Welcome to Screenage Kicks - a blog concentrating on the lurid, feral excitement of on screen 'punk attitude'.

Bare with me, this blog is in it's tentative stages, but I hope to cover a wealth of cinema that influenced punk, was influenced by punk, or is in itself - pure punk. However my definition of 'what is punk?' is based on notions of attitude, subversion, rebellion, transgression, visceral excitement, self exploration, boundary breaking, abandon, and both brutal realism and wild escapism. A broadbased appreciation of life changing or challenging movies, having little to do with prescribed identikit cliches of 'punk'. The concept of 'punk cinema' by it's very existence should challenge the notion of what is, and what is not 'punk cinema'. Reflecting this 'break the rules' outlook my writing will vary wildly between flip fan-istic enthusiasm and more serious academic investigations and insights, depending on my mood (and level of aggression).

Friday, 17 February 2012

Electra Glide In Blue

Electra Glide In Blue
Electra Glide In Blue depicts the flip side of Easy Rider, flipped to reveal the story of a protagonist situated within the establishment that Easy Rider set itself up in opposition to. Where Easy Rider manifests the counterculture in the form of two long haired bikers, fired up and fuled by the rising tide of new attitudes, and anti establishment motivation, 'headed for adventure' looking for freedom -  free enterprise, free love, free thinking, free expression, freedom to enjoy the life affirming modes of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, on the highways and dusty road vistas of wide-open, expansive America.  EGIB however manifests the establishment response to this youth driven cultural upheaval, not the inner city response, the army response or the government response (See Zabraski Point for this) but the direct response of the moral guardians of the very roads traveled by hippies in search of freedom in the promised land - highway patrol cops and small town sherif's. EGIB is fascinating as Easy Rider's "opposite", the two would make a great double bill. The landscape highlighting cinematography in both is stunning in capturing the dual contradiction of the psycho-geographic image of wide open America - so much space to lose ones self in, so much promise of freedom, yet in truth these places patroled by small minded, uptight, terrifying law-men that instil such a heavy dread fuled sense of total fascism, that the freedom of the wide open dream seems just that "a dream", a futile false image where beyond every beautiful dusky and harmonious horizon may lay a claustrophobic small town of paranoid inbreds ready to act out the very opposite of the freedom dream in all it's savage brutal, cruel and deadly force. In films that emerged from the late 60s early 70s counterculture, this scary "unknown" can manifest itself in two main ways, the first is "the law" the heavy arm of fascism that will crush any notion of freedom (Vanishing Point, Easy Rider), the second is very different in that by taking away freedom, it creates it's own greater sense of freedom, for example the monsters and twisted inbreds of Texas Chain Shaw MassacreThe Hills Have Eyes and Deliverence, excert their own freedom by the capture and murduer of outsiders. These small comunities lost, hidden or left alone amongst the vast expanse of the American lanscape pay no heed or respect to the law men and their laws yet share the same desire to destroy outsiders. Sometimes however depending on how twisted the comunity the two are in cahoots, this just adds to the fear, you never can tell in these small towns who to trust or who to believe. In Walter Hills gripping Southern Comfort (the outsiders here are a platoon of National Guard soldiers on excercise in the lousiana swamps, terrorised by cajun locals, displaying the ultimate example of Americans who create their own laws and morals in the places that have fallen off the map, fearful of outsiders but fearless of governing laws created in far away places) the final scenes artfully play on these notions of insider lawlessness and "who to trust", as traditional notions of law and order, and the law (or military) as "trustworthy" or "authoritarian" suddendly seem disconected from reality and the reality of civilised America when stuck in the middle of "nowhere". in these kinds of films the terror comes just as much from the distance from "known" cilvilisation and the sense of hopeless dessolation as it does from the monsters and madmen themselves, freedom is turned into fear itself. Distant desolation as fear was taken to it's furthest conclusion with sc-fi horror classic Aliens in 1979.The promotional material for Aliens professed 'in space no one can hear you scream' however who needs the distance and expanse of outer-space to make you feel alone, lost and terrified? The paradox of being 'far from home - closer to home' is surly enough to create immense loneliness and fear, when in these deserts or swamps your screams are just as useless as in outer space and the only people listening are the people causing you to scream.

