His work envisioned the city as a burlesque racket of careerist freaks, desperate immigrants, and expressions sexual freedom—a place where you knew your ass meant money and everybody wanted a piece of it. Fast-paced and cynical, with little regard for narrative logic, these movies were necessarily as rude and abrasive as the world felt each day, while just off-color and outrageous enough to bust your sides laughing—upholding an incredibly twisted sense of community through it all.
A perfect entry point into Downey’s career would be his 1966 feature Chafed Elbows, a jaunty satire of New York as a professional wasteland, with a huge cast of overly emphatic strangers cutting in at every turn and a manic pace to match the intensity of the city. Shot for $25,000 and built to offend everybody, it’s a startling reminder that truly communal, down-and-dirty works of cinema are rare these days.
Celebrating The Outrageous New York Films of Robert Downey, Sr.