Why Kris Kristofferson’s forgotten Cisco Pike has turn out to be a cult movie

In the early Seventies, the entirety used to be going proper for Kris Kristofferson. The nation track international had embraced the hard-grafting singer-songwriter, and covers of his songs – “Me and Bobby McGee”; “Help Me Make It Through the Night”; “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” – had completed crossover good fortune.

By 1971, he used to be using prime within the Billboard charts as a solo artist too, and again in 1970, he’d additionally shot his first film, Cisco Pike. The movie wasn’t launched till 1972, however it stays an out of this world time tablet. As Kristofferson’s light musician – the titular Cisco Pike – strides beside the murky, pre-gentrification canals of Venice, Los Angeles seems to be a a ways cry from the millionaire’s playground it’s now. Amid the scuzzy, run-down streets, the one factor that appears just right within the movie’s opening scenes is Kristofferson himself. The famous person is immaculate in a chambray blouse, denim denims and cowboy boots; his shiny chestnut hair bounces on brown suede-clad shoulders. Carrying a guitar case in a single hand, Pike is a good-looking amalgam of the butch however foppish LA singer-songwriters who have been almost about to take over the arena, from Jackson Browne and The Eagles’ Glenn Frey to James Taylor.

Yet regardless of plugging without delay into the rock’n’roll zeitgeist, Cisco Pike used to be a mammoth flop, tanking on the field workplace and scoring a bunch of dangerous opinions. It’s culter than cult now, however on the time The New York Times’s Vincent Canby slammed it as “banal”, caustically including that “it takes all the discipline I can muster to keep from immediately walking out of the theatre”. Watching it part a century later, I to find it tough to peer why the movie elicited such loathing, particularly bearing in mind its fabulous and deeply cool forged, which additionally numbers Gene Hackman, Harry Dean Stanton and Karen Black. Evidently, 1972 used to be nonetheless too quickly to have a dapper drug broker as a lead personality, and the tough and able Los Angeles of wayward hippies, dope people who smoke, rock stars and groupies nonetheless an excessive amount of for some audience to revel in this pacy caper. See, Kristofferson’s Pike isn’t only a one-time rock famous person, he’s additionally being blackmailed via Hackman’s bent cop to shift a hell of a large number of weed.

Following within the slipstream of the American New Wave of cinema, spearheaded via 1967’s Bonnie & Clyde and 1969’s Easy Rider, Cisco Pike got here from a brand new technology of younger filmmakers – Pike’s twentysomething first-time director Bill L Norton incorporated – who took their unconventional concepts to the large display, influenced via European arthouse cinema and willing to inform tales that mattered to their technology.

At a good hour and a part, Cisco Pike leans at the lighter facet of such leading edge filmmaking, including a noir-ish contact via tremendous fashionable photographs of Pike using round LA as neon whizzes previous. Kristofferson’s Pike stays completely likeable, as he breezes into each and every stroll of lifestyles to shift his unlawful bounty in scenes harking back to HBO’s hipster drug broker comedy High Maintenance, which might arrive nearly part a century later. There’s additionally a abnormal familiarity within the movie’s units, with the Venice Beach condo shared via Pike and his female friend made up of a wonderful mess comprising kitschy junk store reveals, trailing crops and artisan pottery. The glance is terribly 2022 inner design Instagram, as is Pike’s fondness for western shirts, the rustic adjoining uniform favoured via fresh musicians from Orville Peck and Charley Crockett to Harry Styles and Diplo.

Cisco Pike wasn’t simply Norton’s first characteristic, however the first to famous person Kristofferson too. He’d already shot a small section in Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie, however it wouldn’t be formally launched till 8 years after Hopper’s demise in 2018. And whilst he would possibly now not have had a lot onscreen revel in, via 1970 Kristofferson had executed greater than his fair proportion of residing.

Born in Texas in 1936, Kristofferson used to be now not just a proficient sportsman however a printed author. He received a hotly contested Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, the place he studied English literature, and it used to be round this time that he began writing songs. But slightly than pursue a track profession, he joined america Air Force to assuage his circle of relatives. After a couple of years within the army, primarily based in Germany, he moved to Nashville so he may just take the track factor significantly. So significantly in truth that he landed a helicopter in Johnny Cash’s entrance backyard so he may just persuade the famous person to file his music “Sunday Morning Coming Down”. It labored, getting Kristofferson out of his activity as a janitor at Columbia Records and profitable him the name of 1970’s Songwriter of the Year on the Country Music Association Awards. That identical yr Kristofferson’s someday lover Janis Joplin would file his monitor “Me & Bobby McGee”, which might turn out to be successful months later, after Joplin’s premature demise.