Throughout Easy Rider we witness the discrimination and paranoid suspicion of outsiders (both outsiders in a geographical sense but also outsiders in a cultural and intellectual sense) from law men. The two protagonists - examplars of the new youth, are verbally abused in public, goaded, and thrown in jail. Their brutal slaying at the end of the film however comes from a couple of citizens - 'good ol inbred local boys' who are just as likely to drive into the mise-en-scene of Deliverance. Easy Rider presents the brutality of both institutionalised bigotry and the dangerous narrow mindedness of Americas rural and seemingly disconnected (disenfranchised, confused, alienated?) population.

EGIB however gets its hands dirty by setting itself up to seemingly come from the other side of the Easy Rider discourse, It's main protagonist is tiny 5 foot Vietnam Vet turned highway patrol cop "Big John" (Robert Blake) who's is a compliant cog in a corrupt and oppressive police force. The film was accused of being fascistic on it's release, such criticism completely missed the point of the films arresting oppositional set up. Maybe these critics never made it through the entire film, where John (a stickler for the law and it's rules) depicted as fair but unwavering soon tires of the corruption and blatant discrimination against hippies and longhairs, when made aware of how the law bends to fit it's own means and preoccupations. Maybe Johns trajectory mirrors the trajectory of the more liberal minded of Americas population and authorities as he comes to value truth and honesty over the blind vilifying young people simply because of the length of their hair of unconventional clothing. It would only take a few short years before most of these types of communities adopted the long hair look as "normal" to the point where when short haired punks come onto the scene a few years later they are vilified once again for looking different. A display of how the mainstream co opts the things it once railed against. By the end of the film a faith in the objective balance and fairness of the "cop"' is manifest, which points towards a fairer, better America however this optimism is short lived as the shocking brutal shooting of John off his Electro Glide motorcycle by a hippie from the rear window of a camper van, again brilliantly mirrors the "opposite" of Easy Rider its the same ending but from the other side of the counter culture discourse.  Whats sad is that it is the paranoia and fear of mutual distrust that killed John here, having finally decided to "trust the hippies" he stops them, but recognising one of the hippies he is friendly and lets them move on, however noticing that they have left something behind he (again friendly) follows them to return the item, and although their reason is not made explicit maybe the hippies think John is toying with them (as has happened by previous cops) - tired of being toyed with they shoot John from the rear window of their van as he approaches from behind. Sad that as the establishment (as represented here by John) finally had accepted and caught up with the voices of dissent, he is shot down. Maybe we can draw association here with the assassinations of the Kennedy's. The link seems overt, however this notion is hindered somewhat by the fact that the assassin is depicted as countercultural and not counterculture oppositional - as the assassins of John and Robert kennedy surely were trying to stand in the way of American progress. Think again however and the concept of the 'bad hippie' leads straight to the doorstep of Charles Manson, still very much in the public and cultural national conscious of America at the time of the film in 1974, whereas back in 1969 when Easy Rider was released the notion (from within the counter culture itself) of the "bad hippie" was not raised unless it was of course from the bigoted right wing conservative's who indeed labelled all hippies as bad.

Many of these films from this era highlight the failure of the hippie dream, and it was this failure (often seen in terms of giving up or selling out) that lead the next youth culture to sometimes take on an anti-hippie stance despite sharing many of the same ideologies that challenged the dominant mainstream culture in the name of liberty, personal freedom and self expression. Dennis Hopper (star of Easy Rider) seems to have realised this and so if EGIB was Easy Riders opposite then Hoppers criminally underrated Out Of The Blue is the bleak punk sequel to Easy Rider. Hopper him-self has expressed that it was a kind of unofficial sequel.

Electra Glide In Blue however harness's much proto-punk attitude, including the sharp, new wave leather boy look of the cops who's outfits and helmets are fetishized in a cool glamorous manor that seems brave during a time when cops ("pigs") were possibly the most uncool group of people in America at the time. Here the cops / pigs look far cooler than the unkempt hippies who at that time were meant to be thee coolest. Something which would not go un-lost on any budding future punks in the cinema audience, identifying more with the deadly look of the cops in contrast to the rather worn and deadbeat look of the hippies who look lost and already outdated - dying dinosaurs.  The subversive "leather and power" identity play also brings to mind Kenneth Angers transgressive masterpiece Scorpio Rising.

Along side other gritty road movies such as Two Lane Black Top and Vanishing Point, EGIB contributes to an a unique and visceral cycle of existentialist films that injected the "new Hollywood" trajectory with countercultural films of a seriously reflexive nature - asking questions about all sides of the cultural crises, capturing the confusion and paranoia of the times without being preachy. These often challenging films carried the glimpse of the new found freedoms and spaces but often showed the true horrors to be found in such uncharted places.

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