Thursday, January 21, 2010

Film Review: THE LOVELESS (1982, Kathryn Bigelow & Monty Montgomery)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 85 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Starring WILLEM DAFOE. Marin Kanter (LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS), J. Don Ferguson (FREEJACK, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE), Robert Gordon (who also did the soundtrack, as well as contributing songs to BEETLEJUICE and NATURAL BORN KILLERS). Additional music by John Lurie.
Tag-line: "Sworn to Fun...Loyal to None!!!"
Best one-liner: "You never can tell on a day like this- things could be goin' jake one minute, then, presto- before you know it, you're history."

Two of my favorite actors made their leading man debuts in 1982 biker flicks: Ed Harris in KNIGHTRIDERS and Willem Dafoe in THE LOVELESS. Both films depict a counterculture distorted by the 80's- wistful nostalgia tempered by a heavy dose of “cusp of Reagan” fatalism. A loose retelling of the star-making WILD ONE, Brando has been succeeded by a lean, mean, and leather-clad Dafoe.

At this age (26) he's even more angular, skull-like, and serpentine than usual, but he's no villain- he's simply a jaded instrument: a country-drawlin' extension of his bike, casually "goin' to hell in a breadbasket."

There's not much of a plot in the conventional sense: drifters congregate and they go their own ways. A ratchet torques a bolt as oil dribbles from an engine. A switchblade's spring pops and the blade snaps to attention. A truck stop woman hoofs it on a zebra-print carpet.

The rustic, fog-enshrouded American countryside is split by that asphalt ribbon of adventure, and here, it looks like something out of a storybook. It's co-directed by Monty Montgomery (who brought the dangerous Rockabilly vibe) and Kathryn Bigelow (who brought the immersive, visual flair).

Montgomery's contributions to cinema (particularly to David Lynch) have often gone unnoticed: a producer on WILD AT HEART and TWIN PEAKS and co-creator of HOTEL ROOM, Montgomery seems to have infused Lynch with a desire to leave ERASERHEAD's tenement and BLUE VELVET's suburbia behind- and hit the open road.

Dafoe driving his lady nowhere fast in THE LOVELESS.

Nic Cage driving his lady nowhere fast in WILD AT HEART.

The maudlin/macabre depiction of Route 66 culture, the dynamics of Sailor and Lula's relationship, the twangily ominous music, the presence of 'dark angel' Dafoe, and road-racin' Lynch heroes like James Hurley (TWIN PEAKS) and Pete Dayton (LOST HIGHWAY), in my opinion, simply would not exist without Montgomery’s influence.

Regardless, we get one of the best soundtracks in memory (from John Lurie to Little Richard to Eddy Dixon to The Diamonds to Brenda Lee), the requisite Dafoe asscheekage factor, eye-poking bullet bras, and it ends with a doleful crescendo of violence which provides the proper resonance. A vivid, haunting journey to nowhere…fast. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

It was also nice to see rockabilly legend Robert Gordon in the cast. Man, he had great hair back in the day.

Good call on Montgomery's influence on Lynch. I really love WILD AT HEART - one of Lynch's most passionate/romantic films to date.

THE LOVELESS is an odd film to say the least. Not much happens and I remember getting very restless the first time I watched it. But if you can settle into the slow, deliberate pacing there is some interesting stuff going on.

Sean Gill said...

I feel as if everyone kinda needs to be prepared for the lack of (traditional) plot- chances are, if you go in expecting balls-to-the-wall, chain-slingin', tire-iron hurlin' Dafoe biker action, your average viewer is gonna be pretty disappointed. But you're right- there's certainly something hypnotic about the slow, deliberate pacing, and I was certainly sucked in on my first viewing.

rick mcginnis said...

That wasn't the biker gal hoofing it on the zebra print, BTW - that was Elizabeth Gans as Augusta, the sullen truckstop waitress stuck in the dead end town, getting her desperate kicks by doing a bit of striptease for the local yokels. Gans was some kind of exotic dancer in NYC at the time, IIRC - there might be more info in the commentary track of the film; not sure where I learned this.

Sean Gill said...


Thanks for the info; I updated accordingly!