It used to be additionally the yr that Kristofferson used to be first scouted for the display. His debut efficiency at Los Angeles’s mythical Troubadour venue inspired a variety of other people, together with casting director Fred Roos, who idea he’d be preferrred for a street film known as Two-Lane Blacktop. At a birthday party at Jack Nicholson’s area, Roos requested Kristofferson if he sought after to audition. He agreed and the very subsequent day headed to the appointment. “I was wasted, it was right out of a Kafka novel,” Kristofferson would inform Rolling Stone of the doomed casting name. “The guy said did I know anything about cars? Two-Lane Blacktop was about cars, only nobody told me that. I said, ‘Can’t even change a tire,’ and got up and left.” Surprisingly sufficient, he didn’t get the activity – James Taylor did – however now not lengthy after he used to be introduced the lead in Cisco Pike.

Kristofferson as Cisco Pike and Karen Black as his hippy female friend


“I’d never even been in no school play, but I read the script and I could identify with this cat, this dope dealer,” he remembered. “People said, ‘Don’t do it, take acting lessons first!’ But it seemed to me that acting must be just understanding a character, and then being just as honest as you can possibly be. I should have been scared, but then I should have been scared the first time on that Troubadour stage and I wasn’t.”

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With his bassy voice, Kristofferson used to be very best for the function, taking part in the type of louche charmer who greets all girls with a complete kiss at the mouth. He used to be 34 on the time of filming and his track additionally will get some much-deserved airtime in Cisco Pike. There’s “Lovin’ Her Was Easier”, a slowly picked folks rock ballad of the type he’d given to Johnny Cash, and “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33”, either one of which might finally end up on Kristofferson’s 2nd album, The Silver Tongued Devil and I, which might pop out in 1971, six months prior to the movie’s unencumber. The film would have more than a few running titles, together with Silver Tongued Devil, and likewise Dealer, prior to the slightly much less boombastic Cisco Pike used to be settled on.

Karen Black, contemporary from her Academy Award-nominated flip in Five Easy Pieces however a couple of years prior to Robert Altman’s cockeyed nation track extravaganza, Nashville, is radiant as Pike’s hippy female friend Sue. Black additionally will get to flex her musical muscle in a chic and all-too-short duet with Kristofferson on “I’d Rather Be Sorry”, the overall model of which might later characteristic on Breakaway, an album via Kristofferson and real-life spouse Rita Coolidge.

The remainder of the forged is flawless, too. Gene Hackman is in his component as a faintly ridiculous corrupt detective in pastel sports wear whilst Harry Dean Stanton – billed as HD Stanton – post-Cool Hand Luke and pre-Paris, Texas, is instantly plausible as a member of Pike’s band who’s fallen on tough occasions and tougher medication. His first look onscreen sees him bare in a bath clutching a ratty bouquet of flora, however there also are jaunty flashback scenes the place we see him in his glory days, wowing crowds and swigging from the bottle with an attractive blonde.

There are memorable cameos from Blaxsploitationstar Antonio Fargas – who went directly to play the charismatic Huggy Bear in Starsky & Hutch – whom Pike meets in Olivia’s, the Santa Monica eating place immortalised via Jim Morrison in The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen”. Wavy Gravy – contemporary from emceeing Woodstock – additionally seems, as does Tex Mex rocker Doug Sahm, taking part in Rex, a musician who, not like Pike, has held onto his reputation.

Kristofferson’s Pike is being blackmailed via Hackman’s bent cop to deal medication


Warhol celebrity Viva Hoffmann – mom of Transparent actor Gaby Hoffmann – displays up as a dead-eyed and pregnant addict, who swings via LA’s first ever vegetarian eating place, which used to be run via The Source Family cult, to select up a chum. Later we see her moneyed heiress within the circle of relatives mansion, a grand Hollywood house that used to be as soon as the real-life place of abode of silent film sensation (and Rudolph Valentino’s mistress) Pola Negri. We meet Viva once more on the Troubadour, sinking beverages within the entrance bar as Hare Krishnas chant enthusiastically out of doors. In a candy second of musical soothsaying, a Waylon Jennings poster hangs on a wall out of doors the venue, the forged unaware that a couple of years later Kristofferson and Jennings would sign up for forces with Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson to shape nation supergroup The Highwaymen.

In the years to practice, Kristofferson would shoot memorable roles in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore; because the notorious outlaw in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid; and, maximum famously, reverse Barbra Streisand within the 3rd big-screen model of A Star Is Born.

Cisco Pike captures the grimness of Seventies Los Angeles, but in addition the thrill. Here is an LA the place you cross out for a quiet drink – or a easy drug-selling expedition – and finally end up frolicking in a film famous person mansion. In Kris Kristofferson, too, there’s evidence that it’s now not years of follow that make a film famous person, however one thing a lot more magical.

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