Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 1981. Pioneer Films. Screenplay by Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery. Cinematography by Doyle Smith. Produced by A. Kitman Ho, Grafton Nunes. Music by Robert Gordon. Production Design by Lilly Kilvert. Film Editing by Nancy Kanter. Toronto International Film Festival 1982.
Kathryn Bigelow makes her feature debut co-directing this stylish cult curiousity with future David Lynch collaborator Monty Montgomery. In his first lead role, Willem Dafoe plays a member of a motorcycle gang who are held up in a dusty southern town on their way to Florida to enjoy the races in Daytona. The leather-clad rebels cool their heels at a near-empty diner, then later hole up in a friendly gas station attendant’s garage before enjoying drinks at a bar at night, Dafoe making the acquaintance of the emotionally frustrated daughter of a local oil tycoon and having a brief tryst with her. Despite their intense appearance, these kids never actually do anything worse than forgetting to mind their manners, but the disapproval and fear they inspire in those they come across creates a tension in the air that you know won’t be good when it is finally released. Inspired by fifties biker films like The Wild Ones, this subtly funny film creates a very convincing retro look on a very low budget, the chrome glints on the vintage cars and the neon lights shine bright in the dingy bars, while the charisma of its star carries you through a great deal of breathtaking moments of wordless suspension. The subplot involving the corrupt oil man threatens to turn didactic, he’s the real threat to the town’s wholesome lives and not a bunch of kids who like to cuff their jeans and slick their hair, but the directors never overplay the message and instead enjoy creating memorable images and work towards the exciting and disturbing climax. Features rockabilly superstar Robert Gordon in a supporting role, who also supplies the film’s soundtrack.