MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

WILD ANGELS FIND A HAVEN IN VENICE

A black-leather film in hard-core horror found fans at the festival

WENDY MICHENER October 15 1966
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

WILD ANGELS FIND A HAVEN IN VENICE

A black-leather film in hard-core horror found fans at the festival

WENDY MICHENER October 15 1966

WILD ANGELS FIND A HAVEN IN VENICE

Michener on movies

A black-leather film in hard-core horror found fans at the festival

ONE OF THE more curious things about popular art is that it seldom finds acceptance in its own time. One Superman fan I know used to boast that he was reading the New Yorker back when his schoolmates were hooked on comic books, and the adults who are among today’s most avid Batman collectors probably had to hide their copies from their parents.

You might think the situation would be changed now that “pop art” has been consecrated by museums and popular arts are discussed in universities. But oddly enough the real pop object is still scorned. Take The Wild Angels. It’s a black-leather motorcycle-gang story starring Peter (son of Henry) Fonda and Nancy (daughter of Frank) Sinatra. Even though it was chosen as the starting pistol for the prestigious Venice Film Festival in August, it is still being released and discussed as though it were just another crummy teen-age exploitation film — something for the bikini beach crowd to watch in stormy weather. And the Americans in Venice were very upset by the film’s “gray image of the American way of life.”

Black would be more like it. The Wild Angels is about a Nazi-oriented gang in Southern California who might all bear the famous tattoo: “Born to raise hell.”

One nothing-else-to-do night, they ride into a neighboring town and beat up the non-white garage mechanics. The cops wound and capture one of them. The Angels spring him from hospital but he dies on their hands. Torn between loyalty to a buddy, fear of discovery, and a desire to spit on

death as well as life, they gather for a funeral with a conscripted minister. Inevitably, the service only provokes them into a joyless frenzy of destruction and desecration. The corpse is “resurrected” for the party, and the minister tied up in the coffin. But for the leader (Peter Fonda), the death of his fellow angel is very real and suddenly forces him into an acceptance that life does hold some meaning.

Obviously The Wild Angels owes a lot to the famous and now safely admired Marlon Brando picture. The Wild One (1954). Photographed entirely on location, Wild Angels has the quality of a Western gone sour. This is a West where men are boys who ride bikes instead of horses, and where the raging individualist finds himself an outlaw with no chance of becoming a hero. He is trapped in a society which has no legitimate need for violence, but all too clearly still hungers for it. In the buttoned-down civilization, how does a man demonstrate his physical courage?

Like the best of American movies The Wild Angels has an engaging freewheeling energy that is all the more disturbing since it is destructive, hot purposeful. Perhaps this is why such pictures continue to offend the keepers of culture. There’s no denying the relevance of the movie’s preoccupation with death, drugs, pleasure, violence and futility, but it comes in the form of a simple fantasy. It reflects without judging. It doesn’t view with alarm or offer solutions like the problem-conscious documentaries about delinquents. And it doesn’t heighten the violence into a stylized ritual. Nor does it package satire as did the Bond series. The Wild Angels, like Nancy Sinatra’s hit song, These Boots Were Made For Walking, is the real stuff of pop art. As such it continues to offend — and to attract a huge audience.

Luigi Chiarini, the head of the Venice Film Festival, has said that The Wild Angels is “one of the most important American films of the past ten years.” I like the picture well enough to think he might just be right, but I still wonder if he is not somewhat blinded hy the added appeal of exoticism which distance can give to a picture.

i SUSPECT THAT Chiarini would not be impressed by Marco The Magnificent, a Franco - Italian spectacular about the adventures of Marco Polo. But I find its blend of gorgeous scenery, costume-ball brawls, and wild extravagance quite irresistible.

Marco sets out to be, and is, the picture with everything. It has desert scenes, snow scenes, mountain greenery, and an international cast of stars. Horst Buchholz, an unlikely Marco Polo at best, has more costume changes than Doris Day in an Edith Head production, as he fights ’em, loves ’em and leaves ’em on his way to China with a message of peace from the Pope. Anthony Quinn, the oneman United Nations, cons his way effortlessly through the role of the Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan, and

Akim Tamiroff provides sly fun as a mountain tyrant who always wears a golden mask. “How else could I command respect with this face and this body?” he asks, removing his false face with a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, Marco as released in English has been sliced down within an inch of its life. It is a popular, frankly fictionalized piece of history, and it’s being run off in the kind of theatre where female movie critics have to go in pairs. WENDY MICHENER