Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Wild Angels (1966, Roger Corman)

Wow, this is the biggest smattering of future talent Corman ever had. Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Monte Hellman, Michael J. Pollard, and an uncredited Peter Bogdanovich pitching in on just about everything if IMDB is to be trusted. Regular Corman scribe Charles Griffith (The Little Shop of Horrors) rips loose accounts of the Hell's Angels from newspapers and turns them into a delightfully plotless romp in which Fonda's biker buddy Dern gets busted, hospitalized, busted out by Fonda and dies from lack of medical attention. Then Fonda's gang tears up the church where he's being sermonized and that's more or less the end. Between these moments there's a lot of biking and hey, like, shove off, man attitude.

Corman's exploitation of biker subculture, or at least the popular conception of the Hell's Angels, is hilariously conservative. Fonda and his creeps are never anything less than total idiots and Corman doesn't skimp on the Swastikas - when Dern is laid down at the biker pad after being sprung from the hospital, his blanket is a Nazi flag and his nightcap is some not-so-medicinal marijuana. The Wild Angels are rapists, racists, and the ideal of an open life on the open road is given lip service exactly once by Fonda while he's telling off a priest. Movies like these are the reason Dennis Hopper wanted to make Easy Rider. I'll take the former over the latter any day; vicarious crimes beat mystical navel gazing any day.

In Hunter S. Thompson's nonfiction Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, published the same year as this film, Thompson dispels a lot of the myths which Griffith turns into setpieces. Real Hell's Angels never rode around raping and pillaging and if there were brawls, self-righteous local rednecks were usually the instigators. The real Hell's Angels probably hated this movie for perpetuating such stereotypes. The only stereotype they might have secretly envied was fashioning Nancy Sinatra the model biker "mama" when the real life equivalent more accurately resembles Andrea Dworkin.

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