It may be pretty obscure nowadays, but this was one of the key
underground films of the nineties, a beyond-strange Tijuana-set reverie
on the JFK assassination that freely incorporates pornography and
SMALL WHITE HOUSE, from 1990, was largely dismissed by
the underground press, although it was heavily promoted in the pages of
Film Threat Video Guide (which in 1994 included it in their
Underground Films You Must See” ranking). Since then the
film, for better or worse, has largely fallen off the map.
In early-1960s Tijuana a hustler named Plato puts on a
private art exhibition in a cheap motel. In this way he lures a young
couple, Jackie and Johnny, into his fold. The sexually voracious Jackie
and laid-back skateboarder Johnny have just arrived in Tijuana, and are
up for all manner of experimentation, sexual and otherwise. After Jackie
pisses on a mannequin these three nutcases head to a bar where Plato’s
mother Psyche works, crooning Julio Iglesias tunes to disinterested
patrons. There Johnny becomes constipated and a cackling Plato pours
milk on him as he makes out with Jackie in the crapper.
The following day Johnny is shot in the head as Plato
drives him and Jackie through town. Alone in their apartment later on,
Jackie enthusiastically masturbates to memories of the killing of
Johnny--who has somehow come back to life.
Later in the week a new character, a shy redhead named
Mary Lynne, happens upon Jackie and Johnny canoodling on a beach. Jackie
is immediately smitten, and makes Mary Lynne a fixture in the orgies she
and Johnny throw. When Mary Lynne is whisked away by a randy biker it
seems this happy threesome is finished…but Mary Lynne returns, and
Jackie proposes a three-way marriage. Mary Lynne, however, quickly grows
disenchanted and commits suicide via a cereal of pills, leading Johnny
and Jackie to hit the open sea in a rowboat.
Figuring this film out admittedly takes some doing. It
often plays like a collection of disconnected skits tenuously held
together by generic mariachi tunes--and indeed, that’s essentially what
it is. Writer-director Richard Newton delights in tweaking convention at
every turn: narrative continuity is continuously fractured by every
means imaginable, including the repeated killing of Johnny, who is
invariably brought back to life with no explanation.
Yet Newton’s visual brilliance is undeniable. The
colorful imagery has a definite sense of style, and the gorgeous
cinematography by Sven Kirsten is a joy to watch, with an artful, even
subtle sheen. This doesn’t change the fact that the sexual angle is
extremely blunt in every respect (sample dialogue: “At least I know
where her dildo’s been!”), and that Newton has an unnatural
obsession with urination.
Where things truly get strange are in the many oblique
references to the JFK assassination. The subject was of course quite
popular at the time SMALL WHITE HOUSE was made (its initial release
coincided with that of Oliver Stone’s JFK), and appears to be Newton’s
main concern. Note the fact that the protagonists are named Jackie,
Johnnie and Mary Lynne (as in Monroe), along with the frequent
references to “Camelot,” the sight of characters riding around in a
Lincoln convertible and the oft-repeated image of Johnny’s head getting
hit in slow motion by a bullet--and snapping backward and to the left.
Truthfully I have no idea what Newton is trying to say about JFK and his
death, in a film that ultimately adds up to a gorgeously mounted mess.
SMALL WHITE HOUSE
Traction Avenue Films
Director/Producer/Editor: Richard Newton
Screenplay: Richard Newton, Joy Nicholson
Cinematography: Sven Kirsten
Cast: Cristina Kuta, Orb Kamm, Heather Elias, Enrico Boettcher, Vanessa
Ortiz, Richard Newton, Olga, Kathy Foy, Brian Doyle-Murray, Freedom
Sukenick, Shahira Eversole, Iris Parker