Up in Smoke

Tried persuading my friends to ring in the new year last night by watching Fellini. My wife’s idea: watch Up in Smoke instead. She won, so I watched it beginning to end for the first time. I’d figured it would have some funny gags – a greatest hits of Cheech and Chong’s standup – but it also moves superbly! I read a lot of indie dramas, and many of them don’t have as much conflict or forward momentum as Up in Smoke.

It starts with an ultimatum that could have been lifted from The Graduate, as Chong gets told, “You get a god damn job before sundown, or we’re shipping you off to military school with that god damn Finkelstein shit kid!” And all their hijinks get them deeper in trouble till they (Cheech and Chong the screenwriters) cheat by having their alter-egos enter a battle of the bands: a “Rock Fight” at the Roxy.

It  just so happens that the Roxy in L.A. was owned by Lou Adler, who’d won a grammy for producing Carol King’s Tapestry, and was director of, guess what, Up in Smoke. And here the quality of the film turns to unlit, almost documentary footage of real L.A. music scenesters of 1978 lining up for the Rock Fight, whose poster advertises “New Wave” like only an old impresario who wasn’t New Wave at all would highlight it.

In retrospect, everyone talks about Punk and New Wave like it saved their lives. It’s part of the Establishment now. Its artifacts are up the stairs and down the hall from the medieval triptychs at The Met. Truth be told, I never loved Punk or The New Wave, certainly not as much as I love seeing Cheech take the piss out of them:

Does Up in Smoke hold up thirty five years later? Does Howdy Doody have wooden balls? ¡Viva Cheech Marin! ¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

Comments

  1. DOES Howdy Doody have wooden balls?

  2. Ha! That’s Cheech’s answer when Chong first asks if he wants to get high? “Does Howdy Doody GOT wooden balls?” (I screwed up the verb.) It’s just before the line that places Marin next to Moliere in the history of comedy writers:

    “Is that a joint, man? That looks like a Quarter Pounder, man.”

  3. Oh. I didn’t realize the Howdy Doody thing was a joke. Now that I understand that, I’m laughing. Before I was just freaked out.

    The key to making the Quarter Pounder joke work, I think, are the “man”s.

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