Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me
Starring Barry Primus.
Directed by Jeffery Young.
Screenplay by Robert Schlitt
Paramount Pictures, 1971.
90 minutes.
Rated R.
Out of print.

Los Angeles Premiere: Sept. 10, 1971, at Bruin Theater.
New York Premiere: Sept. 15, 1971, at Little Carnegie Playhouse.
Washington Premiere: Oct. 6, 1971, at Biograph.

Bibliography of reviews
Village Voice review by Tom Costner
New York Times review by Vincent Canby
Chicago Tribune review by Gene Siskel
Complete Credits


What an awful movie! The annoying Barry Primus, looking about ten years too old for the part, seems to have been chosen because he looks just a little bit like Richard Fariņa. Even Tom Costner, a friend of Fariņa from his Paris days who reviewed the film for the Village Voice, noted the resemblance. But Barry Primus is haggard and droopy-- Rex Reed of the Daily News said he had "a face like falling plaster"--and there is something deeply annoying about him. You dislike him right from the beginning of the film, when you see him sauntering down the street with an exaggeratedly hip gait and his early seventies get-up. The film is a perfunctory walk-through of the novel, following many scenes fairly closely, though it concludes in Cuba, just after Heffalump's death, omitting the campus protest and Gnossos' draft. But no thought was put into why the movie was being made, or what deeper meaning the book might have. The film manages to bring out all the worst aspects of the novel and suppresses all that was good. For instance, a scene in which Gnossos sees the monkey demon is done in such a way that the viewer is led to believe it's just a drug-induced hallucination. The drugs and decadence are left in, but the demonic theme, so central to Fariņa's art (both in the novel and particularly in the story, "The Vision of Brother Francis"), is omitted: no spiritualism, no mystery, just hip hallucinations. Many of the reviewers commented on the drug and flashback scenes, and it is perhaps an insult to Fariņa's intentions that the Christian Science Monitor praised the film as a "powerful" anti-drug statement.

The film is also full of bothersome anachronisms. Although some care was put into making the "squares" of the movie look fifties-ish, Gnossos looks straight out of 1971, complete with a floppy suede hat and dirty red bandanna. Fariņa's novel was published only eight years after the fictional events take place, and the movie was made only five years after that, but those extra few years create a world of difference between the urban, black-garbed beatnik scene of 1958 and the fringie, tie-died, back-to-nature look of 1971. There was no attempt to capture the atmospheric cool of the beats, no poetry, no jazz, no Mose Allison. What I found most offensive was that the music attributed to Ravi Shankar (in the scene where Kristin brings Gnossos a Shankar album as a present) is fake, souped-up sitar music played by Colin Walcott of all people (from Vanguard's eclectic folk-jazz group, Oregon). Ravi Shankar should have sued Paramount. The soundtrack included a couple of original songs, "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me" and "Little Boy Lost." The lyrics, by Gene Pistilli, (yes, I'm Naming Names) allude overtly to reefer and convey the hedonistic side of Gnossos, but with none of the angst. The songs are sung by Garry Sherman in a very 1971 singer-songwriter style that is not in itself unpleasant, but is completely alien to the fifties setting and the mood of the novel. One has to wonder, if the filmmakers weren't concerned about anachronisms, why didn't they just use Richard and Mimi's music??? But with movies this bad, it is pointless to ask Why.

But surely, Mr. Cooke, there were some redeeming qualities to the film?
Hmmmm.... some reviews noted that the movie starts out well enough, and effectively conveys fifties campus life and fraternities, before things go really bad. And one reviewer singled out Bruce Davison as "worthy of special mention" in his role of Fitzgore, a "likeable but subservient Phi Delt." Davison had previously starred in The Strawberry Statement.

For hardcore Fariņa nuts only, this film is worth seeing once, just to satisfy a morbid curiosity about how badly they screwed it up. Out of print: look for bootlegs.

--Douglas Cooke


Gnossos (Barry Primus) Gnossos and Kristin Kristin (Linda De Coff)

Gnossos Heffalump (David Downing) with Gnossos at Guido's Grill
Heff is shot down in Cuba Gnossos visits his mystical friend Blacknesse

Gnossos and Fitzgore (Bruce Davison) Jack (Susan Tyrrell), Heff, Juan Carlos Rosenbloom (Raul Julia), and Gnossos in Cuba

See also movie posters on the Book & Movie Posters page.


Los Angeles Times, Sep. 10, 1971.
"Sights, Sounds of Silent Generation"
By Kevin Thomas.

Daily Mirror, Sep. 16, 1971, p. 11.
By Newton North.

Daily News, Sep. 16, 1971, p. 113.
By Ann Guarino.

