Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Wild in the Streets


Youth is not only wasted on the young, it's become a disease! With luck and health it is a disease from which you will all recover!

How to take 1968's WILD IN THE STREETS?  Right-on satire or campy counter-cultural embarrassment? For me, the argument leans toward the former.  It quite effectively (sometimes savagely) lampoons both sides of the political divide, ever widening.  It does have thoughts in its head, despite what appears to be an attempt to be flashy and raucous.

The movie has the requisite jump cut sequences of sex and drug use and many of the things you'd expect to see in a low budget film from this era aimed at young people.   But Robert Thom's screenplay, based on his novella, mines some truthfully observant moments amidst a crazy plot involving a rock star named Max Frost (Christopher Jones) who becomes President of the U.S.A. and lowers the voting age to fourteen.  This revolutionary (demented?) idea brews in his head long before he gets to the Oval Office; he and his band The Troopers sing the anthem "14 or Fight" at a rally for Senate candidate Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook) months earlier.

The road to the White House is a wild one, maan.  Max is frustrated by his square parents and a sheltered life in suburbia.  As he leaves home, he blows up the family car.  This kid is headed for big things, clearly.

L.A.  Big mansion, swimming pool.  He and his band (which includes Richard Pryor as Stanley X, the drummer) all room together.  Living the dream.  When Max sees Fergus on T.V. he believes perhaps a ray of hope in the Establishment does exist.  After the big concert, it's clear that Max wants to take the would-be senator's progressive ideas much further.  Demonstrations break out from coast to coast. Fergus wins the Senate, but Frost and co. decide they'd like to get into politics. Compromise had been made to get the voting age down to fifteen.  The Troopers' keyboardist Sally (Diane Varsi) is voted into Congress by her newly minted young constituents.  "14 or Fight" is back on, baby.

Fergus' eldest son Jimmy (Michael Margotta) joins The Troopers and their cause.  When dad asks him to come home, he explains why he can't, how he equates it to rallying with the Man and his prejudices.  "I don't see a Negro anymore.  I see a man who started his tan sooner than I did."

Max finds, quite amusingly, that he has to run as a Republican to win the Presidency; the Democrats are old and not with it at all.  With a wealth of young voters, Max easily wins.  There will be an assassination attempt.  Thirty becomes the mandatory age for retirement ("30 is death!").  Those thirty-five and older are placed in "re-education" camps and fed LSD to make 'em understand, you dig?

WILD IN THE STREETS follows its ideas right to the end, and while the outcome is entirely logical, I found its development a bit disappointing.  Thom has the right idea but the final scenes are a bit thin.  Perhaps he and director Barry Shear - who contributes many highly cinematic moments throughout the picture - should've come up with a more satisfactory conclusion.  Youth may in fact be the disease that may ultimately lead to society's demise, and "God the father cannot be replaced by God the eternal juvenile son."  Does that line reveal the filmmaker's thoughts on the subject? Is that why Phil Ochs rejected an offer to play Max?
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