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We Wanna Be Free! We Wanna Be Free To Do What We Wanna Do! (The Wild Angels 1966)

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The Wild Angels 1966

Made at a time when the Hells Angels were creating a major moral panic across America, The Wild Angels opens with a preface: ‘The picture you are about to see will shock you and perhaps anger you. Although the events and characters are fictitious, the story is a reflection of our times.’

On its release, it was undeniably controversial, being banned in several countries. Newsweek branded it ‘an ugly piece of trash’ and other publications were equally scathing.

Would it prove contentious today in an age where shows like Game of Thrones (or even biker drama Sons of Anarchy) have gone out of their way to portray brutality like eye gouging and castration on a near weekly basis?

Certainly not for its violence, although plenty of other aspects might guarantee a slew of complaints if it were to be screened at any university film club. The male bikers are a highly misogynist bunch. There’s a rape and an attempted rape. There’s some casual racism and also a plethora of Nazi iconography on display throughout the movie – everything from a Swastika bedspread (honestly) to a coffin draped in a Nazi flag as Peter Fonda’s character Blues defines just exactly he wants to do during an extended – and spectacularly tasteless – funeral scene.

His speech may sound rousing when used in a sample – Mudhoney’s In ‘n’ Out of Grace was the first track to utilize it two years before Primal Screams’ Loaded – but in the context of the movie it comes across more as a selfish rant from a rebel without a coherent cause.

Despite this, The Wild Angels is compelling watch and very enjoyable too.

Aimed initially at the summer drive-in crowd, producer and director Roger Corman once again demonstrated his gift for giving a youthful audience the kind of subject matter that guaranteed they would flock to his films.

Peter Fonda plays Blues, the Prez of a Californian Angels chapter. He’s enigmatic and tough and to show how supercool he is, he doesn’t even take off his shades before wading into a fistfight with some Mexicans who have stolen his comrade’s chopper. Which inevitably he wins.

Blues is also the smartest of the bikers, although that wouldn’t be very difficult. He’s in a casual relationship with Mike (played rather woodenly by Nancy Sinatra). Yes, genuine American showbiz royalty here, folks. Corman must have heard the kerching sound of a cash register when he cast this pair.

Bruce Dern is Loser, Blue’s right hand man. He is married to Gaysh, played by Dianne Ladd, his real-life wife at the time and a dead ringer for her daughter Laura Dern round about the time of Wild At Heart.

There’s not much in the way of plot but, as per usual, Corman does a fantastic job of moving the action forward.

Unlike most biker flicks, Corman make it difficult to identify with the Angels. Early on when Blues is criticized by Loser’s war vet foreman for wearing an iron cross, Blues and Loser grapple him and threaten to take his teeth out with a wrench. Okay, the one percenter’s fascination with Nazi paraphernalia was nothing to do with Hitler’s ideology, rather a show of contempt towards straight society. As with some early punks in London it was more to do with shock tactics but was just plain wrong regardless.

Corman did speak with some local Angels along with writer Charles Griffith, and he claims that most of the major events in the film are based on true stories told to them by the outlaw bikers. He also made sure to employ a number of actual Angels from their Venice, California chapter on the project, treating them just like the professional actors. The bikers, though, later regretted their participation, which led to some highly dangerous consequences for the director as he discusses here:

Made on a budget of only $350,000 and shot in three weeks, The Wild Angels wasn’t the first biker movie, The Wild One was an obvious inspiration and even British kitchen sink drama The Leather Boys had been shot a couple of years beforehand.

It isn’t the best film of its kind either – Easy Rider, also starring Fonda, is far superior in just about every respect. The Wild Angels, though, did spawn the whole biker flick craze.

It was highly successful at the American box-office. According to Corman in the Corman’s World documentary, it made $16 million. Also remarkable is the fact that an independently made exploitation movie was chosen, along with classics like Fahrenheit 451, The War Game and The Battle of Algiers, to be screened at that year’s Venice Film Festival.

For more on Roger Corman click here.

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It’s a Bikini World (Soundtrack Sundays #6)

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The Castaways: Liar, Liar (1965)
The Animals: We Gotta Get out of This Place (1965)

With its inspired combination of falsetto and Farfisa, The Castaways’ Liar, Liar is one of the great American garage band hits of its era. It also has a zingy guitar lick and one of the best screams in 1960s rock’n’roll.

I first came across the track on the Nuggets compilation that Lenny Kaye assembled in 1972 and since then it has also appeared on a number of soundtracks, including Animal House, Good Morning, Vietnam and the hugely over-rated Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Before all that, Liar, Liar was performed live (well, supposedly live) on It’s a Bikini World, where The Castaways play it for the audition of a potential new go-go dancer for nightclub owner Daddy’s club The Dungeon, Daddy being played by Sid Haig, who later appeared in both Foxy Brown and Jackie Brown, both of which I covered last week.

Did she get the job? You bet she did!