Morning Telegraph, Sep. 16, 1971, p. 3.
"1958's 'Been Down' Has 'Now' Appeal"
by Leo Mishkin.

New York Post,Sep. 16, 1971, p. 46.
"'Down So Long' Opens At the Little Carnegie"
by Archer Winstein.

New York Times, Sept. 16, 1971, p. 52.
By Vincent Canby.

Daily News, Sep. 17, 1971.
By Rex Reed.

Morning Telegraph, Sep. 23, 1971.
By Joe Rosen.

Variety, 1971, p. 16.
"Dismal Youth-Oriented Pot-boiler," by Murf.

Saturday Review,Oct. 2, 1971.
"Cultural Lag," by Arthur Knight.

Village Voice, Oct. 7, 1971.
By Tom Costner.

Women's Wear Daily, Nov. 1, 1971.
By Gail Rock.

Washington Post, Nov. 5, 1971.
By Gary Arnold.

Chicago Tribune, Nov. 29, 1971.
By Gene Siskel.

Boston After Dark,Dec. 21, 1971, p. 34-35.
By John Koch.

Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 21, 1971.
By David Sterritt.

"grievously flawed"
       --Boston After Dark

       --Saturday Review

"an incredible load of pretension baloney"
       --Women's Wear Daily

"the worst film of the year"
       --Chicago Tribune

"quaintly meaningless"
       --Daily Mirror

"too little and too late"
       --Morning Telegraph

       --Christian Science Monitor

Village Voice review by Tom Costner.
October 7, 1971.
NOTE: Tom Costner was a friend of Fariņa when he was living in Paris, giving this review a special importance.

"BEEN DOWN SO LONG IT LOOKS LIKE UP TO ME" is an adaptation of the late Richard Farina's novel of the same title. The novel, a lightly fictionalized account of Farina's exploits at Cornell during the late 1950s, achieved a cult status after Farina's death in a motorcycle accident the day following its publication.

The film stars Barry Primus as Gnossos, the Farina subrogate, and Linda DeCoff as Kristin, his Chevy chase girl friend. The autobiographical note is strengthened by the physical resemblance to Farina of Primus, recently seen in "Puzzle of a Downfall Child." David Downing plays Gnossos-Farina's black friend Heffalump (shortened to Heff in the film).

"Been Down So Long" marks the directional debut of Jeff Young, a 28-year-old Harvard Law School graduate and protege of Arthur Penn. The film is stylishly directed and acted but the screenplay by Robert Schlitt, a veteran television writer, is not wholly satisfactory.

Farina, a high priest of hip, was into dope, tripping, mysticism, and guerrilla fashion at a time when his fellow students were into Murray the K, hot rods, crew cuts, and conformity. That Farina was 10 years ahead of his time, and that he did not proselytize others to follow him, are perhaps the reasons for the current generation's interest in his work. Although he was adrift in the Beat Generation certainly he was not representative of it. The fact that Farina was not of his time gives the film-makers an opportunity to blend fashionable nostalgia for the 1950s with the hipness of the present. Now and then are conveniently captured in the same scenes without having to resort to distracting flashbacks.

The best episode in the novel turns out to be the best sequence in the film: when Gnossos, firmly an outsider and a freak, crashes the frat house scene in search of a free meal and a chance to hassle the cleancut brothers. Gnossos promptly turns on and does battle with all the fraternity cliches. On one level he easily destroys the fraternity ethic, yet on another he never firmly convinces that he wouldn't rather be accepted as one of the group.

It is after Gnossos splits with his self-professed virgin, Kristin, and heads for Cuba with Heff on a combination drug-dealing and anarchist trip that gaps occur both in the exposition and motivation. The paradox of having contracted venereal disease from his "virgin" does not adequately explain Gnossos' actions in Havana thereafter. Nor after Heff's death does the act of digging a jungle grave demonstrate a renewed determination in Gnossos to return to the life from which he dropped out.

Although at the time of his death Farina had not produced a full-length scenario, he understood film writing technique. I was present once when Farina and Joseph Heller were discussing how best to adapt "Catch 22" for film. Heller seemd visibly impressed by what he heard. One of Farina's unpublished stories, a western, was intended to be developed as a film property to star Bob Dylan. Perhaps some canny producer will pick up that project and give Farina another try.

--Tom Costner

New York Times review by Vincent Canby:
September 16, 1971, p. 52.

Richard Fariņa's first and last novel, "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me," begins in the fall of 1958, the autumn of the Eisenhower years, a time of Vanguard rockets and Murray the K and Batista, of Dharma Bums who took to the road to learn about life and then celebrated what they found in literature that Truman Capote once classified as mere typewriting.

