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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Since I was only in fifth grade at the time of this film's release in
1968, I did not have the unmitigated joy of seeing this on the big
screen. In fact, I had only heard rumors of the film's existence until
I caught it tonight on one of the Starz channels. (Thank the movie gods
for them!) And despite the dated but still delicious grooviness of the
then-teen flick, there are shades of relevance today.
The seemingly ridiculous premise: an unbelievably handsome 22-year-old millionaire singing idol (Christopher Jones)--who can make his own LSD!--helps a congressman (Hal Halbrook) become senator on the platform of lowering the voting age to 15, through sheer charisma gathers thousands of youths to rally in both L.A. and D.C., eventually wins the office of U.S. President as a Republican (!) and then forces anyone over 30 into a "paradise camp" to be forever happy on LSD so that they are incapable of causing any more trouble.
To many teens at the time (and even now, I suppose), this idea was not all that ridiculous. The "establishment" was greatly concerned over the growing influence of the babyboomers, who made up over half of the population at that time, and the young people knew it. This film's message of hope for peace and love by removing "old school" approaches to politics, while also offering a great song (which actually hit the charts), attractive actors in up-to-the-minute costumes and a higher-than-usual quality of filming, appealed to the rebellious nature of youth and their demands for a cool movie that they could relate to but that would simultaneously freak out their parents. It made a LOT of money for its day and genre.
The film opens with the rebel-protagonist quickly growing up with overbearing mom Shelley Winters, who chews up scenery like nobody's business. She has hilarious bits throughout the film, perhaps most notably after her acceptance of the "new order" as she extols the merits of LSD therapy! James Dean look-alike Jones intoxicates us with his gorgeous looks and charm, whether singing with his band in clubs or convincing us to go along with his outlandish hope for 14-year-olds to get the vote, since his own businessman/guitarist is 15!
Other highlights of the cast include Holbrook's full-on (dare we say it, mature?) dramatic acting, which contrasts greatly with the laid-back, free-spirit antics of the other young stars of the film, especially Richard Pryor, who assists in spiking the Washington D.C. water supply with LSD! Ed Begley has a couple memorable scenes as a stereotypically crabby and uncooperative senator who eventually finds drug-induced bliss at the over-30 camp, and Army Archie and Dick Clark (!) have cameos. Post-election ugliness and the ending scene with a future child star add ridiculous but poignant twists.
Today, many will see the film as over-the-top and rather campy, a weird period piece from the era of activism but also of often really bad movies. However, those old enough to have been around then will remember not just the drugs and far-out clothes but the counter-culture rumblings of the late 60s. True, this is not high art and certainly not cerebral. But far from being a throw-away film, "Wild In the Streets" remains a funny examination of a time when the demands for social change brought about extremes in actions. The posters on the message boards for this site who are searching for copies of this time capsule gem attest to its lasting appeal.
Which came first, Robert Thom's Esquire novella or his screenplay? Doesn't matter - the premise of "the youth vote" (as if it were monolithic, a consistent mistake during the Sixties) working to overthrow the establishment and creating a fully functional dystopia was a winner from the first word. Immaculately filmed despite the shoestring budget and remarkably well-acted by an amazing cast, the New York Times referred to it as the only film that year to "get it" in terms of the impact of youth culture. Academy award nomination for editing, largely from clipping what appears to be Monterey Pop footage and overlaying our presidential candidate, Max Frost. A delight then, a delight now. Nothing can change the shape of things to come.
When this came out in 1968 I was 17. It made a huge impression on me then. What a wild and strange movie. I was not really ready for this movie but I liked it just the same. When Max said 14 or fight, I believed him. Of course at 17 I couldn't vote but I was facing 18 and at that time the Vietnam draft. Scary times indeed. Just the other night it was on TMC and I recorded it. I don't think I've seen it anywhere since. It was fun to watch it again, Shelly Winters looked really young, Ed Begley was perfect as the stoned out old Senator and Christopher Jones, going from rock star to politician to President and then to "old guy" played the part to a tee. The only thing about this movie I didn't care for was that it type casted Jones and he really didn't do much after this movie.
