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The “counterculture” of the 1960s was — deliberately — bizarre in and of itself, and it spawned a host of ever more bizarre manifestations.
One of these was the film that’s entertaining schlock called Billy Jack. Some critics have pointed that although it’s supposedly for the hippie ideals of peace and love, it’s full of violence.
That’s taking it far too seriously. I personally never thought it represented the real counterculture — Easy Rider came about as close as any fictional movie could — but it was fun.
(And the producers, who were Thomas Laughlin and his wife, who also starred in it, did believe they were helping to save the world. They did take it seriously.)
It’s hard to believe now, but back in 1971 Asian martial arts were still a novelty to most Americans. Sure, a few people saw Bruce Lee play sidekick Kato in the short-lived TV show The Green Hornet as it tried to imitate the success of Batman. Many others saw David Carradine in the TV show Kung Fu. (Although originally meant to capitalize on Bruce Lee’s talents after The Green Hornet was canceled, in the end the TV executives didn’t want to take the risk of making an Asian actor the star of an American TV show.)
Therefore, American audiences — unlike Asian ones — weren’t used to going to a movie theater just to see someone kick butt with just their hands and feet. In almost all American movies, the heroes kick butt with guns.
So Billy Jack gave us that pleasure, but tried to stop us from feeling guilty about enjoying the ass-kicking by making the bad guys racists. And they threw in a lot of hippie dippie nonviolent preaching as well.
And instead of having an Asian teacher call him grasshopper, as David Carradine did in Kung Fu, Billy Jack had an Indian wise man attempting to get him to control his temper.
Billy tries, he really does. But people just won’t stop doing things that make him angry, such as picking on the students at the Freedom School.
When Billy starts taking off his boots, you know some dumb-ass cowboy rednecks are going to whomped on by a stunt double who’s a real hapkido master (Laughlin was not).
The status of the Freedom School — loosely based on Prescott College — is vague. Who are all these children and why are they living there, and why does Jean have physical custody of them? Especially when they’re in an area not tolerant of multi-racial hippie schools?
Yes, Billy really does try not to lose his temper, but Bernard, the son of a rich local businessman, just keeps getting in his way, making Billy go berserk.
Finally, the inevitable happens. Billy finds Jean injured and upset, because Bernard raped her. Nonviolent Jean pleads with him not to commit violence, but the audience has been waiting for this, so he finds him in a whorehouse in Mexican and delivers the coup de grace.
It takes all the pleading she can deliver, but Jean finally convinces Billy to surrender to the police, and as he’s led away the crowd raises their fists in solidarity. Free Huey. Free Angela. Now it’s Free Billy Jack.
write by Alvin Lenahan