Rockin’ in the Film World #4: WILD IN THE STREETS (AIP 1968)


cracked rear viewer

max1

If you think today’s political climate is tumultuous and crazy, wait’ll you get a load of WILD IN THE STREETS. Filmed in the chaotic year 1968, this satirical look at the counter-culture vs the establishment revolves around a power-mad rock star whose call to lower the voting age to 14 results in him becoming President of the good ol’ USA, and sticking it to the over 30 crowd by interring them in concentration camps loaded with LSD-spiked water supplies!

max2

Christopher Jones is Max Frost, née Flatow, the charismatic leader of rock band Max Frost and the Troopers. Pre-credits flashbacks show Max’s unhappy childhood with an overbearing mother (Shelley Winters at her over-the-top best) and abrasive dad (Bert Freed). Max learns to hate all adults and dabbles in making LSD and bombs. After he blows up dad’s car, the rebellious Max leaves home and winds up becoming a mega rock star rivaling the…

View original post 945 more words

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #23: The Defiant Ones (dir by Stanley Kramer)


Defiant_Ones_poster

Stanley Kramer is one of those old school filmmakers who directed several films that were acclaimed when they were originally released but who tends to be dismissed by contemporary film critics.  Kramer specialized in making films about social issues and he deserves to be applauded for attempting to look at issues that Hollywood, at that time, would have preferred to ignore.  However, as Mark Harris points out in his excellent book Pictures At A Revolution, Kramer started out as a producer and, even after he started directing, he never lost his producer sensibility.  As a result, a Kramer film would typically address issues that were guaranteed to generate a lot of free publicity but, at the same time, Kramer would never run the risk of truly alienating his audience by digging too deeply into those issues.  As a result, Kramer’s films have come to represent a very safe and middlebrow version of 50s and early 60s style liberalism.

Now, I have previously reviewed 4 Stanley Kramer films on this site and I have to admit that I was somewhat dismissive of most of them.  I felt that Ship of Fools was shallow.  I thought that Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner collapsed under the combined weight of a self-satisfied script and Kramer’s refusal to let Sidney Poitier’s character be anything other than idealized perfection.  R.P.M. is a guilty pleasure, specifically because Kramer was so out-of-touch with the film’s subject matter.  I did give Judgment at Nuremberg a good review, describing it as one of Kramer’s rare films that still holds up today.

And now, I’m going to give another Kramer film a good review.

Kramer’s 1958 film The Defiant Ones features a classic Kramer situation.  White Joker (Tony Curtis) and black Noah (Sidney Poitier) are both prisoners in the deep south.  Joker is an unrepentant and violent racist while Noah … well, Noah is Sidney Poitier.  He’s determined, he’s not afraid to speak his mind, and most of all, he’s dignified.  That’s not meant to be a complaint about Poitier’s performance in The Defiant Ones.  In the role of Noah, Poitier has a great screen presence and it’s impossible not to root for him.  Whereas Curtis tends to chew up every piece of scenery that he gets nears (and, again, that’s not really a complaint because Curtis’s overacting is totally appropriate for his character), Poitier keeps the film grounded.

When the prison bus that is transporting them crashes, Joker and Noah are able to escape.  Fleeing on foot, they make their way through the wilderness and attempt to hide from the police.  As quickly becomes obvious, Joker and Noah hate each other but, because the sheriff had a sense of humor, they have also been chained together.  In other words, they’re stuck with each other and, in order to survive, they’re going to have to learn to coexist.

No, it’s not exactly subtle but it works.

As a filmmaker, Kramer was never known for being visually inventive and, as a result, his films often had to resort to heavy-handed monologues to make their point.  But, in The Defiant Ones, the chains act as a great visual symbol for race relations in America.  Joker and Noah literally can’t escape from each other and they have to work together if they’re going to survive.  The chains make that obvious and, as a result, this is the rare Kramer film where nobody has to give a big speech to get across Kramer’s message.  As a result, The Defiant Ones preaches without ever getting preachy.

