Loose Ends
Stepping backwards

by Eric Breitbart

from Jump Cut, no. 12-13, 1976, p. 28
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1976, 2004

LOOSE ENDS is a low budget fiction feature shot in Minneapolis in 1974. Its choice of subject—the relationship between two working class men and their desire to escape from their depressing lives—differs from the majority of independent (and not so independent) features released in the past few years. Since theatrical films serve primarily as escape valves for fantasy projections, it is no accident that films dealing with the problems of everyday life are conspicuously absent from the screen; those that make a conscious effort to locate their characters in a specific working class context are few indeed.

As a first feature, the film is an impressive achievement. Its self-assurance, attention to detail, and the ability to retain its primary focus are qualities not usually found in low budget, independent films. Aside from a few overlit interiors, the photography and camerawork are excellent in their unobtrusiveness (the same could be said for the music), important considerations in a film that strives for naturalism.

The story concerns two friends, Eddy and Billy, who work together in a garage. Eddy is married with a four-year-old son, and his wife is pregnant. Billy is divorced and unhappy with his life. What follows amounts to a courtship between the two men. Billy is always nagging (the word is appropriate here) Eddy to come out for a few beers or to shoot a game of pool. Although it is never made clear why they have sought out each other’s exclusive company, their relationship continues until a screaming match between Ed and his wife sends the two men off on a trip to Denver to start a new life.

In terms of Hollywood conventions, it is interesting to think of what the relationship would have been in a “normal” love triangle, with Eddy running away with another woman at the end. Certainly there would have been the obligatory scene in which the “other woman” says how she “understands” him more than his wife does, instead of Billy’s “What do you need this shit for? Let’s split!” Since both the men are pretty far out of touch with reality, there is no discussion about what they would actually do once they got to Denver. It is all part of the pre-adolescent mentality of the male mystique.

One of the strengths of the film is that the sexual undercurrent in the men’s relationship is both obvious and muted. Most of this is generated by the performance of Chris Mulkey, who plays Billy with a fey sensuality that makes an essentially pathetic character attractive. But there is little warmth in the relationships. The three people in the film have displaced their feelings of affection for each other into some neutral space, so no one really connects, no one communicates. In such a situation, there is little possibility of growth, development, or change. When Eddy is back at his job at the end of the film (their car breaks down, and they run out of money in Iowa), we feel that the last spark of rebelliousness has been shut off.

In part, the film attempts a debunking of the male-buddy road movie, which serves as fantasy food for people like Billy and Eddy. But to deny the creams of escape when the day-to-day reality is so depressing is to miss the boat. People who are as blind to the possibilities of change and (dare I use the word) happiness in their own lives as the characters in the film are will always find some means of avoiding reality.

And like the movies it seeks to demystify, LOOSE ENDS gives the woman the shortest shrift. Since the film is really about the men, Ginny, the wife, is presented in the most unattractive light possible. She is the trap that Eddy is running from. The child is never dealt with at all. Eddy rarely speaks to him, or even acknowledges his presence. The boy is, as it were, part of the baggage. Pregnant, isolated, and ignored by her husband, Ginny can only whine for a house in the suburbs, or lash out in anger. When she confides some of her true feelings to Billy, he puts her down for it. It’s too bad the filmmakers didn't give her a few friends so they could have ganged up on the men a little. The movie takes place in Minneapolis, but at times it seems as though the three of them are on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. While this may in fact be intentional, it works against the naturalistic tone of the film.

In the end, it was the deadend, totally negative picture of working class life that flawed the picture for me. Granted that it is necessary for people to learn that they can't live by illusions, but they must have some place to start from. It is the most pessimistic picture of the working class possible: men who are so limited by their jobs and outlook on life that they can only live in fantasy or abject surrender. It is Archie Bunker politics with a vengeance.

This is not to say that there aren't working class people who are escapist, insensitive, and incapable of affection. It is just that these are not generic traits. There are also people like Jane Giese in the Ashur/ Barton/ Mulford/ Palewski documentary, JANIE'S JANIE; the Kensington residents in Hugh King’s WE THE PEOPLE; and the Chicago family in Kartemquin’s NOW WE LIVE ON CLIFTON, who show just how exceptional “ordinary” people can be.


LOOSE ENDS (108 min. 16mm b&w). Written, produced and directed by: David Burton Morris and Victoria Wozniak. With: Chris Mulkey, John Jenkins, Linda Jenkins. Music: John Paul Hammond. Executive Producer: Allan Fingerhut. Distributed by: Twyman Films, Inc., 329 Salem Avenue, Dayton, Ohio 45401. Reviewed at the Whitney Museum New Filmmakers Series, New York City.