My high school buddies and I drove into Chicago to watch this the day it
opened in 1968 and were not disappointed. On the way, WLS AM radio played
"Jumpin' Jack Flash", which was the first time any of us had heard that
tune. I think we may have inhaled some contraband, but I remember this day
like it was yesterday. It was good to be "young, dumb and full of ***!" (-to
quote Mr Busey, from Point Break.)
Some epic bits from this movie: 1) Richard Pryor spikes the DC water supply with LSD, resulting in a congress-full of hopelessly tripped-out Senators and Representatives. 2) Ed Begley and Shelley Winters wander about in flowing robes and caftans at the "Acid Concentration Camp" for people over 30. 3) Extremely young Billy Mumy confronting the great lout, Max Frost and declaring "We're putting everyone over 8 out of business!" 4)Diane Varsi cavorting nude in a fountain 4) Future Brady Buncher Barry Williams as the young terrorist Max.
See, this is one highly-lacking-in-credibility enterprise, but you have to love it. Watch and remark to yourself how this movie could only have been made in that halcyon year, 1968. Nothing this wonderfully over-the-top crazed and ridiculously sublime has been made since nor will ever grace the screen again.
For comparison (and companion) purposes, view this superb teen psychodrama in series with other 1968 befuddlements such as: "Planet of the Apes", "2001: A Space Oddysey", "Rosemary's Baby", "Putney Swope" and "The Savage Seven".
Christopher Jones only immortal role was the highly Hitleresque rocker, Max Frost.
Jeez, gimme the DVD already! This glorious cinematic potato is out of print!
This film is a fascinating time capsule of late sixties fashions, music,
mindsets, as essential to an understanding to the culture of the times as
BLOW-UP and BEDAZZLED. Like the decade itself, the film is funny,
satiric, irreverent, colorful and groovy. No really. The movie involves
Flatow, an angry teen who blows up his parent's car and runs away from his
push-over father and clinging mother to become a rock star and
multi-millionaire. Now flanked by a group of hangers-on/band members that
include a washed-up child star-turned-druggie(Diane Varsi), a one-handed
horn player(Larry Bishop), a gay business manager(Kevin Coughlin), a
fourteen-year old Japanese typewriter heiress, and black militant
drummer(Richard Pryor!), Max Frost, as he is now known, endorses a
self-serving young senatorial candidate(Hal Holbrook, in a role that now
undoubtably makes him cringe)hoping to court young voters. But Max has his
own agenda, using the newly-elected senator to have Varsi elected to
Congress and propose legislation that the voting age be lowered to 14!Max
laces the Washington water supply with LSD, then he and his cronies enlist
teenagers to escort the stoned Congressmen to the voting booths. With the
voting age lowered, Max gets himself elected President and outlaws anyone
over 30, sentencing them to concentration camps where they're kept
perpetually stoned on LSD.
The whole premise belies the generational tensions that laid just below the surface of everyday life in the late sixties. What looks like far-fetched camp now was very much a concern to the older people who felt overwhelmed by the predominant youth culture of the time. Still, it is a fun romp. The musical sequences are eye-popping precursors to MTV, with psychedelic light displays and cutting edge(for 1968)graphics, and the camera angles and editing are top-drawer(the film was nominated for an Oscar for editing). Yet the film does have a good deal of camp, primarily in Shelley Winters, out of control as Max's overbearing mother. Winters was well into the insane/conniving/perverted mother stage of her career(starting with LOLITA and ending with WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO)and she hits her stride here: she not only chomps the scenery but gobbles it down and goes for seconds! Everyone has a favorite scene: Winters commandeering the wheel of Max's Rolls and rolling the car, killing a small boy in the process; Winters in a long blonde wig and hippie get-up, extolling the virtures of LSD therapy; Winters(about five minutes after the last scene)in a pill box hat, suit, and finger waves haughtily telling a reporter about her recent appointment as U.S. Ambassador to England(?!); and my personal fave, with Winters, disheveled and whacked out on LSD, wearing a hospital gown and scaling a chain-link fence as she screams, "FEATHERS! I MUST HAVE FEATHERS!!" Whatthehell??
