Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wild in the Streets: A Drive-In Classic

by Pa Rock
Movie Fan

I know what a "drive-in" movie is, though I can't expressly define it - perhaps because drive-ins are basically a thing of the past and have been essentially lost as a reference point in what passes for modern culture.  Back in the day major movies, those with big stars an broad appeal, generally ran  in movie houses first and then they may or may not have made it onto the drive-in circuit.  Cheaper flicks and those with narrower appeal might have had their debut on the drive-in screens.  Some movies went straight to the drive-ins in much the same way as some movies go straight to DVD today.    Surprisingly, many of those that went straight to the drive-ins were edgier or more fun than the fare running in regular, sit-down movie theaters.

I had a friend in college in the 1960's by the name of Larry.  He was just around for a semester or two, and all that I remember about him was that he was from the town I was born in - Neosho, MO.   Larry was a popular guy, in large part because h had a car.  He also enjoyed films which were outside of the mainstream.  One of those movies was 1968's Wild in the Streets, a cinematic nod to flower power and the youth movement of the 1960's.   I was a member of Larry's entourage on two or three occasions when he loaded his car with misfit wannabes and headed to the drive-in to see that special movie.

Twenty years or so later I happened to come across Wild in the Streets in a video store.   (Remember video stores?)  I watched it then and was surprised by how well I remembered the movie and how well it had held up over the years.  Now, another twenty or more years have passed, and I came across another copy of the "far out" film, this time from Amazon.com.  I watched it last Saturday night and was transported back to another time - one that I wish my children could have witnessed.   (My kids remember Reagan, barely.  When I was in college - and at the time Wild in the Streets was released - the cultural backdrop was the Vietnam War and chants like, "Hey, hey LBJ:  How many kids die you kill today?" drifted like fine smoke across America's college campuses.

Wild in the Streets had a central focus on young people demonstrating to lower the voting age - ostensibly to eighteen (something that would actually happen just a few years later during the Nixon administration).  A Kennedy-esque politician running for the U.S. Senate (a very young Hal Holbrook), got a wealthy young pop star (Christopher Jones) to sing at his rallies and promote the idea of lowering the voting age.  Unfortunately for the politician, the pop star, when he was on-stage in front of the cameras, pushed to lower the voting age even further - to fourteen - and created an anthem for his movement called "Fourteen or Fight."

And from there on it just got silly.  The voting age was lowered, and when Congress wouldn't go along with a proposed amendment to the Constitution to lower the age of eligibility for election to the House, Senate, and Presidency to fourteen, the singer, Max Frost, and his "troops" managed to dump large quantities of LSD into Washington, D.C.'s water supply - and thus created a more compliant, and much groovier, Congress.

(Would John Boehner get more done if he were on acid?  Something to ponder . . . :)

One hit song, The Shape of Things to Come, by Max Frost and the Troopers, originated within the soundtrack of this movie.

Other stars of note in this fun fringe film included Shelly Winters who did a superb job of playing Max's crazy mother, Ed Begley (senior, not "junior") as a Senator who is ultimately retired to an LSD camp for people over thirty, and an awfully young Richard Pryor in what was only his second role in a movie.  Pryor played the saxophonist, Stanley X, in Max Frost's band.

Wild in the Streets is a terrific drive-in movie, and it ain't a bad selection for Couch Potato Playhouse either!

Fourteen or fight, troops.   Fourteen or fight!

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