It's a Bikini World

It’s a Bikini World belongs in the category of the beach party movie – or beachploitation or surfploitation if you prefer. This kind of film is generally far too frothy and wholesome for my tastes with all that sunshine and all those Dennis Wilson lookalikes with six packs and tanned Californian girls with gleaming smiles.

All these decades later, it’s odd to think of young people excitedly queuing up to see It’s Bikini World, Beach Ball (Haig was in that one too), Beach Blanket Bingo or Surf Party. Then again the same could be said in 2018 for Ant-Man and The Wasp and all the other blockbuster garbage currently clogging up the country’s multiplexes.

Here beach queen Deborah Walley stars along with Tommy Kirk and Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett of Monster Mash fame. Tommy Kirk’s opinion of the film? Well, he admitted to Filmfax magazine: ‘It was one of the worst pieces of shit that I’ve ever been in my life.’

Yes, it’s about as much fun as a wet Thursday in Thurso but director Stephanie Rothman, a protege of Roger Corman, does at least inject a little feminism into its bad battle of the sexes sitcom plot with a female lead character who is far from the passive norm of the beach movie.

Clearly though the main reason for watching It’s a Bikini World is for the music. In addition to The Castaways, girl group The Toys perform Attack!, a minor hit in the States, while The Animals, play We Gotta Get Out of This Place with Eric Burdon looking like getting out of this place was exactly what he wanted to do while lip-synching to the track at the Dungeon. I use the term lip-synching loosely.

Although shot in 1965, It’s a Bikini World wasn’t released until 1967, by which time biker and hippie flicks had began to supersede all the lightweight beach related bunkum. Suddenly young people with long hair in denim and leather took centre-stage and, unlike the ‘clean teens’ they liked to smoke, drink and have sex, as well as tuning in, turning on and dropping out. Characters that wanted to be free. Free to do what they wanted to do. Who wanted to get loaded and have a good time.

Oh, I feel a review of The Wild Angels coming on sometime soon.

For the It’s a Bikini World trailer, click here.

A Pam Grier Double Bill (Foxy Brown & Jackie Brown)

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Foxy Brown & Jackie Brown.jpg

Pam Grier’s two big 1970s career highpoints were Coffy and Foxy Brown and it’s easy if you haven’t seen both movies in years to confuse them. Both are blaxploitation revenge fantasies. Both are directed by Jack Hill with the Grier characters kicking ass throughout as they take on local drug pushers, pimps and crime lords. In both Grier poses as a high-class hooker as part of her strategy to gain some serious payback against those who have wronged her and her community. In Coffy she hides razor blades in her afro and then a small gun in Foxy Brown. That’s right, a small gun.

Foxy Brown is now the better-known film, largely because of the iconic name and the whole Jackie Brown thang, Quentin Tarantino giving several nods to Foxy in his third feature film. Just look at the typeface on those records pictured above for starters.

Coffy likely edges it as the superior movie, but Foxy is a whole lot of fun, more cartoon-like and more outrageous with a great arch nemesis in Miss Katherine Wall (Kathryn Loder), the unlikely head of the syndicate that controls the city’s drug trade.

It also has a much more dynamic opening credits sequence, blazing with pop art colours and accompanied by a track from under-rated Motown artist Willie Hutch. Here is Theme From Foxy Brown:

Based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, Jackie Brown still displays Tarantino’s effortless directorial pizzazz but this is a more nuanced and mature film than his previous high-octane trademark style might have led us to expect with only a fraction of the fireworks of Pulp Fiction.

Like that film, though, its dialogue flows like Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day, an intricate plot requiring you to pay close attention – don’t even think about checking your phone until the end credits roll – and, the soundtrack is top-notch, albeit more subdued than had been the case in before on Planet Quentin with no totally unexpected, stop you in your tracks moment like Little Green Bag or Stuck in the Middle with You in Reservoir Dogs.

Instead we are treated to some high class soul and funk including Across 110th Street by Bobby Womack (borrowed from Barry Shear’s blaxploitation crime drama of the same name from 1972), The Johnson Brothers’ Strawberry Letter 23 and The Meters’ Cissy Strut, one of the finest songs to ever emerge from that great musical city New Orleans:

Like Tarantino’s previous work, Jackie Brown also boasts a fantastic ensemble cast.

Here Pam Grier is Jackie Brown rather than Foxy (although she is still plenty foxy in the looks department). She’s is in her mid-40s and works as a flight attendant for the Mexican equivalent of Easyjet. To supplement her meagre wages, she smuggles money from Mexico in to L.A. for gun-runner Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson), a motormouth with a long ponytail and a little braided goatee, straight out of a Shaw Brothers’ chop socky flick. Ordell is equal parts charming and psychopathically ruthless.

Bridget Fonda plays his girlfriend Melanie, a full-time stoner, who, for a while at least, seems to enjoy hanging out with schubbly ex-con Louis (Robert De Niro), Ordell’s dim-witted but hot-tempered partner in crime.

Briefly we are even treated to three of my favourite actors sharing screentime together: Samuel L. Jackson. Robert De Niro and Pam Grier.

