Sunday, December 22, 2013

So Long, Tom Laughlin, 1931 - 2013

Everyone has heroes growing up.  One of ours was Billy Jack, the principal character of a movie bearing the same name.   Tom Laughlin produced, wrote, financed and starred in the movie.  When adjusted for inflation,  it is the highest-grossing independent film of all time.

Billy Jack was the complete package.  Half-white, half-Navajo, he was a former Green Beret and Vietnam veteran, a hapkido master, a lover of denim and a student of a Native American shaman.  In one scene, he participates in the ancient sacred snake ceremony in order to obtain a vision.  (It doesn't seem to help much, though.)  He does, however, suffer from a serious case of PTSD, and is liable to erupt into violence at any moment ("I just go BERSERK!").  

He also endorsed and supported practically every liberal viewpoint imaginable.  As Roger Ebert observed:  "the movie has as many causes in it as a year's run of the New Republic. There's not a single contemporary issue, from ecology to gun control, that's not covered, and toward the movie's end you're wondering how these characters -- who are just ordinary folks in a small Southwestern town -- managed to confront every single ethical hurdle in a few weeks of living."

Even when I saw the movie, I knew things were being ladled on pretty thick.  Now, the movie is almost unwatchable.  But that does keep it from being a fond memory. 

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