Thursday July 25, 1996
"Dusty and Sweets McGee," Floyd Mutrux's lyrical yet clear-eyed 1971 take on the L.A. hard-drug scene, is more powerful than ever because we know how much worse everything is today. The city as a whole has gotten shabbier and meaner, there are more lethal drugs out there, and the cheap motels where most of the young people in this picture crash are not nearly as affordable.
As a movie, "Dusty" remains exhilarating in its easy-flowing style, in its honest depiction both of how heroin gives you a rush and how it brings you down, sometimes fatally. It's a testament to its sad timelessness and to Mutrux's skill that it still has impact, even if you've just seen "Trainspotting," the summer's hot, cutting-edge movie about a group of young Scottish heroin addicts.
Mutrux's people, most of whom are actual drug users--past or present--playing themselves, mostly using only their first names, are decidedly laid-back in contrast to "Trainspotting's" firebrands. In a seamless blend of fiction and cinema verite, Mutrux shrewdly shoves plot aside to move back and forth between the daily existences of a rugged hard-case ex-con, Tip, who's 33, and two couples.
Larry and Pam, listed simply as Boy and Girl, are teenagers. The other couple is in their '20s--they're Dusty and Sweets McGee, in real life Beverly and Mitch, but no more or less important than anyone else in the film.
Billy Gray, once of "Father Knows Best," plays a scary, street-tough dealer and is the only professional actor in the film but blends right in. Among other key individuals is a handsome but wasted-looking male hustler, Kit Ryder, who, for purposes of what little plot there is, sets up the murder-robbery of a drug wholesaler played by a barely glimpsed William Fraker, the film's ace cinematographer and also one of its producers. Much of the film was shot on the run, and Fraker's talent and resourcefulness has resulted in capturing a sense of time and place that remains the film's strongest asset.
We don't learn any more about these people than they're willing to tell us. (Their actual stories are reportedly pretty hair-raising.) Instead of asking us to care about them, Mutrux gives us a most persuasive idea of what life is like when you've given it entirely over to drugs that, unless you're willing and able to quit, will sooner or later destroy you. Mutrux doesn't shy away from the seductiveness of hard drugs as an escape from the responsibilities of ordinary life.
While "Dusty and Sweets McGee" screens for one week at the Nuart starting today, the theater will present Mutrux's 1978 "American Hot Wax" Friday at midnight and Saturday and Sunday at noon. Once again, Fraker's contribution is crucial in this meticulously evoked piece of '50s nostalgia in which Mutrux and writer John Kaye are evasive in regard to their central figure, Alan Freed, and his possible involvement with payola.
Nonetheless, the late Tim McIntire is terrific as Freed, the New York disc jockey credited with coining the term "rock 'n' roll." Parallel stories converge at a mammoth rock 'n' roll show featuring actual stars of the era such as Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Look for Fran Drescher as Freed's very proper secretary pursued by Freed's driver, played by none other than Jay Leno.
Dusty and Sweets McGee, 1996. R. There is much drug taking and strong language. A Kit Parker release of a Warners presentation of a Laughlin, Fraker, Mutrux production with Michael J. Parson. Writer-director Floyd Mutrux. Producer Michael S. Laughlin. Cinematographer William A. Fraker. Editor Richard A. Harris. Music Rick Nelson. Songs: Blue Images, Harry Nilsson, Van Morrison, Jake Holmes. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Clifton "Tip" Fredell as Tip. Kit Ryder as Hustler. Beverly as Dusty. Mitch as Sweets. Billy Gray as City Life.