A Look Back at Gary Kent's "The Pyramid"


Filmmaker, stuntman and Austinite Gary Kent started his career by fighting his way through many low-budget biker and exploitation films. He acted and was a stuntman in Richard Rush's The Savage Seven (1968), Psych-Out (1968) and Freebie and the Bean (1974), as well as Peter Bogdanovich's classic thriller Targets (1968). He also was in The Girls from Thunder Strip (dir. David L. Hewitt, 1966), which will screen at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar for Weird Wednesday on August 15 with Kent in attendance. Kent was stunt coordinator for Hell's Angels on Wheels (dir. Rush, 1967). He was also the production manager for Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and the second unit/assistant director for Al Adamson's Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971).

With all the work Kent was getting at this time, it's surprising that he found time to write and direct The Pyramid (1975). This highly personal, mystical and metaphysical low-budget movie was shot in Dallas primarily with local talent.

The Pyramid tells the story of young TV news cameraman Chris Lowe (pre-videotape -- he carries around a 16mm camera) and his disillusionment with the politics and petty bullshit of his profession. This disillusionment goes hand-in-hand with his personal development as a "sensitive male," which he nurtures through yoga and discussing metaphysics, psychic phenomena and mysticism with his reporter friends and his girlfriend. Chris plays guitar and is not afraid to cry or show emotions. He attends his girlfriend's confrontational therapy encounter group. He's a modern non-racist Southern man (circa 1975) whose close friend and work partner is L.A. Ray, the African-American news reporter at the TV station. (More after the jump.)

Chris has all these ideas for uplifting human interest stories that he shoots on company film stock, such as a hog farmer whose land is condemned by the city in order to build a highway through the property, a fakir who walks on hot coals, a group of dancing and chanting female Krishna devotees, spoon-bending psychics and the healing properties of pyramids. Every human interest story Chris pitches or shows the news director (on his way down the ladder from New York) is vehemently rejected. Meanwhile, reporter L.A. and cameraman Chris travel around town interviewing snooty film actresses, doing pieces on school bus wrecks, car wrecks, haute couture fashion shows ... and watching the city cops shoot and kill at point-blank range two African-American ghetto youth in the midst of a robbery attempt.

The merciless shootings of the youth affect reporter L.A. very deeply, sending him into a deep depression which began developing a few days earlier when he discovered the recent infidelity of his longtime girlfriend. Chris is developing a relationship with a young woman who is a confrontational therapist at the same time. The juxtaposition of her controlled encounter group sessions and the rage and despair-filled confrontations L.A. has with his girlfriend exhibit an interesting perspective on the human behavioral spectrum.

Unfortunately, despite its clever guises, The Pyramid has the pacing of a television movie-of-the-week circa 1975 and lacks focus much of the time. If it would have tackled only three issues or topics of the day and the characters been given a little more depth and believability, The Pyramid would hold together much better. As it is, the movie is so scattershot and slackly paced that it is difficult to follow the plot and to identify with or feel empathy for any of the characters. True, it was made in a different time but all the issues are only explored on the surface level or barely glossed over.

However, The Pyramid is a time capsule revealing the idealistic interest in positive mysticism, increased sensitivity and healing each other and the planet that pervaded American popular culture of the mid-1970s.

[As aforementioned, you can see Gary Kent in person at the Weird Wednesday screening of The Girls from Thunder Strip on August 15, at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. The film screens at midnight and admission is free.]