photo: David Milne
"Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice": D’Onofrio with fellow life-actors in Steal This Movie!

Details

Steal This Movie!
Directed by Robert Greenwald
Written by Bruce Graham
A Lions Gate release
Opens August 18

Cecil B. DeMented
Written and directed by John Waters
An Artisan release

The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack
Directed by Aiyana Elliott
Written by Elliott and Dick Dahl
A Lot 47 release
Film Forum
Through August 29

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An unusually rich music doc, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack has three concerns. The first is the tradition created on behalf of the folk during the middle third of the 20th century; the second is the process by which doctor's son Elliott Adnopoz, born in Brooklyn 69 years ago, ran off to join the rodeo, and returned as Ramblin' Jack Elliott; the third is the attempt by filmmaker Aiyana Elliott to make contact with this elusive figure, her father.

Some people are born authentic, others achieve authenticity. Ramblin' Jack never made the big time. (The film suggests a 1969 appearance on Johnny Cash's TV show as his career high point.) But, true to his invented persona, he's still doing the same thing that, back in 1961, made him the heartthrob of Gerde's Folk City, picking and yodeling his "cowboy music"—a hipster in a battered Stetson, peering through wire-rimmed glasses with the quizzical air of a wizened yeshiva student.

A bit meandering itself, Ramblin' Jack has a home-movie quality—and not just because of the amazing amount of old footage the filmmaker has excavated. There's plenty of family stuff to ponder. Ancient relatives dis Jack's overbearing parents—citing a nasty streak that one can see has been passed on. Young Elliott was expected to be a doctor, but he found himself a new father. Astonished to discover Woody Guthrie living in Coney Island, Elliott all but moved into the Guthrie household. As the ailing singer-songwriter's last and most adoring sidekick, he would subsequently channel Woody for a younger generation of performers—including Bob Dylan, another curly-haired Jewish cowboy, who began his career by parroting Ramblin' Jack's nasal, faux-Okie bawl.

The filmmaker, meanwhile, is stuck with the father she barely knew. "The thing is, I can't remember having an actual conversation with my dad," she recalls. The sagelike advice she receives from Arlo Guthrie—another, if differently abandoned child—is that she never will. Aiyana is still trying to get her father's attention even as he receives the ultimate Ozark recognition—a National Medal of the Arts presented by the ultimate '60s rambling man, Bill Clinton.

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