John Barth surely ranks among the least screen-adaptable modern (or, perhaps, postmodern) American novelists. His stories are about themselves; the words, their own subject. It's not surprising that only one of his books has made it to the big screen. In fact, what's surprising is that any of them did. On the other hand,
Which brings me to “End of the Road” — never available on American video of any sort, but finally coming out on
Before his first full-on masterpiece, the 800-page “The Sot-weed Factor” (published in 1960, when Barth was only 30), the author wrote two other novels that were more accessible, more conventional, and, most of all, shorter than what was to follow. “The End of the Road” — some editions drop the “The” — is the story of Jacob Horner, who, fresh out of grad school, has an identity crisis — a really major-league identity crisis. He goes to a train station and — lacking the motivation for any particular action — just stands there unmoving for hour after hour. He is finally approached by a looney doctor, who — specializing in exactly such afflictions — hauls him off to his asylum, the Remobilization Farm. After some “treatment,” Horner is functional enough to take a teaching job, which sets the scene for some grim emotional melodrama.
Aram Avakian — a highly respected editor who occasionally directed — collaborated on the screenplay with his longtime friend Terry Southern, who was at the time a very hot screenwriter (“Dr. Strangelove,” “The Cincinnati Kid,” “Candy,” “The Loved One”). The cast included
Avakian and his team managed to make the film even weirder and more abstract than the book, with some psychedelic effects, Godardian jump-cutting, and performances no less mannered than in “Last Year at Marienbad.” It somehow rated a nine-page spread in Life magazine, but also got an X rating from the MPAA, presumably for a horrifying abortion scene and a shot or two of a man forcing his carnal attentions on a chicken.
The new DVD is from a pristine print and the main extra is a 33-minute documentary from
"End of the Road" (Warner Home Video, DVD, $19.97)