Arts & Culture » Arts Stories & Interviews

Gone with the Pope

A real test of grindhouse faith


Grades are irrelevant for a film like this. You’re either into it or you’re not. There’s no middle ground. But in the pantheon of "bat-shit crazy WTF cinema," Gone with the Pope ranks with the best of the worst. Alongside Plan 9 from Outer Space, Manos, Hands of Fate and The Room, lounge singer and writer-director-star Duke Mitchell (aka "Mr. Palm Springs") has created a glorious masterpiece of moviehouse craptitude.

Shot in 1975 but never finished (Mitchell died in 1981), the 35mm print became a grindhouse holy grail. Oscar-winning editor Bob Murawski (Drag Me to Hell, The Hurt Locker, Spiderman 1-3) invested 15 years chasing down every frame and puzzling together the film’s final cut. The result is an exploitation flick that has all the aesthetics of a home movie but the savvy editing cuts of a Hollywood pro. It’s the cinematic equivalent of putting lipstick on a sexist, racist pig.

Mitchell plays Paul, a nickel-and-dime hit man for the mob who gets released from jail to kill a septet of people in two cities. In exchange, three of his best jailhouse buddies — disciples, if you will — are released as well. Together they decide to head to Italy on Paul’s private yacht and kidnap the Pope. The goal? To extort 50 cents from every Catholic in the world.

Gone with the Pope is set in a world where logic has no place, actors can’t act and everyone has bad hair, lurid ’70s outfits (love those jumpsuits!) and a cigarette addiction. Its story stumbles around like a toddler looped on NyQuil, bumping into a plot development every now and then or tripping over sublimely awful monologues about the Holocaust and tests of religious faith.

As you might expect, there are long, interminably boring scenes where amateur actors prattle on about nothing worth listening to. But this only builds the anticipation for where the hell Gone with the Pope will go next. Whether it’s Mitchell and his ex-con buddy wrestling a naked 400-pound woman in a scene that’d make John Waters blush, or a supernatural ending that defies explanation, this is low-fi moviemaking at its most inane. Connoisseurs of crap will love every idiotically sordid frame.

At midnight, Friday-Saturday, June 17-18, at the Main Art, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.

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