"Been Down So Long," however, was written in the 1960's (it was published in 1966, shortly before its author was killed in a motorcycle accident), and although set in the time of the Beats, it has the sound and feel of the decade that was yet to come. This explains, I think, something of the schizoid nature of the film adaptation that opened yesterday at the Little Carnegie.

Gnossos Pappadopoulis (Barry Primus) has, it's true, been on the road when he returns to college to resume his academic career, but from the length of his hair and the rhythm of his speech, he's been mushing through the America that the men in "Easy Rider" could not find, not through Kerouac country. As a matter of fact, the unnamed school that Gnossos attends could well be the locale of a number of other movies about the late 1960's, including Jack Nicholson's "Drive, He Said."

All of this would be nit-picking if "Been Down So Long" had any particular identity of its own. It doesn't. Robert Schlitt, who wrote the screen adaptation, and Jeff Young, who directed it, have excised practically all of the novel's lunatic, literary exuberance. What remains is a rite-of-university-passage of sophomoric angst, of dumb melodrama, and of such depressing familiarity that I feel as if I'd been burdened with someone else's memory, while having been denied the pleasure of the original experience.

The young performers are attractive and, when occasionally given the opportunity (especially for comedy), they do very well indeed. Primus has a short but marvelous sequence in which he disrupts a fraternity rush (one of the few sequences that really fix the film in its time) by accusing a short-haired "brother" of homosexual tendencies.

I also liked David Downing, as a black student who turns, rather gently, toward militancy, and Linda DeCoff, as the virginal co-ed whose farewell gift to Gnossos requires treatment with penicillin. "Bringing this to Havana," says the Cuban doctor to Gnossos, "is like bringing bread to a bakery." He is, of course, talking about the Havana of Meyer Lansky and Lucky Pierre, not of Castro.

--Vincent Canby

Chicago Tribune review by Gene Siskel:
November 29, 1971, p. B19.

...may very well be the worst film of the year.

The problems with this story could fill an encyclopedia. The visual setting is 1958; the dialog is Television Hip 1970. The editing is awful. Entire reels could be interchanged to little effect. A microphone's shadow is visible on a wall in one scene; in another--a forest sequence--the camera rustles branches as it pulls back into a long shot.

All this would be laughable if a decent novel were not being misused. But a lot of people, judging from weekend crowds, are seeing this film out of an interest in the source material.


The Cast:
Gnossos .... Barry Primus
Heff .... David Downing
Kristin .... Linda DeCoff
Motherball .... John Coe
Pamela Watson-May .... Marion Clarke
Fitzgore .... Bruce Davison
Mojo ... Zack Norman
Juan Carlos Rosenbloom .... Raul Julia
Sergeant Woody .... John Collin
Kovacs .... Guy Deghy
Komensky .... Mark Malicz
Count Derassy ... Karel Stepanek
Jack .... Susan Tyrrell
Beth .... Cynthia Harris
Agneau .... Nick Hammond
Judy Lumpers .... Marilyn Hengst
Heap .... Paul Jabara
Father Putti .... James Noble
Oeuf .... John Ryan
Calvin .... Philip Shafer
Fraternity Brother .... Larry Albright
George Rajamuttu .... Ved Bandhu
Male Student .... John Davis
Cuban Hustler .... Jaime Escobar
Maykers .... Scott Fischer
Vampire Girl .... Sue Holiday
Harold Wong .... Calvin Jung
Irma Rajamuttu .... Shi Khanma
Female Student .... Judy Kiehl
Fred Krebs .... Fred Krebs
Fraternity Brother .... John Moore
Youngblood .... Bud Palmer
Mrs. Motherball .... Blanch Romero
Counter Lady .... Birdie Schroeder
Flip .... Flip Shafer
Cuban Priest .... Victor Vasquez
Cuban Doctor .... Luis Vera
Radio Announcer's Voice .... Martin Gleitsman
Sports Announcer's Voice .... Bruce Wittkin
Murray the K. .... Murray the K.

Music Credits:
Music by Garry Sherman
Lyrics by Gene Pistilli
"Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me"
and "Little Boy Lost" sung by Gary Sherman
Additional Music: The Platters: "It Was You", "Be My Love"
The Five Satins: "Play Something Slow", "Roll, Daddy, Roll"
The Four Lads: "Down By the Riverside"
Linda Hopkins, Mildred Pratcher & Mildred Price: "God Be With You"
Colin Walcott: Sitar Cue

Technical Credits:
Director of Photography: Urs Furrer
Produced by Robert M. Rosenthal
Associate Producer: David Saunders
Screenplay by Robert Schlitt
Edited by Nicholas Meyers & Bruce Wittkin
Paintings by Gregory Kwater
A Rosenthal - Young - Saunders Production

Back to the Filmography