BRIEF FROM ONE OF THE BOOKLETS - CHRISTINA NEWLAND ON 'HI, MOM!'
Arrow's new limited edition box set, "De Niro & De Palma - The Early Films," is here, and, having only delved partway through so far, it is nonetheless very very cool. The final product does not have two of the originally expected extras: new interviews with Gerrit Graham and Peter Maloney are nowhere to be found. What is here, however, is terrific-- even with two of the films, The Wedding Party and Greetings, sharing the same disc (original marketing imagery for the collection suggested three independent discs and covers).
Appearing in the booklet for Hi, Mom!, Christina Newland's essay, "American Godard," is named for Brian De Palma's off-the-cuff remark to an interviewer in 1969 that "If I could be the American Godard, that would be great." Linking these early films to De Palma's later work, Newland states that De Palma's style "has always cheerfully drawn attention to itself." Focusing on Hi, Mom!, Newland writes that the film's narrative "speeds along with nervy ingenuity and a chaotic structure; you might say this is a film with a multiple personality disorder. Loosely divided into three jarring acts, each more wild than the last, De Palma follows a chameleonic young man, Jon Rubin, on the streets of New York City, attempting several different utterly insane ambitions."
Toward the end of her essay, Newland zeros in more precisely on De Niro's Jon Rubin as chameleon:
In the final portion of the film, Jon seemingly becomes entrenched in domestic terrorism and decides to disguise himself as a 'square' by marrying. The artificiality of Jon's faux-domestic set-up recalls a '50s sitcom, underpinned by a Weathermen Underground-style bombing that's thoroughly of the '70s. Though few might characterise the director of Carrie (1976) and Scarface as explicitly political, De Palma applies scalpel-like cynicism toward Jon's flirtation with underground social movements. Perhaps it's a young leftist's frustration with insincerity within the movement.
Still, little in Hi, Mom! is straightforward. In Greetings, De Niro's Jon was a draft-dodger; in Hi, Mom!, he's a veteran, seemingly displaced by his role in that war. Many comparisons have been made between this and De Niro's later role as a 'Nam vet in Taxi Driver (1976), but he's the real spiritual antecedent of another darkly comic role for Scorsese: Rupert Pupkin. Like the delusional wannabe of The King Of Comedy (1983), Jon is so phony he's almost earnest in his phoniness. This is evident in the final set-up, when Jon wrangles his way to the front of a television news broadcast about the explosion he himself devised. As with so much of De Palma's work, we are watching people who are watching other people; some of whom know they are being watched and act accordingly. The intended result is a sort of endless, empty hall of mirros; a media spectacle with no meaning.
Regarding Hi, Mom! now - either as a direct sequel to Greetings or simply as a madcap counterculture relic - it doesn't necessarily equate to coherent greatness. But it does hint at the ways in which De Palma, along with the best of his generation of filmmakers, could marry the arthouse and the commercial in their later work. When they applied teh radical stylings of their art film interests to make challenging mainstream cinema of the era, the New Hollywood flowered into being.