The movie was on video at one point, but may be out of print. AIP, that teen fare sausage factory, put this one out, and it supposedly got a bigger budget that their average flicks. It also made quite a bit of money. A true cult classic, and, did you know, the theme song, "Shapes Of Things To Come" was released as a single credited to Max Frost and the Troopers? It charted at #22 in 1968!
Very much in and of its time. But outrageously good
nonetheless. I truly enjoyed the acting by everybody
involved--particularly Christopher Jones, Shelley Winters, Diane Varsi, Ed
Begley, Sr., Hal Holbrook AND Richard
Also a significant key to the film was the music of the legendary songwriting duo of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, featuring what was, in my estimation, very unsung (excuse the pun) gems which rank right up with ALL their
classics. Just as the recent political satire, "Bulworth", spoke to its times (which are still very much current, by the way), this movie does exactly the same thing.
The clear-cut divisions of generationalism are clearly conspicuous in this film. This movie captured the spirited groove of the late '60s when youth was roaring loudly and taking a stand against the establishment.
For anyone looking for a outrageous take of some of the events of the time, coupled with a hard, aching, laugh-out-loud reaction, this is as great a place as any to go.
This film is a time warp of Los Angeles and the Sunset Strip in the
1960's. At first sigthing on the FLIX Channel I thought the actor was
James Dean. Uncanny resemblance.
Richard Pryor as the drummer in a rock band getting high on LSD with topless white chicks must of been mind blowing for teenagers then. I missed this film totally in 1968. My parents probably made sure of it.
To see Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd, and the greatest lawyer in the nation at that time, Melvin Belli, playing themselves in a film with a whacked out Shelly Winters was just amazing.
The real night time Sunset Strip cruising footage of 1968 was really "far-out man".
I was curious to read some reviews of Wild in the Streets from when it
was released (i.e. Ebert's) to get an idea of what the movie was
thought of at the time. There was a good line that nails what is
probably at the core of the film, which is "the fascist potential of
pop music," but it can be taken a step further to what the fascistic
potential is of anyone who appeals to a section of the culture that can
be galvanized. The movie wasn't well received- it was, granted, an AIP
picture dumped on the masses as a hippie exploitation flick along the
likes of Psych-Out- but now in looking back I wonder if the writer,
Robert Thom (also responsible for the cult classic Death Race 2000) and
director Barry Shear (mostly a TV director) were much ahead of their
own audience. It skewers the old and politicians, yes, but it also
skewers pop music and LSD and hedonism and even communism to a certain
extent. It's a fun, absurdist nightmare 'trip' on what would happen if
the "kids" took over, which leads eventually to the question: what
happens when they're too old.
Four sentence summary: Christopher Jones plays Max Frost, a pop star who had one of those shaky childhoods that led to a lot of acid and blowing up his parent's car. His band, a bunch of Monkeeys rip-offs (yes, that's right), are filled with a bunch of who's whos, like a 15 year old super-genius account and a black anthropologist played by Richard Pryor. At a political rally for a "youth" senator (Hal Holbrook) who wants the voting age lowered to 18, he comes up off the bat with a rallying song, "14 or fight" to lower the voting age to 14! And then everything soon spirals into a youth-controlled congress and presidency (think Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with over-ecstatic flower children), with all the "old" pulled into camps where they're doped on acid and given frocks to wear.
Trippy, man, trippy. Contrary to what some have said, and perhaps I read more into it than was necessary or warranted, Wild in the Streets takes a hold of its principal subjects as something that is meant to be mocked mercilessly. While nowhere near the brilliance of Network, it does have the same kind of super jaded view of humanity below the surface. Everything becomes so exaggerated that the only conceivable way to take it is as a satire; if it is meant as a "serious" look at politics and the youth culture then only a few moments stand out (actually the "Shape of Things" song is ironically powerful in the context of where it comes which is right after a few students are shot at a rally - a foreshadowing to Kent State?), but on its terms of it being a nutty but oddly lucid spoof on the political scene then it works really well.
