Honed into the type of leisurely, anemic snapshot-of-time that would come to define the careers of Sofia Coppola and scores of others in the post 90's indie new wave boom, Floyd Mutrux's "Dusty and Sweets McGee" outlives its thin pseudo documentary beginning to morph into a sobering, half-dreamt memory of sunny California and the dark storms of addiction that roll just beneath its pleasant surface. That this film is relatively unseen today (thank you Turner Classic Movies for its late night broadcast this month!) only adds to the film's lilting presence somewhere between tone poem beauty and after school special didactic.
But through the tangled web of direct cinema "interviews" and staged action, the most penetrating relevance of "Dusty and Sweets McGee" falls in the laps of two couples, college aged Beverly and Mitch and the much younger Larry and Pam. It's almost excusable for the malaise that surrounds Beverly and Mitch. Constantly strung out, bickering, but prone to moments of unadulterated honesty and affection between them, they're basically functional addicts. In fact, after shooting up in one scene, she has the strength and wherewithal to stumble to her car and retrieve her crossword puzzle book. They should know better, but at least they're surviving with each other.
More tragic is Pam and Larry. Looking to be between 14 and sixteen, they are the baby-faced harbinger of drug addiction... the type of young kids that launched a thousand public service announcements. Never seen outside of their bedroom, it's almost excusable to accept everyone else in the film. They've made their hardened choices and continue to make bad ones, but they had a chance. "Dusty and Sweets McGee" wants us to experience drug addiction in its horrible array, and Larry and Pam are the shocking finger wave that hopefully turns at least someone away from trying it. Mutrux also returns to one of the most painful needle drops in the film, timing the teenagers' shooting up to the crescendo of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic". It's poignant because Larry and Pam are entering their own stratosphere before crashing back to the hard reality of a non ambiguous Earth.
Released briefly in 1971, "Dusty and Sweets McGee" never quite made the mark it hoped. Although Mutrux is perhaps one of the more underrated writers and filmmakers of the 70's (just check out his wonderful bio) the film is one of those discoveries that needs to be made. It may seem tame in comparison to the German miserablism of Uli Edel years later, but as a touch point in independent American lyricism, its message hits loud and clear.