Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Wild in the Streets

For more overlooked films go here.

For most of the 1950s and all of the 1960s American International Pictures served the needs of its youthful audience, giving them a steady diet of beach parties, bikers and monsters.  By the late 60s AIP was ready to move beyond these fantasies and address the very real social change happening in the world at that time in films such as THE TRIP (1967), PSYCH-OUT (1968) and Barry Shear's WILD IN THE STREETS (1968), based on Robert Thom's short story, "The Day It All Happened, Baby."

Congressman John Fergus (Hal Holbrook), in an effort to capture the youth vote, enlists Max Frost (Christopher Jones), the most popular rock star in the world, to appear at a fundraiser. While there, Frost tells his youthful audience that fifty two percent of the population is under the age of 25 and that if Fergus is serious about serving the interests of youth he will enact legislation to lower the voting age to fourteen. Frost organizes a massive demonstration which basically shuts down Los Angeles, leaving Fergus little choice but to give in to Frost's demands. Once the voting age is changed, Frost uses a member of his entourage (Diane Varsi) to run for Congress and change the age requirements for Congress and the Presidency to fourteen. When Frost is elected President (as a Republican) his first official act is to neutralize everyone over the age of 35 by dosing them with LSD and holding them in concentration camps, starting with his shrewish mother (Shelley Winters). 

While at first viewing this seems like a wish fulfilment fantasy for its teenage audience (which is how I read it when I first saw it as a teen), this time around I was struck by how the film stacks the deck against Frost and his cause right from the beginning. He's a spoiled, antisocial jerk from his first scene and so are the people he surrounds himself with. It's clear that they don't deserve the rights that they're asking for and I found myself feeling sorry for Fergus and the unwinnable position he's put in. Clearly, that has something to do with the fact that I'm now closer to Fergus' generation than Frost's but I still think the film is meant to be critical of Frost's actions. I haven't read the source story but I'd be curious to see if this conservatism was present in the original story or was the result of studio changes. After all, this is from the studio that forced Roger Corman to give THE TRIP a downbeat ending so it wouldn't be seen as encouraging drug use.

Still, I'd recommend the film. It's entertaining, moves along at a good clip and Shelley Winter's performance in particular is something to see. It's also got some great music and it's interesting to note that the film's theme song, "The Shape of Things to Come," was resurrected nearly forty years later for a series of commercials for Target stores. Max Frost certainly would not approve.

1 comment:

  1. I think Robert Thom hoped to make of himself a good Swiftian satirist, and aimed to spare no one. He died pretty damned young, too...wonder why.