If for nothing else the cast is a hoot: Shelley Winters hams it up as the star's mother who in one scene literally crashes through security gates to get to her son who really doesn't want anything to do with her, especially after she basically kills a kid with a car! Also big props to Hal Holbrook who takes the quasi William Holdon in Network role (the one "serious" guy amid the chaos) and Ed Begley as a crusty old politico who quickly gets run out to the old-folk farm singing in circles. Along with Pryor look out for Larry Bishop and Millie Perkins. It's not high art, but Wild in the Streets has some scenes that are excruciatingly funny (I was dying during the 25 year old "chick" speaking to congress about lowering all ages to run for office to 14), and there's even some good pointers made about the state of the nation. It's exploi-satire, baby!
Max Frost and his band want to run the country and with the help of
their friends and some pharmacology, they take over the political
structure of the USA. It's a reasonably well made cautionary tale of
the late 60's. It briefly became a cult favorite and was said to have
prompted then-mayor of Chicago, Richard Daily, to put guards around the
city's water supply just prior to, and during the 1968 Democratic
National Convention to prevent anarchists from "dosing" the water with
The storyline is fairly slick for the time; how do a bunch of don't-trust-anyone-over-30 kids take over the country? There's a little romance, a little angst, a little rock music, and a lot of scenery-chewing and overacting by the "Major Stars" including Shelly Winters and Ed Begley. Hal Holbrook was able to keep it toned down.
This was also one of the first major films the late Richard Prior appeared in. The other being Sid Cesar's "The Busy Body", released the same year.
The psychedelic aspects of "Wild in the Streets" make it a great film to pair with Peter Fonda's "The Trip" for a 60's double feature flashback fest. Enjoy and never trust anyone under 30. heh.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The plot of this movie is absurd, Disney-on-acid: a rock star (who sounds a lot more like a 1965 Mitch Ryder wannabe than a 1968 Cream wannabe, i.e. this film was dated from the start) connives his way to the presidency. And certain elements of the flick are just as goofy as the plot: the early scenes of Max Frost's childhood, including Shelley Winters interrupting two necking preteens by screaming "DIRTY DIRTY BOY AND A DIRTY DIRTY GIRL!!" certainly seem satirical in intent, and I don't think we're supposed it take in seriously when Max Frost belts (Ryder-style again instead of adopting the fey, faux-British accent more popular in '68): "come on and vote for Sally LeRoy! She's old enough for the Congress, boy!!" But if you watch closely, there's some nasty stuff here: massacres, suicide and forced internment, none of it presented with a light touch. So are we supposed to identify with rebel Christopher Jones (jinkies, why did he disappear so quickly after this masterpiece?), or learn the bitter lessons of appeasement from the harsh fates of poor Shelley Winters (her last scene really is horrifying) and Hal Holbrook (a Kennedyesque [!] Senator betrayed by his more liberal allies [!!] - was this movie written before or after Bobby was shot?)? I think the movie is trying to have it both ways -- pandering to the youth market by supposedly extolling revolution while pandering to the "straights" by scaring the bejesus out of them with a bunch of ruthless, power-hungry hippies. Like a lot of trash, this movie makes for better sociology than art. But it's entertaining in an idiotic way (or maybe it's idiotic in an entertaining way) and there are tons of guilty pleasures here: beautiful Diane Varsi, captured halfway down her slide from "Peyton Place" stardom to oblivion; Richard Pryor, captured halfway up his climb from Bill Cosby-style polite token to foul-mouthed, confrontational genius; Congress on acid; and "Fourteen or Fight," the only protest song in history that sounds like it was inspired by the Mitch Miller show. Not a serious film, but somehow an important one.
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