|Robert Downey Sr & Jr|
Anyone who employed the underrated film score musician Jack Nitzsche to work on the oddball, low-budget, underground feature Greaser’s Palace(1972) deserves some respect.
Particularly if the film is about a mysterious figure literally parachuting into an 18th Century Western and capable of resurrecting the dead. The reviews called it “witless”, “unwatchable” and an “embarrassment”.
But Nitzsche, bless him, was back for the director’s next effort, Sticks and Bones(1973), a TV movie about a Vietnam vet returning home blind - variously described as “bizarre”, “unsettling” “controversial” “ugly” and “abrasive”. Consigned to the CBS vaults after its first screening, but apparently stolen in 2012, Sticks and Bones can now be found on YouTube.
And who is this director? It’s Robert Downey Jr’s pop Robert Downey Sr.
An underground, anarchist, anti-establishment director in the 60s, 70s and 80s, Downey Sr. had one major hit with Putney Swope(1969) and there are another 11 features that are hard to find (try YouTube).
Growing up, Downey Jr. was surrounded by his father’s counter-cultural world and claims he never encountered anything ‘mainstream’. His charismatic dad – who in this documentary freely admits to having been a drug addict – used to think introducing his kids to drugs was the right thing to do. Once, on a road trip from Santa Fe to Los Angeles, his son “was in charge of the hash pipe”. Downey Jr. believes it set off his own downward spiral into drugs and alcohol and he later claimed in court, he’d been taking drugs since he was 8 years old.
As a Hollywood actor, after a concentrated five-year period of arrests and convictions for drug and other offenses, Downey Jr. found himself unable to work, as any production game enough to cast him could not get completion bond insurance with him in the cast.
This film is not about Downey Jr’s drug problems, but about his relationship with his father during the period his dad succumbs to Parkinson’s. With his family supporting his every effort, Jr. engages in a wild attempt to document Sr’s even wilder career. For his part, the father just insists on access to the footage so he can cut his own version of the film. He spends a lot of time on the set of his son’s film, unable to stop directing the scenes.
Both father and son seem as difficult to handle as a box full of monkeys. But, despite everything they have been through, and despite everything Jr. could legitimately throw at his father, they clearly, quite simply, love each other. And that ain’t nothing.