Anchoring the drama, though, is Robert Forster as world-weary bail bondsman Max Cherry, who develops a crush on Jackie (and a love of The Delfonics through her).

There’s one scene where he visits Jackie’s place and she sticks on a vinyl copy of The Delfonics’ self-titled third album, placing the needle on Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time). Max doesn’t recognise the track and asks if she hasn’t got into ‘the whole CD revolution.’ Jackie replies she has a few: ‘But I can’t afford to start all over again. I got too much time and money invested in my records.’

Later Max buys a cassette copy of The Delfonics’ album in a store and their music seems to symbolize his growing fondness for Jackie. Strange to think that for a time around twenty years ago, cassette tapes had somehow seemed to have outlived vinyl.

Jackie Brown has been called the last great crime movie of the 1990s but just as memorable is the poignant (potential) relationship between two characters who have, between them, lived on the planet for the grand total of one hundred years.

The chemistry between Grier and Forster is remarkable and the fact that Grier’s biggest successes had come almost a quarter of a century beforehand, while Forster was still best known for his role in 1969’s Medium Cool provided further proof that early period Tarantino possessed an exquisite talent for the kind of imaginative casting capable of resurrecting careers.

From Philly, another fine music city, here are The Delfonics with the soft soul classic Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time):

For more on Quentin Tarantino: https://www.tarantino.info/

A Blaxploitation Double Bill (Black Caesar & Hell Up in Harlem)

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Black Caesar& Hell Up in Harlem

Directed by Larry Cohen in 1973, Black Caesar was a classic rise and fall of a gangster tale, whose structure borrowed more than a little from Little Caesar.

It proved a huge hit with Blaxploitation fans. Some NYC cinemas ran the film almost continuously all day long. Even during the freezing cold of a Big Apple winter, film-goers were prepared to queue round the block for a chance to see it when it first hit screens early 1973.

They loved the action, filmed with a high-octane pizzazz by Cohen. They loved Fred Williamson’s charisma in the lead role of Tommy Gibbs, a man who works his way up from ghetto kid to Harlem’s Gangsta Number 1. They also loved the soundtrack supplied by the Godfather of Soul Mr James Brown.

The accompanying album is uneven but tracks like The Boss and Make It Good To Yourself are among the most infuriatingly funky tracks to appear on any slice of soul cinema. Here is James Brown with one of the most sampled songs ever recorded:

Such was the box office success of Black Caesar that American International Pictures demanded a follow-up ASAP and Cohen was roped in to craft a sequel.

Hell Up in Harlem? Well, it’s a mess in places, oozing with cliches and a plot that you might imagine was made up as the filmmakers went along.

In reality it was.

The circumstances behind the making of the movie were far from ideal. Cohen had to film it while he was also making It’s Alive! for Warner Bros.
Not only that but Fred Williamson could only participate at weekends as he was shooting That Man Bolt for Universal on Monday through to Fridays.
A logistical nightmare. Many of the same crew were employed on both films and sometimes, presumably when Williamson’s body double was being utilised, shooting on both projects took place on the same day.

It’s little wonder that the movie makes little sense at times. There are some batshit crazy moments and inconsistencies. Be warned: your suspension of disbelief must be extraordinary if you are to enjoy the film without questioning its plot.

Just take the accelerated character arc of Tommy’s father, Papa Gibbs. In record breaking time he moves from an ageing, benign and law-abiding citizen to badass crime boss, ditching his shirt and tie along the way and embracing some peacock pimp chic threads.

Despite having avoided his own boy for years on end, the suddenly judgmental old hypocrite takes a sadistic glee in banning his son’s ex-Helen from ever seeing her children again, claiming she’s a bad mother.

And I should explain, I literally mean a bad mother and not the kind of bad mother James Brown sings about in The Boss.

Another problem was the soundtrack.

Unbeknown to the AIP bosses, James Brown had messed up the lengths of music required despite being given a print of the picture and exact timings for each of the scenes where his input was required. A music editor had to be brought on board to help Cohen cut and edit each and every music cue until they could fit with the scene. Not an easy task.

AIP were unaware of this and happily hired Brown to score another of their movies, Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off.

Again the Godfather of Soul messed up his timings but didn’t have Cohen to cover up his mistake this time around.

AIP were so pissed off that they refused to use him again and considered legal action against him. Despite this, Brown created another spec score but although Larry Cohen rated it, AIP still wouldn’t use it. These tracks ended up on The Payback, a #1 on the soul charts and his only album to be certified gold.

Luckily, since the success of Isaac Hayes’ influential score for Shaft, followed by Curtis Mayfield’s amazing job on Super Fly, just about every major soul artist was all too keen to jump on board the blaxploitation bandwagon.

Edwin Starr was invited to supply a score. And Edwin certainly delivered. Presumably with the correct timings.

Sampled by Ice-T on 1988’s High Rollers, this is Easin’ In:

For more on Larry Cohen: http://www.larrycohenfilmmaker.com/