Thursday, September 1, 2016

Shear & Thom's WILD IN THE STREETS: this 1960s "instant classic" has aged quite well

When WILD IN THE STREETS hit cinemas back in 1968, no less a critic than the fine Renata Adler in The New York Times deemed the film a "kind of instant classic" -- you can read her entire review here -- and went on to praise it in terms that very few (if any) movies distributed by American International Pictures had ever earned. TrustMovies saw the film back in '68 and loved it, but when he viewed it again, maybe twenty years later, he felt that it didn't hold up so sturdily, after all. Well, here we are in 2016, with a certain con-man/liar with a very "loose" hold on reality running for President, and damned if the film doesn't resonate presciently -- and so entertainingly -- all over again.

Thanks to Olive Films' new Blu-ray and DVD release, those long-ago fans, as well as newcomers, can recall or find out what all the fuss was about. Some of that fuss centered on a hot new actor named Christopher Jones, above and below, who starred in the film as the pop singer-turned-business-magnate-turned-you'll-find-out who sets young America ablaze, as he sings to, then rounds up, his "troops" for a frontal and all-out assault on "aged" Americans (that would be anyone over, say, 30 or 35). Mr. Jones looked to be a sure-thing "star" and worthy successor to James Dean, but that star failed to rise. The actor was never again as well-cast and resonant as he was here, and after a few more films, for whatever reason(s), he fell off the grid.

As written by Robert Thom (from his short story) and directed by TV & film vet Barry Shear (Across 110th Street), this 97-minute movie barrels along -- with plot and incident aplenty, and a half-dozen good pop-rock songs that also feed the plot nicely -- at a speed rarely seen back in 1968. Today, the film seems much less speedy, though certainly not slow enough to bore. Even its editing (by Fred Feitshans and Eve Newman, both of whom were Oscar nominated for their work on the film), which looked amazingly fast and furious in its day, would probably need to be sped up a bit by our current standards.

Still the film's combo of politics (every bit as venal then as now), marketing (cornering the "youth" vote by lowering the voting age), drugs, sex (of more kinds that audiences were used to back in the day) and rock-and-roll -- all conceived around a fractured "family" tale that Brady Corbett's recent Childhood of a Leader might have learned from -- adds up to a remarkably entertaining and juicy look at how the USA can be manipulated for fun, profit and finally horror. And the filmmaker's clever use of documentary footage (as above) within their thrusting narrative works nicely, too.

What's missing is any hint of the income gap, the one per cent, and the rise of the corporations. But of course: This was well prior to Ronald Reagan's Presidential ascent and the beginning of our capitulation to wealth and power. But taken as an entertainment, the movie zings and sings. Its songs are fun, rhythmic and even have the melody that much of today's music has totally lost. The screenplay is wonderfully pointed and funny, and the movie's ironies are often a delight. (Watch for the little song about "campaign dinners" that a de-frocked politician -- played with relish, and then abandon, by Ed Begley -- chants toward movie's end.)

The cast also includes Shelley Winters (in foreground, two photos up), going all out to become one of the more memorable of movie "mothers"; Hal Holbrook (above), as the politician who thinks he is using Mr. Jones and his troops; Diane Varsi as a drug-addled hanger-on; and especially Richard Pryor (below and before we even knew who this guy was!) as a smart member of Jones' band.

The film is probably ripe for a remake, which, if it happens, should only provide as much timely fun and frolic as did this original -- available now from Olive Films, on both Blu-ray and DVD, for purchase and, I would hope, rental. (Netflix really ought to order this one -- now!)

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