Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sixteen

Lawrence Dobkin | 1973 | 96 mins | USA

When I stumbled upon the poster and trailer for this film, I truly thought it would be a hilarious wild ride through the backwoods, featuring a Clampett-esque family's attempt to keep their sexy adolescent daughter in check as she comes to terms with her budding sexuality. I expected something between a trashy sex romp and a low budget coming of age drama. In reality, the short shorts and lush landscape are just a backdrop for a much stranger morality tale in which sex is secondary [and intrinsically linked] to a heavy-handed lesson about the dangerous influence of money.

"The modern world" is infringing on the Irtley family's rural southern idyll in the form of a highway that is slated to cross their land. The family resigns itself to this grim new reality and is paid handsomely by the developers, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3,000. Ma Irtley (Mercedes McCambridge, who you might know as Linda Blair's demon voice in The Exorcist) understands immediately that this astronomically high sum will have a corrosive effect and bring nothing but trouble for the family. She tries to stem the tide of misfortune by burying the money in the yard, but alas, when innocence is taken away, it can never be regained again.

The Irtley family consists of Ma, Pa and three kids - a young boy and two teens - Simone Griffeth as the titular sixteen-year-old Naomi and John Lozier (a local who never acted before or after this film) as her older brother, Bruvver. They live a life of such extreme naiveté that it borders on the disturbing. Their simple, childlike relationship is set up as potentially incestuous during a skinny dipping scene early on in the film, but both seem so wide eyed that it's a bit like watching two five-year-olds unselfconsciously play naked in newfound teenage bodies. In other words: creepy.

Even though they're more than a little wary of the corruption money will bring, Ma and Pa decide to let loose a bit by taking the entire family to the State Fair, where their teenage children come face to face with the greed and opportunism of the 'real world' - Naomi falling prey to a sleazy stunt motorcyclist while Bruvver is snared in the golddigging web of a trashy exotic dancer. The night of sin and seduction threatens to tear the family apart, naturally, and they're forced to come to terms with the ways in which they've been irrevocably changed - not just by their own recent wealth, but by rapidly encroaching modernity.

Though I didn't recognize her at all in the film, I discovered later that Simone Griffeth went on to play navigator Annie Smith in Death Race 2000 just two years later. It's unfortunate that she went on to toil in television obscurity for years after such an auspicious start.

2 comments:

Michael said...

Sorry, but you lost me at, "sex is secondary..."

katarina said...

Secondary in terms of the weird point the film is trying to make, but don't worry - it's not secondary in terms of showing you 16 year old boobs.