“It’s autumn now Janie. Your favorite season. The season when everything is dying. When life turns gold and brown and drops from the trees until the whole world is dead. Barren, frozen, stiff, lifeless, dead. Autumn is the best season of the year, Janie. It proclaims death to all.”
According to the people actually involved with making 1970’s Janie, its authorship resembles a European roadside guidepost with its arrows pointed in every which direction. The mostly settled science says that the film is likely true to what’s reflected in its opening credits; directed by Jack Bravman with Roberta Findlay getting a photography director and camera credit (as Anna Riva). And yet somehow, Janie feels so much like a film that’s inextricable from Roberta Findlay. Her narration almost constantly punctuating the soundtrack, her wandering gaze is ever present, her performance as the wicked (almost) stepmother is quite possibly the best performance she ever gave in front of the camera, and, almost metaphorically, there is something special in the way the film trots Michael Findlay out before dispatching him without hesitation and moving on.
Two weeks into the new school year, the restless and bored Janie (Mary Jane Carpenter) longs to be away from her stupid school friends who do nothing but think about sex and about whom she has absolutely nothing but contempt. Finding solace in the dream of being with the man she loves, Janie embarks on a daylong spree of wanton violence and sex as she slowly makes her way toward his bed.
With her striking red outfit and knee high white boots, Carpenter strikes quite the image as she floats across the autumnal landscape (captured beautifully by Roberta) and puts in ample overtime working as a total chaos agent. Her recollections of her daylong marathon of depravity are recalled with an amazing vapidity. “I didn’t like they were making love. Carol’s stupid. And I took their money,” has the same kind of hilarious, childlike delivery that was all Sally Brown’s territory in the earliest of the Peanuts holiday specials.
A wild hippie horror thriller steeped in misanthropy and masturbation, Janie is thematically similar to Michael Findlay’s work up to this point but it has such a different energy and edge to it by essentially gender swapping Michael Findlay’s Richard Jennings character with Janie and letting Roberta utter the words of sick depravity instead of Michael. The results are a bit smokier as Janie’s crimes are immediately followed by a wild phantasmagoria of Vaseline accented images of blood and sex.
With its aimless jamming, feedback, and indiscriminate use of wah-wah pedals all of which magically combine into a funky stew, the score to Janie, credited to The Fear, is as much a character as anything and begs the question just where in the fuck the soundtrack album is. For keeping this gem locked away is basically like leaving a pile of money on the table. And, to whoever wants to be brave and reissue it, Roberta Findlay’s rendering of the dialogue that makes up Janie’s innermost thoughts should be the entire fourth side of the two-disc soundtrack album. Not only is it delicious but Roberta spitting the same kind of venom that was the Findlay brand adds another, superior dynamic that showed why Michael could be relegated further and further into the shadows as Roberta began to rise with artistic confidence.
And it is precisely this reason that Janie should get slightly higher consideration in the Findlay canon than other films on which she served only as cinematographer because, in 1970, Michael was still very much a presence in her life both artistically and personally. But like Mnasidika the year before, Michael’s fingerprints are almost nonexistent, reminding viewers that, when he pops up in a bathrobe and is teased out to the edge of a pier only to be murdered and unceremoniously dumped into the bay, he’s even still part of the conversation. Hell, Roberta herself materializes in a role that amounts to the final boss in the hero’s journey as she is planted in the corner crack of a loud couch while doing her nails and offering Janie a joint so she can loosen up, simultaneously sideswiping her with lines like “Oh look who’s here, it’s the teenage tramp. Quite nice today. Did you make a few dollars balling those guys down south?” Glorious stuff.
Janie is a balls-out ode to bloody hedonism, nihilistic wreckage, and complete freedom that beat the 1990’s to the punch 20 years early. There are really are no qualifiers needed as the film can honestly stand strong on its own merits. It’s at times shocking and violent but its marriage of sight and sound along with its jazzy rhythm and near constant score really help put this in a special category. And even though it’s not really a Roberta Findlay movie, Janie ranks as one of the very best selections of the auxiliary work to her actual directorial career.
(C) Copyright 2023, Patrick Crain