Premonition (1972)

Remember in high school when you heard that smoking banana peels would get you high? Then some kid who may or may not have been you totally tried it? And remember how for fifteen minutes the kid wondered if balls were actually being tripped or if balls were just having a bad headache? Then remember how some other kid said that smoking banana peels was bullshit, and that the real business was taking aspirin and Coke? And then some other kid was like “No you idiot, that’s what you feed to pigeons to make them explode.”

Recently, I learned that kids in England were shooting up Pantene to get high. Pantene, as in the shampoo. It stings when you get it in your eyes, so it’s unclear why you’d ever want to put it in your veins. There’s also this trend where girls use tampons soaked in vodka to get drunk because I guess drinking it is just too much of a hassle. Plus, if you’re on your cycle, why not kill two birds with one stone, right?

My point is that kids will do anything to get high and, in addition, they are dumber than a bag of hair. Then some kids grow up and land robots on Mars, and others grow up to become a man named Neil.

Neil is a lanky hippie who walks through a field playing acoustic guitar. He looks at the camera, crashing down the fourth wall. “I haven’t thought about it for a long time…I consider it like an old wound. What’s the healing if it just gets real? It’s real, alright. Too real. But, what’s real?” What he’s saying is confusing, but then he smokes a J, and it all makes sense—in that way high people make sense, which is not at all.

We flash back to Neil’s story. He accompanies a professor to the desert and quickly the synths go from bleeps and bloops to a crescendo of a drone. The professor happens upon a skeleton. There are strange red flowers. They are supposed to be exotic, but you can get them at the grocery store. They’re called anthurium and your mom would love them for Mother’s Day. Think of your mother for once; she deserves better.

Neil gets creeped out by the skeleton and quickly he has a vision. It’s a blurry figure shrouded in stage fog and bathing in white light. What could it be? He has visions of himself on the ground, dead, surrounded by three ladies clad in flowing white gowns. A bundle of anthurium lay on his still chest. What could it mean?

Let’s not worry about that now because first we have to watch Neil and his band play. Neil plays the harmonica, which is the scabies of musical instruments—horrible and found in thrift stores. He’s accompanied by Baker on guitar, and also Andy on guitar. You should know that Andy’s father made millions on selling plumbing and poor Andy can’t stand the fact that “any time anyone flushes a toilet, they make money.” This is a thing that is said in this movie.

Neil, Andy, and Baker head to some dilapidated house to write music because this is how they’re going to make it famous. Andy smokes weed, which allegedly affects his guitar playing, but when he moves on to smoking the exotic red flower, the balls start tripping. He gets strange visions and nightmares. And they are the same as Neil’s!

Premonition is plodding and repetitive and lacks even a simulacrum momentum. It’s less about premonitions, visions of the Grim Reaper, or psychedelic drugs trips, and more about being in a band with a harmonica player.

“It must be fascinating to be a musician.”
“It hurts too. It hurts when you want to say something with your music but your own limitations are painful.”

There are tedious sequences of the band, padded by a girl on a horse and people who smoke weed while wearing fringed vests, the harmonica of clothing. There’s talking, static shots of Neil looking bewildered, and more talking. There’s also some whining for good measure. The climax—when it finally arrives—falls overwhelmingly short. Premonition is reminiscent of J.C.; both explore hippie-drug-culture and sling an illegal amount of acoustic guitar. This is director Alan Rudolph’s first movie, which came after he spent years working with Robert Altman on The Long Goodbye, California Split, and Nashville. While you might feel touches of Altman in Rudolph’s technique, what you really feel is skull-crushing monotony and then suddenly shooting up Pantene sounds like a good idea. Someone pass me the shampoo.

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