Taking Off is director Milos Forman’s (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) first US feature, a coming-of-age story with a difference. Lynn Carlin and Buck Henry are the parents searching for their runaway teenager who find their own lost youth.
With Taking Off out now on DVD and Blu-ray, Ian Hoey, discovers a film that deserves reassessment 40 years after its release.
A huge amount of life seems to be about auditioning these days, which is one reason why the opening to Taking Off is so interesting, alarming and amusing. It’s 1971 and quite what this wildly varied collection of young women and girls are auditioning for is never explained, even though the action repeatedly cuts back to it.
Keep an eye on the auditionees and you’ll see Carly Simon vocalising as to the merits of smoking marijuana, despite the fact that “the long term physical effects are not yet known”. She’s certainly not too worried as “the short term physical effects are so groovy”. She’s clearly not alone in her appreciation of getting high, as the collected female talent ranges from the innocent and naive to the stoned and hysterical.
The standout musical performance, despite an incidental appearance from Ike and Tina Turner blasting out ‘Goodbye, So Long’ complete with the sort of dancing that makes you glad to be alive, has to be from a young Kathy Bates.
Making her debut film appearance, she performs her own composition, ‘And Even The Horses Had Wings’, under the remarkable name of Bobo Bates. It’s a show stopping turn that has everyone in the room staring in silence at her, though they may all be trying to figure out what the Bobo was all about.
Trying to figure things out is the key theme to the picture as the narrative really kicks off when a middle-aged couple discover their teenage daughter has disappeared. She’s ostensibly gone to the audition but the parents are unaware of this.
The Tynes are the couple in question and, like so many people in movies of that era, they have a magnificent inability to understand the younger generation. This incomprehension is shared by almost everyone aged beyond their early twenties that we come across.
At the root, so the olds think, of this chasm between the young blood and the established society is the smoking of weed and there is much hilarity to be found in the ordered fashion with which the members of the SPLC (Society for the Parents of Lost Children) attempt to understand this alien substance and the faux educational way that they indulge in it.
Of course, the vices of the parents are ever-present with booze, lust and nicotine but they delude themselves that what their kids are looking for is so far removed from their own understanding that they best seek enlightenment from similarly afflicted parents or a dork with a drug habit.
The whole thing is a wandering mishmash that is never far from brilliance. The parents are idiots but likeable idiots and none of the people they cross paths with during the hunt are particularly nasty either, whether they be fellow parents, thieving hippies or lusty frauds. It’s a film with a gloriously simple premise rolled in the same skin as a social commentary and gleefully highlights the funny side of it all.
Taking Off could refer to the runaway, the drug hits or even the drunken strip poker that occurs near the end.
The unfortunate fact is that it couldn’t refer to the success of its initial release. It’s a mystery how a film as good as this could have been all but forgotten by the majority of movie fans but there’s no reason why it can’t still attain the popular cult status it deserves.
Taking Off is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon and all good retailers.
Ian Hoey was General Manager of the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh, Scotland, for over five years. Born in Poughkeepsie, USA and raised in Greenock, he has lived in Edinburgh since the late eighties. Among his all-time favourite viewing pleasures are the film Theatre of Blood and the original episodes of The Twilight Zone.