SANTA ROSA VALLEY, Calif. - It has been more than 30 years, but Billy Jack is still plenty ticked off.
Back then, it was bigotry against Native Americans, trouble with the nuclear power industry and big bad government that made this screen hero explode in karate-fueled rage. At the time, the unlikely combination of rugged-loner heroics - all in defense of society's downtrodden and forgotten - and rough-edged filmmaking sparked a pop culture and box-office phenomenon
Now the man who created and personified Billy Jack, Tom Laughlin - the writer, director, producer and actor - is determined to take on the establishment again, and his concerns are not so terribly different. Mr. Laughlin (and therefore Billy Jack) is angry about the war in Iraq and about the influence of big business in politics. And he still has a thing for the nuclear power industry....
[T}hree decades ago Mr. Laughlin defied the odds and made his mark on movie history with his homegrown tale "Billy Jack" and the sequel "The Trial of Billy Jack." The films unexpectedly connected with audiences during the social miasma of Vietnam and Watergate, but also had an impact on Hollywood marketing and distribution techniques.
"He was the model for Rambo, for 'Walking Tall,' " said Robert Sklar, professor of cinema studies at New York University. "When you think of what 'Rocky' meant for the culture - Laughlin was ahead of all that. He represented the indomitable outsider, and he was the first one in that era. It was also true in the sense in which he fought to make the film, and fought to get it distributed with this terrific idea of self-releasing."
Billy Jack and its prequel and sequels are classics of le bad cinema, which proves that even lefties can make bad films, and people will go to see them, as long as they have good portion of revenge in it.
It turns out that "Billy Jack" has a website, and even a blog.
I think, personally, his idea about convening a "People's Investigative Committee" to build support to impeach Bush and his "foolproof exit plan" are a bit crackpot, but then again, if anyone had thought that the original Billy Jack films would have spawned Rambo and Walking Tall, I'd have thought that would be a bit crackpot, too.
Laughlin probably is right in terms of Bush's original intentions: having the US control the supply of Iraqi oil was undoubtedly the real goal of the Iraq war.
That said, "giving the oil back" to the Iraqis ought to be part and parcel of our policy, but I think that it is naieve to think htat "the Iraqis" are one monolithic group of people; that oil sitting under Iraq is the real reason why al Qaeda's such a threat. It wouldn't be out of the range of possibility to consider that maybe, just maybe, when you add up the Iraqi bodies and the US bodies and the weakened position of the US in the world, and the increased vulnerability to terrorism, and the erosion of Americans' liberties, that the Iraq adventure will prove to be a huge mistake, which is another way of saying maybe we'd have been better off with a murderer like Saddam Hussein than with whoever may ultimately prevail in Iraq.
But at this point, we ought to worry more about what we can do today. If "giving the Iraqis back their oil" is the same as letting the Iraqis decide themselves democratically and peacefully what to do with their oil, well, probably the sooner the Iraqis benefit from their oil wealth the sooner we'll all be safer. Who could argue with that besides Bush and his cronies?