This comedy starring Robert De Niro (in one of his earliest roles) as Jon Rubin, a directionless Vietnam vet and would-be ‘erotic filmmaker’, established Brian De Palma as a formidable directorial talent and premier social satirist.
Convincing local porn guru John Banner (Allen Garfield) to finance his ‘peep art’, Rubin sets up his camera to film the nocturnal activities of his unsuspecting neighbours through their apartment windows – a scheming playboy, an ultra-liberal with a mania for blacks, an average little family, and sad wallflower, Judy (Jennifer Salt) – and in short order, goes from voyeur to participant to a full-fledged urban guerilla.
He takes an active interest in Judy and becomes friendly with her. His ultimate goal is to photograph his seduction of her, but the idea backfires and he abandons his peep show ambitions.
The disillusioned Rubin turns to a radical theatre group (‘The Theater of Revolt)’ simply to fit in somewhere.
Cue the famous “Be Black, Baby” section which is shot in a documentary style that could be a movie unto itself. A gaggle of white, liberal, middle-class theatre-goers are smeared with black paint and forced to participate in ‘the black experience’: They are forced to eat soul food, their purses and wallets are stolen and their clothes ripped off. Several are savagely beaten and one woman is nearly raped.
As they leave the theatre, the half-dead audience members praise the play in affected jargon: “I’m going to tell all my friends to come!”. “You really feel it!” remarks one gentleman. The black guys just stand aside, laughing at the idiots.
Scripted by De Palma from a story he co-wrote with Charles Hirsch, Hi, Mom! is bursting with incisive parodies of home movies, TV documentaries and 60s off-Broadway ‘encounter theatre’ groups.
Structurally, the wild and ungainly narrative falls apart, but Hi, Mom! is a complex and ambitious send-up of political extremism, white guilt and media perception, even when it doesn’t work.
Released in some markets as Confessions Of A Peeping John.
Robert De Niro
Uncle Tom Wood
Brian De Palma