KLAATU YOU (11)
March 11, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
WILD IN THE STREETS | d. BARRY SHEAR | 1968
Wild in the Streets is my favorite of several American International Pictures films of the period — relax, Witchfinder General fans, let me finish — that aimed to exploit the younger generation’s predisposition to social protest. If for no other reason, watch it with the historian’s perspective that cartoonist Charles Burns once prescribed: “In some really sleazy ’60s exploitation movies, you can get a better idea of what reality was like in the ’60s than you do with your glossed-over version of Peter Max and Life magazine explaining to you what hippies are.” Right!
Adapted from an Esquire short story by Robert Thom, who would also write the Death Race 2000 screenplay, Shear’s movie conforms in every respect to AIP’s “ARKOFF formula”: Action, Revolution, Killing, Oratory, Fantasy, Fornication. Although it’s set in the present day (Nixon is depicted losing the ’68 election), this is very much a work of proleptic science fiction. It’s a satire that spares no one, yet it’s mostly not two-dimensional. We sympathize with the charismatic Max Frost (James Dean manqué Christopher Jones), who rallies his “troops” to get the voting age lowered, so that he can become president… only to send everyone over 35 to a re-education camp. At the same time, it’s made clear that he’s a sociopath. Conversely, although we may recoil from the spectacle of Max’s narcissistic mother Daphne steamrolling everyone in her path, we can’t help but admire Shelley Winters’s scenery-chewing, movie-stealing performance, and we’re sorry when she meets her fate.
The reason I’ve watched this movie several times — I can’t say the same thing for Roger Corman’s The Trip or Gas-s-s-s, or Richard Rush’s Psych-Out — is because its depiction of Max’s ménage is so compelling. Max and his friends — Kevin Coughlin plays a 15-year-old guitarist and business wizard, surely the model for Danny Partridge; Diane Varsi, who’d later play the nurse in Johnny Got His Gun, is a feral, semi-nude acid-head whose tambourine-shaking scene in the U.S. Capitol is funny and unnerving; Richard Pryor (!) is an anthropologist and militant known as Stanley X — are an Argonaut Folly. They not only play music and live together, they’re a political strike force. The jokes, the wrestling, the horizontal postures: their tribal camaraderie is strong. They’re a living advertisement, for better and worse, for Max’s vision: an eroticized, non-repressive, egalitarian America. His means are iffy, but his ends? Sign me up.
As I was writing this, the New York Times published a compelling Op-ed, by HILOBROW friend Astra Taylor, titled “Out With the Old, In With the Young.” Although youth may not be intrinsically enlightened or virtuous compared with their elders, she notes, the “coming gerontocracy” can only be a disaster. Taylor rejects a “be patient and wait your turn attitude,” praises Ayanna Pressley’s proposal to lower the federal voting age to 16, and hails the youth-led Global Climate Strike. Some will scoff at this sort of analysis and rhetoric; others will grow fearful. Such reactions explain the cult-classic ghetto to which Wild in the Streets has been unfairly relegated. Amazon Prime’s description of the movie’s plot — “A millionaire rock star/drug pusher is elected President after the voting age is lowered to 14” — could have been uttered by Ed Begley Sr.’s cranky old-fogey character. It’s so much more than that. Instantly dated in 1968, in 2020 Wild in the Streets is very timely indeed.
PS: Also check out my post about the comic book PREZ.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Brian Berger on THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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