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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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Some Mostly Inconsequential Writing & Three of the Finest Duets Ever Recorded

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Last Saturday, on the way to see The Skids in Glasgow, conversation after a couple of pre-show bevvies turned to the greatest duets ever recorded. A couple of tracks by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell were mentioned as were a couple of tracks by Marvin and Kim Weston including, of course, It Takes Two. Good shouts.

William Bell and Judy Clay’s Private Number was also quite rightly praised as was I’m a Fool For You by James Carr & Betty Harris.

It didn’t take long before someone suggested Morrissey and Siouxsie and Interlude but I must admit, that was a track that probably promised slightly more than it delivered. Not a view that everyone agreed with. Then again, not everyone was happy about me rubbishing Bowie & Queen and Under Pressure.

Thankfully no one brought up the even worse Bowie collaboration with Mick Jagger.

The Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield and What Have I Done To Deserve This? coulda been a contender but only if just about anybody other than Neil Tennant had been partnering Dusty on vocal duties.

If a vote had been taken then Some Velvet Morning would likely have edged it as our favourite ever duet: a hypnotic and surreal masterpiece that’s even a little disorientating and also to my mind a lot more psychedelic than anything the likes of The Grateful Dead ever recorded (not that I’ve ever spent much time listening to that particular band).

 
Up there for me is Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot with Bonnie And Clyde, a track that somehow managed to be just as supercool as Arthur Penn’s movie of the same name that helped kickstart that whole, very wonderful era of New Hollywood cinema.

I think this is taken from a special edition of the Brigitte Bardot Show, broadcast on New Years Day, 1968:

 
Not surprisingly the debate on Serge/BB led on to Je t’aime or to give it its full name Je t’aime… moi non plus, a track that Serge composed the lyrics to while he was having an affair with Bardot, although the later Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg version is far better known. Being banned by the Vatican probably helped.

Inevitably, irony reared its head around this point with Frankie Howerd and June Whitfield and Up Je T’aime being thrown into the hat, followed by Arthur Mullard & Hilda Baker’s You’re The One That I Want.

Once a degree of seriousness returned to proceedings there was mention of Aerosmith and Run DMC and numerous others including Sheena Easton and Prince – cue a discussion on when two of us saw Sheena perform on Glasgow Green at an event to mark my hometown becoming European City of Culture in 1990. Sorry Sheena but we did boo.

I forgot to put forward Bob and Marcia’s Young, Gifted and Black and Tramp by Carla Thomas and Otis Redding – well I was on the Stella with the odd whisky chaser and my head was moving swiftly towards befuddlement on the way to oblivion. I did, though, remember to nominate northern soul classic I’ll Hold You by Frankie and Johnny.

Frankie was Maryhill’s Maggie Bell though Johnny’s identity remains something of a mystery with the general consensus on internet soul sites believing him to be a Scottish singer called Johnny Curtis (also known possibly as Frankie Kerr just to confuse matters slightly).

If you’ve never heard this one then prepare yourself for a absolute treat:

 
Actually Maggie Bell and B.A. Robertson and Hold Me was acknowledged to be a guilty pleasure by one of us and fans of obscure music trivia might know that Timi Yuro, who sang the original version of Interlude once covered Hold Me too.

Not that we discussed this at the time, the conversation being steered instead towards the subject of Taggart – Maggie Bell, of course, supplying the theme tune for that show back in the 1980s and 90s.

Some more duets were recommended but by this point fewer and fewer gems were being proposed and I’ve forgotten a big majority of them, although despite the fact that we were going to see the band that wrote and recorded The Saints Are Coming I’m sure nobody uttered the words Green Day and U2, their take on that song being in every way musically inferior to The Skids’ 1978 original.