In the film Roseland, director Fredric Hobbs stated, “You cannot fart around with love.” He was right. That’s why I love him.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d never, ever recommend a Fredric Hobbs film to anyone. Like Andy Milligan and William Klein, Hobbs is an outsider artist — first and foremost. Nearly 90% of this planet’s population would be repelled, frazzled, or struck comatose in the presence of his ambitiously crude films. They’re inexplicable. They’re beyond surreal. And most of the time, you’re watching in hopes that something more, something aggregated, is going to happen. But it rarely does. Instead, we are left to contend with the effects of a brilliant musical interlude amidst tons of naked people (Roseland, 1971), an eight foot tall sheep/poop monster amidst political fumbling (Godmonster Of Indian Flats, 1973), and a reefer-obsessed Nazi vampire amidst . . . something else entirely. Welcome to Alabama’s Ghost.
Alabama’s Ghost is the most linear work in Hobbs’s brief weirdo filmography. It has a plot, one that can be (pretty much) followed — if you are Fredric Hobbs. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is only one Fredric Hobbs. By that logic, Alabama only makes sense if you and I pretend to understand it.
A Criswell-esque narrator speaks of magic hash-hish, Nazis, a vanishing elephant, and black coffins while smoke drifts over vast constellations. And so it begins! Alabama (Christopher Brooks) works as a jack-of-all trades at Turk Murphy’s dixieland jazz club. After a stumble down the basement steps, fate smiles. For Alabama discovers the belongings of old magician Carter The Great, and subsequently becomes an overnight sensation for “bringing the magic to a new generation!” Of course, fame does not come without foibles. Remember the magic hash-hish? The elephant? The vampires? Yep. They’re all here. And they all spell trouble for our hero. But not the robot. Or the voodoo. Or the elephant — he steps on (and kills) Alabama’s crummy agent.
In a sense, the elaborate Alabama strays little from the Hobbs films which came before it. There are boisterous EVENTS (a vampire feed-assembly line, Carter’s ghost’s freakish resurrection) surrounded by tedious spurts of padding. The photography is never less than impressive, especially during Alabama’s frantic escape from a purple-faced female vampire. Performances range from vérité-lite to effectively intense. The overall creativity in terms of sets, insane props, lighting, and design would make Coffin Joe cower with envy.
All of that said, I stand by my claim. Alabama is the last film that Fredric Hobbs released before moving on to a prestigious career as a sculptor. And it may be his most “accessible” offering. But, this is still a Hobbs film. Self-involved. Difficult. Confusing. As such, Alabama cannot be recommended to anyone. However, I will continue watching it, Roseland, and Godmonster Of Indian Flats whenever the mood hits. Because I admire their singularity.
And I don’t fart around with love.