Doesn’t it just make too much sense that Brian De Palma’s first feature film (well, the first to receive distribution, at any rate, though The Wedding Party was filmed earlier) was also reportedly the first American film to receive the then-new “X” rating from the MMPA? Greetings, and salutations to a career destined to be pockmarked by provocation. De Palma and producer/co-writer Charles Hirsch’s film turns the Vietnam War into a stylistic, 20th Century Foxy replay of the Hundred Years’ War, because Greetings is as much inspired by the rambunctiously unctuous French New Wave as it is a screwball New York approximation of London’s “angry young man” cinema. Whereas Hi, Mom!, the ersatz sequel to this 1968 underground cult lark, fragments one man’s life as an unconscientious social objector into three separate, radically diverse stages of development, Greetings presents its two writers’ alter egos in the form of a frazzled triptych. The math checks out with fewer useless remainders in the later film, but Greetings is more than just a handy setup. (Though a cameo appearance by Hitchcock/Truffaut turns out to be an intriguing McGuffin.) Robert De Niro plays Jon Rubin (likely the same person as the protagonist of Hi, Mom!, which would explain how he came up with the military fatigues for the film’s punchy final scene), an aimless young man who spends his time pretending to work in a bookstore so that he can observe people in their “private moments,” as he tells it to one shoplifting customer (Runtanya Alda, who played one of the most unfortunate audience members of the sequel’s “Be Black, Baby” episode). Gerrit Graham (later Phantom of the Paradise‘s would-be castrati Beef) is Lloyd Clay, a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist whose dark dreams seem to come true when he becomes #18 on the list of witnesses killed by shady government forces. As Greetings opens, both Jon and Lloyd are trying to show their third kooky compadre Paul Shaw (Jonathan Warden, sadly a one-and-done player in Troupe De Palma) the fine art of snowing the draft board psychologist, alternating between Lloyd’s actors’ workshop crash course in mincing and Jon’s suggestions to beat the government at their own game by pretending to be an über-wingnut. Apparently, Paul opted for faux faggotry, because when Jon shows up for his psych exam as a hipster Nazi, De Palma crash cuts to him in Vietnam, being interviewed for TV as he tries to force a nubile young Viet Cong ingénue into another crotch-centric, male-dominatrix “private moment.” Greetings kicked off a career full of them.
- Sigma III Corp.
- 88 min
- Brian De Palma
- Brian De Palma, Charles Hirsch
- Jonathan Warden, Robert De Niro, Gerrit Graham, Megan McCormick, Tina Hirsch, Rutanya Alda, Mona Feit, Allen Garfield, Ray Tuttle
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