Forget The Hurt Locker, this 1982 outlaw biker / rockabilly oddity (The Loveless) is the finest film Kathryn Bigelow ever made, it was also her first (co-directed with Monty Montgomery). Further more this hyper stylised, seductive, dream (it's not quite a nightmare but it's slightly twisted, lurid and uneasy) also provided Willem Dafoe with his debut feature role. And if Dafoe's cool, enegmatic, demonic, creepy but shatteringly compelling screen arrival wasnt 'punk' enough then punk rocker / neo rockabilly legend Robert Gordon ensures the films place on this blog.
Robert Gordon maintains that he had his life changing punk moment at the age of 9 when he first heard Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel played on the radio. Later cementing his punk credentials in the 70s with punk band Tuff Darts who appeared on the compilation album Live at CBGBs. After hooking up with American garage band legend (The Strangeloves), songwriter (My Boyfriends Back, I Want Candy), producer (Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Dr Feelgood, The Fleshtones) Richard Gottehrer, Gordon headed in a more rockabilly direction, reflecting his deep love of Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and the like. He was soon working with guitar hero Link Wray and they released the album Robert Gordon with Link Wray in 1977. A second album with Link Wray followed in 78, this time featuring sometime Elvis backing vocalists The Jordanaires, this album also featured a song called Fire that Bruce Springsteen had written for Elvis, whilst on this album version Springsteen played keyboards on the track. Gordon's third album Rock Billy Boogie was made with Chris Spedding (Sex Pistols producer who had also worked / played with Nilson, John Cale, Tom Waits, Roxy Music and both Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno solo) this trio of albums had cemented Gordon as a prime force in the punk generations return to rockabilly roots in search of direction, a direction soon taken up by the likes of The Stray Cats, The Cramps, Tav Falco's Panther Burns, The Pole Cats and many many more as a deeper love for rockabilly saw a wealth of 50s influenced artists arrive in force as either neo-rockabilly purists or in the mutated (mixed with 60s garage, surf and B-movie horror influences) punked-out form of Psychobilly. Gordon then (already a subcultural icon) was the perfect choice to give weight and credibility to a 50s style biker movie obviously inspired by the Brando classic The Wild One.
The Lovless was overlooked and under-appreciated on it's original release, probably not taken fully seriously due to it to coming after a wealth of 50s / early 60s set 'youth films' that had already seen a return a similar aesthetic (Grease, The Wanderers). However the subtleties and original aspects of The Loveless were obviously lost on critics who couldn't see past the retro 50s themes. Audiences hungry for a slightly subversive and fetishistic take on this already exhausted period however felt different, and over time The Loveless found it's audience - becoming a genuine cult favourite. The fine tuned fetishistic elements of the film summon up the memory and feel of Kenneth Angers transgressive masterpiece Scorpio Rising in a way that the likes of Grease never did! Though it is as if Bigelow had seen Grease and decided that it's villains - Crater Face and his gang the Scorpions would have made far more interesting main protagonists than Danny Zuco and his T-Birds. John Waters of course would later manage to blend aesthetic elements of both Grease and The Loveless in his 'Delinquent musical' Cry Baby.
There's not much of a story here (employing the classic punk topic of 'boredom' as bored biker gang cause trouble in a small Southern town) but the languid sensual visuals and sexy retro mise-en-scene make the film an essential slice of post punk retro mania and a total joy to immerse ones self in, for its duration. Often criticised as empty, dull and boring, due to the scripts minimal nature, however the sparseness employed actually adds significantly to the sense of strangeness and poetic otherworldly ambience.