Taking Tiger Mountain (1983)

In 1974, nineteen years old Bill Paxton and his friend Kent Smith had some film left over from making the movie Lenny and hit the Morocco “Hippie Trail” to make their own movie. However, they lost their equipment at the Charles de Gaulle Airport where they lost — more like impounded — their equipment and had to pay for it to be released.

That’s what sent Bill and Kent to the UK, where they shot silent footage using locals all around South Wales. The film they made took a decade to see the light of day, but now it is available. And it’s really something else.

Also — the title isn’t a Brian Eno reference. Both this movie and teh musician were inspired by album was inspired by a Chinese revolutionary opera with the same title.

Paxton told Variety that “The original idea was kind of like The Stranger set on the beach. But the story of making the film gets crazier when we get to Wales. We had purchased black-and-white short ends (film stock) from the film Lenny, and we sort of shot things as we came across them. One guy had a Kenyan vulture, so we used that for a scene of eating my entrails. We met some girls and talked them into doing some nude scenes with us. Basically it was a bunch of hippies running around naked. It was all silent, black-and-white footage. Years later, director Tom Huckabee got the rights to some writings of William Burroughs, added an audio track and shot some new footage. So miraculously, he made something out of this, and it did get released. Kind of.”

That’s because in 1975, Smith gave the footage to University of Texas student Tom Huckabee, who based the script on a poem he wrote about the J. Paul Getty kidnapping. Originally, he intended the movie to be a dream about an American waking up a train with no memories before he wanders into a town, has some adventures and dies. But once he assembled the footage, he was unhappy with the results. 

That’s how this became a movie about a group of militant feminist scientists who brainwash Paxton and get him to assassinate the Welsh Minister of Prostitution. Throw in some audio recordings of William Burroughs and new footage and the film was briefly distributed by Horizon Films and exhibited In the US by the Landmark theater chain.

Huckabee told Beatdom, “I should mention that I was fairly regularly during this time, maybe once every one or two months, on acid, mushrooms, and baby woodrose seeds… this, added with all the experimental film I was seeing, and avant-garde and erotic and left wing and feminist political literature I was reading, kept my mind open to outré thematic and formal tropes… so, say, if a scene wasn’t working I could always run it upside down and backwards… Also by then I was thoroughly versed in MKUltra brainwashing, psychic warfare, so in that respect I think I was getting a lot of that independently from Burroughs, maybe from the same source he was getting it.”

The constant newspeak throughout the film documenting the fall of American, the overlayering of Burroughs’ words and the bleak black and white footage all contributes to a hallucinogenic and paranoid trip into a post-apocalyptic future that doesn’t appear all that different from our world today — other than New York City being flooded and filled with alligators and sharks.

You can find this movie for free on Archive.org or order it from Vinegar Syndrome. Just be prepared — or excited — to see Bill Paxton’s dong.

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