To simply put it, Putney Swope
is the greatest “stick it to the man” film of all time. Director Robert Downey Sr. created a crass, offensive, out of place underground cinematic masterpiece that was way before its time. Putney Swope
is one of the best cult films of ’60s, an era of counterculture and rebellion in the United States, which now slowly mirrors today’s divide in our country.
This is a satire for the ages.
Essentially, it takes place in a major Manhattan advertisement firm back in the 1960s where the titular character, Putney Swope, the only black man on the board of directors is elected to lead the company by a unanimous vote after the head chairman falls to his death during a very important board meeting. This is because no one is allowed to vote for themselves to be the head chairman. The board members operate sub rosa, individually deciding to vote for someone that has no chance of winning to improve their own odds of winning.
Winning by a landslide in a satirical fashion, Putney Swope changes everything about the company. First, he fires all of the original board members and employees. Next, he changes the name of the company to “Truth and Soul”. Then he hires an extremely diverse staff which resembles the empowerment of people of color back in the ’60s. His new staff is a militant, politically correct and a young motley crew who vows to tell nothing but the truth.
During their conquest, they decide to forgo the major accounts which are in the liquor, cigarette, and military companies of whom they originally served. Putney finds success with his rash ideologies that eventually corrupts everyone because what they were doing was so innovative and groundbreaking for the time. Due to this, Putney even starts to dress like Fidel Castro, mirroring the political beliefs of communism which were also an innovative ideology for many countries at that day and age.
My favorite part of this film was how it was shot in mainly black and white but the commercials for “Truth and Soul” were displayed in color. This film is filled with one-liners that will make you laugh, scratch your head and really get you to think. But most importantly, there is a lot of satirical comedic genius behind this film.
The influence of this film has lived on to this very day. If you are a fan of the show Louie
then you will really appreciate this film. Louis CK incorporates a lot of similar situations/predicaments to his show. Even one of modern-day cinema’s most important filmmaker, Paul Thomas Anderson pays homage to Putney Swope
in many of his films. If you are a fan of these two influential people, watch this film because you can obviously tell where they drew a majority of their inspiration from. The more I watch this film, I have noticed where Louis CK and Paul Thomas Anderson learned their filmmaking techniques in terms of camera work, staging, lighting, and movement to apply it to their own work. It is incredible to see the similarities.
Other notable people that were influenced by this film are The Coen Brother’s, Dave Chapelle and Jane Fonda, who called this film a masterpiece on Johnny Carson.
The film is a mere 84 minutes long and it is available for free on YouTube, so why not satirically educate yourself and give it a shot?
More importantly, this film is relevant to today’s political issues in our country. Every day we are being lied to by big advertising firms, corporations, the media and by our politicians. There is a huge racial divide in our country that is bigger than ever. The White power structure, corporate corruption and racial portrayal in Hollywood are not progressing as well as it should be. It is 2017 and we have not made nearly the progress that we should have to move forward in today’s world. Putney Swope is a film that brilliantly satirizes all of these issues which have withstood the test of time, staying relevant after decades of its release as an underground independent art house film of the 1960s.
Why? Because it has the soul and tells the truth.
“The Zos Knows”.
The Cat of Cinema