The Wild Angels (Blu-ray)(Olive Films, 2.17.2015)
Prior to Easy Rider, biker films had one major problem. Since bikers were perceived as anti-social misfits who posed a threat to society, filmmakers felt obligated to portray them in an unflattering light. While bikers are ostensibly the heroes of The Wild Angels, it’s somewhat difficult to get behind their cause. Whereas the characters in Easy Rider are seeking some kind of utopian ideal, the characters in The Wild Angels are simply wreaking havoc, ingesting whatever substances they can get their hands on, while assaulting animals and humans alike. That said, the characters who keep their more extreme impulses at bay prove to be somewhat appealing, if only because they reject every cliche of movie behaviour in the book. You might not want to live like these characters, but they’re certainly fun to watch.
Part of the reason for this is the skill of director Roger Corman, whose schlocky reputation causes many to overlook his considerable gifts as a visual stylist. (It should be noted that the film's striking visuals are well served by Olive's excellent HD transfer.) He also had an impeccable eye for talent, which is apparent in the film’s excellent cast (Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Diane Ladd, Nancy Sinatra) and score. Unfortunately, composer Mike Curb’s career went rapidly downhill after The Wild Angels. As president of MGM Records, he went on an anti-drug witch-hunt, dropping any perceived drug addict from the label. A career as a Republican politician followed.
Written by frequent Corman collaborator Charles B. Griffith (A Bucket of Blood, The Little Shop of Horrors), The Wild Angels is primarily an excuse to observe the biker lifestyle, but there is also a loose plot involving a biker (Dern), who is wounded by police. His gang eventually breaks him out of the hospital… denying him treatment he desperately needs. While this proves to be a misguided decision, it results in the film’s one genuinely iconic sequence: the most anarchic funeral ever captured on film. By the time you get to the film’s existential finale (“there’s nowhere to go”), you may feel you’ve been left with little more than a familiar warning about the dangers of excess, but the time spent getting there is as vital and inventive as any biker film from the pre-Easy Rider era. -- Jonathan Doyle