WATCH OUT FOR THE BUMMER (1971)
Written and Directed
Michael F. Elliot
Unusual Films International
MPAA rating: X
Edited for re-rating: R
World Premiere - Raleigh, NC - December 1971
Star Here for 'Bummer' Opening
Harold Clifton left his native Raleigh when he was 18. He returned to the Capital City this month as actor-producer Daniel Clifford for the World Premiere of his first major motion picture, “Watch Out for the Bummer.”
And Friday he will be in Wilmington for the opening of “Bummer” at the Colony Theatre, on hand to meet and greet patrons from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
During a promotion tour of the Port City earlier this week, the ruggedly handsome Clifford left a trail of secretaries swooning in arguments over whether his eyes are green, gray or blue.
Regardless of their color, his eyes sparkle as he discusses “Watch Out for the Bummer.”
“There are so many films these days with terrible endings. You leave the movie, go home and can’t sleep. Our film reverses that syndrome.”
The “our” in “our film” refers to Clifford, who stars in and produced the movie, and writer-director Michael F. Elliot.
“Bummer,” Clifford explains, tells the story of a young writer who is in a negative and unconsciously destructive period of his life.
“He is unable to cope with reality or to relate to other people without trying to use them; he loses his fiancée, his friends.
“Through his interactions with various people, he finally discovers as long as he’s got his health and freedom, he’s got everything.”
Clifford says “Bummer” does not deal with drugs, as the title might imply, since “a bummer can be anything that gets you down on life.
“It’s a film that really turns on the young people, and older people look at it as being a very realistic film.
“And it is an honest film, in that it parallels man’s personal problems with society’s problems.”
To capture the realities of today’s world, Clifford said, Elliot attempted to break every cinematic tradition.
“First, he refused to write the script except as filming was going on, because he said he did not want to lose the determinations of the life force; in other words, write as we live it.”
Also, for the first time in any feature length film, Clifford explained, the camera was hand-held throughout the entire film, “lending the photography an emotionality of its own.”
And, too, Clifford and Elliot formed their own company, Infinite Eight Productions Inc., beginning the quarter-million dollar film on their own without a studio affiliation.
Clifford says neither partner wants a studio affiliation because too many fine films become victims of the “studio syndrome,” being shelved if they don’t meet success in New York or Los Angeles.
In further efforts for realism, “Watch Out for the Bummer” was filmed on locations from Southern California to Northern San Francisco.
Clifford noted, “We tried to capture reality on film. We did not use a sound stage or phony sets, but in the streets and parks of San Francisco and Los Angeles, on a boat in San Francisco Bay going around Alcatraz island, in Topanga Canyon near Los Angeles.
“The reality of this film not only effects the filmgoer with a complete emotional experience, but an enlightening one, and you go home feeling good.”
Clifford is less inclined to discuss his own life. Upon leaving Raleigh as a teenager, he joined the Air Force and served three years in Germany, returning to the Capital City to spend “several years” in the contracting business.
He describes himself as “a shy, introverted kid in high school,” for whom delivering an oral book report in front of the class was “pure, tongue-tied agony.”
However, despite no previous leanings toward the theater, Clifford says one day while knocking around California he noticed the Pasadena Playhouse was accepting students and impulsively decided to try out.
“It was purely an inspiration of the moment, and probably the worst audition to ever happen, but they must have seen something I didn’t because I was accepted.”
Thereafter followed a season of Shakespeare - 55 performances of four plays - and a tour of 30 states with Bishop’s Company production of “St. Joan.”
But, somehow, Clifford still gives the impression of that shy, introverted kid, and readily admits, “I don’t believe I’ll continue as an actor for much more than five years. I really prefer being behind the scenes.”
“The actor is more a tool of the director; he’s told what to do, how to do it; he doesn’t know why and there’s usually no time to explain the directions.
“As a producer or director you can decide what to you’re trying to tell the world, what you really want to say.”
And, Clifford says he wants to stay in films that speak of realism.
“Films in the past have meant escapism, fairy tales. But films can be an important medium in these days when people are being bombarded by information, a tremendous amount of information, form all forms of media.
“Films can show what is happening today; there are changes occurring constantly in today’s world, and if you’re not learning to change, you’re stagnating.”
“This is really the message ‘Bummer’ is trying to get across. The film is trying to say a human being can adapt, he can’t get in such a depressed state that he can’t bounce back, that he can’t get his life in shape.”
Clifford’s plans call for production of another film, “The Road to Jesus,” beginning in February. “In this we hope to investigate the Jesus movement among today’s youth, mostly filming around Asheville.”
But for Clifford’s “today,” Wilmington’s Friday, he and “Watch Out for the Bummer” will be debuting at the Colony Theatre.
One more note for the swooning secretaries: that little two-year-old charmer in the film is Clifford’s real-life son Jimmy. Sorry.
(Star-News - Wilmington, NC - December 16, 1971 - p.6D)