Nov 8, 2007

The Rainbow Man / John 3:16 (1997)

If Other Cinema was hiring, I'd drop everything and go work for them. But since they're in California, and the chances of that happening are about as likely as Criterion putting out The Star Wars Holiday Special, I'll just have to content myself with praising their fine line of DVD's in my irregular blog posts that are commonly peppered with the enroaching angst of middle-aged disappointment.

But Craig Baldwin's label Other Cinema is a marvelous resource for interesting, offbeat independent or experimental films, and documentaries. The diversity of his catalogue speaks to the outsider, either by mastering some obscure films that the general populace couldn't otherwise see under normal circumstances, or in that the films themselves are about interesting people or cultural trends that work outside of the system (and in many cases, become swallowed by it).

I am not old enough to have remembered the ubiquitious presence of Rollen Frederick Stewart, AKA- The Rainbow Man, who would always appear in the stands at televised sporting events with his rainbow-coloured wig, and thusly became a mini-celebrity in the process. And even if I were, chances are I would still only have seen him once a year, in those times when I am always dragged by ankles to some bar to watch the Super Bowl (which to me is about as exciting as a tap water tasting party).... I mean, come on guys, do I drag you kicking and screaming to my screenings? (Well, maybe I should start...) Regardless, this documentary by Sam Green (he who gave us The Weather Underground)is universal, and in the ten years since its completion, perhaps even a more relevant diatribe against the celebrity machine, in which people know more about the problems of Lindsay Lohan than their own family, in light of such shows as "American Idol", in which nobodies can become a star for fiteen minutes.... and often at their own expense.

With his rainbow coloured afro wig, and spreading good vibes everywhere, Mr. Stewart became an interesting symbol of the hedonistic "me generation". As such, his fame got him fortune, which was quickly squandered. And before we think this is yet another case of a casualty of the 70s fast lane, his career was born again, literally and figuratively. He converted to Christianity and started preaching the good word in public instead (he and his wife would have shirts with "John 3:16" on them). These two chapters in his life are not incongruous-- either era of his career paint a picture of a man who is absolutely fanatical about what he does. (And we later learn how his obsessiveness met with tragedy.) But also, when he wasn't spreading good vibes or the good word, he would consume television like it was air. This man was-is so obsessed with the broadcast band, and knew how to use it for his own purposes, and in that regard, it is surprising how someone so media savvy, who knew how to milk the system, ultimately became a tragic figure of it.

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