Split Image: James Woods and how to do sleaze redux

It’s taken a while, but last night I concluded my James Woods festival by finally watching the 1982 film Split Image.

I won’t say what I had to do to track down a copy of this little known gem. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy. But it was worth it.

Split Image, in which Woods plays a cult deprogrammer, confirms the central thesis of my previous post on this actor, that no one does sleaze as good as Woods, especially at the height of his career in the greed is good eighties.

Split Image occupies an interesting position in the Woods oeuvre, sandwiched between Fast Walking earlier the same year (Woods as a sleazy prison guard who gets mixed up in a neo-Nazi plot to murder a radical black nationalist) and Videodrome in 1983 (Woods as sleazy soft porn cable TV producer).

The plot is relatively simple. Danny Stetson (Michael O’Keefe) is a talented but highly-strung aspiring Olympic gymnast, from a loving but over achieving family, presided over by patriarch Kevin Stetson (Brian Dennehy).

He meets fresh-faced cult devotee Rebecca (Karen Allen, who played  the love interest in two Indiana Jones films) and is sucked into visiting Homeland, an alternative community run by Kirkander (Peter Fonda). It doesn’t take long before Danny has been renamed Joshua and chanting “make it perfect” with the rest of them.

Frustrated by his inability to get through to his son, Stetson senior employs Charles Pratt (Woods) to kidnap and deprogram Danny/Joshua.

Homeland is full of men and women who wear organically grown hand made clothing, eat organic food, live in wind powered houses and spend their days making pottery. The ethos of the cult is a weird mixture anti-communism, anti-capitalism and a smattering of Christianity. It doesn’t quite stand up three decades on. What might have perhaps looked ominous in the eighties comes across now as the kind of thing that stressed out rich people pay a lot of money to experience.

Fonda is creepy just playing himself. But it’s Woods who steals the movie, even though he’s given relatively little screen time. All the signature aspects of Wood’s style in the eighties are present, a cigarette permanently drooping from his mouth, the porn star moustache, the aviator shades and the leisure suits.

A large portion of the film is taken up by the confrontation that takes place when Pratt tries to deprogram Danny/Joshua. This leads to a great exchange when Danny/Joshua accuses the cult buster of being a tool of the multinational.

To which Pratt replies: “Actually, I live in a trailer park and haven’t been laid for a week”.

Whatever film Woods did he couldn’t help but bring a twitchy, man on the make vibe to it.





One Response

  1. No one does sleaze as good as Woods, although Peter Fonda’s effort in this film is worth of an honourable mention. Another great review of a highly entertaining Woods outing.

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