Though the film is dominated by Poitier and Curtis, it also features some excellent supporting work.  Lon Chaney, Jr, for instance, has a great cameo as world-weary man who helps the two convicts in their flight.  Cara Williams is surprisingly poignant as a lonely, unnamed woman who tries to both protect Joker and get rid of Noah.  And finally, there’s Theodore Bikel, playing the role of Sheriff Max Muller.  Max is the most surprising character in the film, the head of a posse that’s set out to recapture Noah and Joker.  As opposed to most of his men, Max is a humane and caring man who struggles to control the more bloodthirsty men who are serving under him.

Message films tend to get dated rather quickly but The Defiant Ones holds up surprisingly well.

Shattered Politics #26: Wild In The Streets (dir by Barry Shear)


Wild_in_the_streets_dvd_cover

I am really not looking forward to turning 30.

Seriously, the great thing about being in your 20s is that everything is set up to specifically appeal to you.  Everyone wants your attention, your money, your tweets, your ideas, you love, and everything else.  And, yes, I understand that most people neither like nor respect my generation but oh well and whatever.  Trust me, the generation coming up behind mine is a hundred times worse.

2008 was a great time to be a politically knowledgeable millennial.  Everyone running for President was desperate to get our vote and they were willing to promise us anything.  And, since my age group voted overwhelmingly for Obama, all of the old elitists in the national media briefly fell in love with us.  (The genius of Obama’s 2008 campaign was to tell us that we were the people that we were waiting for.  Technically, it’s a bit nonsensical but never doubt what you can accomplish by appealing to the ego of the electorate.)

Of course, over the past few years, my generation has essentially been fucked over by both political parties and, since we dared to complain about it, nobody likes us anymore.  But, oh well and whatever.  American culture is basically built around our whims so we really don’t need anyone else’s love.

And, if all this sounds a little bitter or angry, I would point that young people and old people have been at war since time began.  Generational conflict is nothing new.  And if you need proof of that, I suggest watching a film from 1968 called Wild In The Streets.

Wild in the Streets tells the story of Max Frost (Christopher Jones), a rock star who lives in a gigantic mansion with his band and his groupies.   When Max is asked to perform at a campaign appearance for senate candidate Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook), he agrees to do so because Fergus supports lowering the voting age.  (When Wild In The Streets was made, you had to be 21 to vote.  So, if your birthday fell on election day, you could cast your first vote and then go have your first legal drink.)  However, at the rally, Max announces that he wants 14 year-olds to have the vote and then performs a song called “14 or fight!”

Max’s song is such a sensation and leads to so many protests that, in a compromise, the voting age is lowered to 15.  Johnny Fergus is elected to the Senate and, before you can say “Blue dog,” promptly starts to ignore the will of the people who supported him.  So, Max arranges for his girlfriend Sally (Diane Varsi) to be elected to the U.S. House.  After spiking the water supply of Washington D.C. with LSD, Sally gets a bill passed and the age requirement for holding political office is lowered to 14!

Of course, in the next election, 24 year-old Max Frost is elected President of the United States.  Soon, anyone over the age of 35 is being sent to re-education camps where they are force-fed LSD.  Max is so ruthless that he even sends his own mother (Shelley Winters) off to re-education.

And, with all the old people gone, everything is perfect for Max.  Except for that fact that 10 year-olds are now demanding the vote…

In many ways, Wild in the Streets feels like a film that could have only been made in 1968.  From the psychedelic direction to the costumes to the hair to music, everything about this movie screams late 60s.  But, at the same time, it’s still a genuinely amusing satire, largely because generational conflict is timeless.  We all think that those older than us are clueless and that those younger are spoiled.  There’s a lot of things in your life that can control.  Sadly enough, getting older is not one of them.

Wild in the Streets is a fun and amusing time capsule.  See it now before the younger generation comes of age and totally fucks up the world.