The Loveless (1981)

Willem Dafoe, J. Don Ferguson, Robert Gordon, Marin Kanter,
The Loveless is a movie starring Willem Dafoe, J. Don Ferguson, and Robert Gordon. Trouble ensues when a motorcycle gang stops in a small southern town while heading to the races at Daytona.
  • 6.1 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery, Director:
  • A. Kitman Ho, Grafton Nunes, Producer:

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9 / 10

Never was meant to be the next "Wild One"...

Now that this beautifully sculpted, wildly atmospheric, true-to-the-era in which it is set movie is on DVD, I've watched and re-watched it many times. This is more of a review of the DVD than of the whole film, and the spoilers are more DVD commentary-related than plot-related, so read on if you wish.

This is, by far, one of the finest films paying homage to the motorcycle enthusiasts (or outlaws, as it may be), settings, and characters of the 1950's that I've ever seen, and I own many, so any rockabilly guys or gals out there reading this review - this movie is for you! It's moody, sexy, violent, and slick - great eye-candy with an outstanding cast of characters.

The DVD has one of the better commentaries, featuring conversations with the film's co-writer/co-directors Kathryn Bigelow & Monty Montgomery, as well as the film's star, Willem Dafoe. Dafoe credits the movie's directors for starting his career with this movie, a fact which Monty Montgomery humbly shrugs off. They get into the movies they watched that directly influenced how "The Loveless" was shot, trivia notes, like how Robert Gordon, who was paid to score the flick blew all of the budget on on single calypso tune that is featured for a few minutes of the film. It would also seem that Gordon, who is most noted for being a rockabilly musician (and an excellent one at that!) was inadvertently cast while meeting with the film's directors. Gordon created some on-set tension that flickered mainly between himself and Dafoe, as Gordon felt that he was the only one on set who truly understood the whole biker/greaser world.

It is interesting to note that the movie was Bigelow's thesis for film school, as well as her directorial debut, and it must've earned her some high marks, as she's gone on to work with people like David Lynch! Montgomery, too, has worked extensively with Lynch, producing "Wild At Heart", working on "Twin Peaks", and acting in "Mulholland Dr."

For those who expect this to be a biker exploitation flick (like "The Wild One" and all of its followers thereafter), you're in for a surprise. The directors intended for the audience to feel as if that is what they were in for while the initial scenes unfold, but as the story moves forward, we realize that it isn't so much a biker film but more of a kind of a wild-west movie. Monty Montgomery credits Edgar G. Ulmer's short, noir film "Detour" as being the major influence as far as the style, the framing, and the shots of "The Loveless" go. He also credits Kenneth Anger's movie "Scorpio Rising" as the movie that inspired the whole homo-eroticism of the biker world as presented in this, Montgomery's earliest film.

For those interested in some trivia, here ya be - Originally titled "U.S. 17", which used to be a U.S. superhighway up until the 1960's when the I 95 highway replaced it as the major thruway from Georgia to Florida and up to New York, the entire film is shot on location along this now abandoned stretch of blacktop. Monty Montgomery, the movie's co-director, grew up in and around the Georgia area where the film was shot, and at the time of filming, the stretch of road was like a time capsule, with abandoned motels, diners, and gas stations along the way which had not changed since the 40's and the 50's. This made the reality of the movie much easier to capture, and cut down massively on the cost of what would have meant sound stage creations of all of these types of locations. I wonder if any of these places exist now, as the movie was done at the beginning of the 80's? I can only hope...

There is no disguising that this film focuses more on atmosphere than on plot, and there is no pretense to suggest that the directors intended anything else. Montgomery even refers to it as "eye-candy", and why not? Sometimes my eyes crave the cavities offered up by such sweet treats as "The Loveless"! There are many a long, lingering shot of beautiful vintage 'cycles being worked on, close ups on tattoos (one of the actors, Larry Matarese, who plays "La Ville", opted for an actual old-school pinup gal tattoo on his forearm before filming began), tension-creating pauses while characters look on sipping coffee in a diner or lean on a 50's Coke machine clad in leather and denim, and all of this works for the piece that this movie was meant to be.

It is somewhat of homage to "The Wild One", but only in that it deals with motorcycle enthusiast-rebels in the 50's - all other plot comparisons and similarities fall by the wayside.

Though they wished for a score that was more like Sergio Leone's large, sweeping, and melodramatic western film's scores, and they were held back by budgetary constraints, I felt what they did have to work with offered the film the nostalgic atmosphere perfectly. The score as it stands on the DVD (which, unfortunately is not on CD, record, or tape, darn it!) largely done by John Lurie (of "The Lounge Lizards" fame, and also a regular in many Jim Jarmusch films), along with a minimal amount of tracks supplied by Robert Gordon, can be credited for being the cherry on top of this 50's diner served, tasty milkshake of a flick!

~T.Paul www.t-paul.com

7 / 10

cool little biker movie that favors mood over story, but what mood!

They ride fast and live dirty and cool, that could be a tagline for The Loveless. The characters in this biker gang, who are actually relatively peaceful compared to the people in The Wild One (they aren't that rebellious, but just enough to make an impression), and just want to chill in a small not-quite town until they can go down to Daytona for a big race. But there isn't much to do in terms of hanging out. Sure, they can work on their rides in a local garage, and sure Willem Dafoe's Vance has a ladies-man charm that is uncanny (or just, you know, 'bad boy' style, as we see in an opening scene where he helps an older woman with a flat tire), and sure there's a night of revelry in a bar. But these guys aren't looking too much for trouble, relatively. It's more about how they just want to drink some good booze, listen to their rock and roll, and unfortunately get harassed by rednecks who think their Commies.

I can't really say for Monty Montgomery, as he directed this as his first feature and then went off into producing (save maybe for the connection to Wild at Heart), but as Kathryn Bigelow's first film as co- director it shows so much promise for the rest of her career. And intriguingly it's not quite like her other movies. It's inspired by some of the Wild One, some rock and roll, but in its look and melodramatic shades such as with the girl Vance hooks up with it's akin to Douglas Sirk. It's visual sheen is very 1950's, and it's got guys on bikes who are looking for a good time, and all the actors are cast spot on. Fun to watch as well is one of the bikers played by Robert Gordon, a Rockabilly legend. But it's Bigelow's vision that makes it unique, and perhaps Montgomery's affinity for 50's low-down road culture.

It's hard to pin-point what makes the movie interesting since, frankly, not a whole lot happens. There's the romantic fling Vance has with the girl- a scenario shot with loving close-ups to the girl and a fine look to the motel bed scenes- and there's some doing with the sub-plot of the redneck dudes looking to beat some biker ass. But the tone is what counts here, and what may actually turn off some viewers. There isn't a lot of 'plot' and in some ways, more than any other Bigelow film, resembles a European piece that concerns itself with how these guys move, react, listen to the music (and there's a lot, a close second to American Graffiti in terms of amount of 50's rock tunes, this less recognizable but still as meaningful), and get drunk in a bar with what looks like 100 bottles on a table.

What it comes down to in The Loveless is you can either take the figurative ride with these guys just hanging out, or not. I did, and it was enjoyable once it got me in its grasp. It's never boring though; you always are a little on edge that something *could* happen, and when it does (i.e. the confrontation between the girl's father and Vance) that it reaches a dramatic peak, or of course with the violent climax that could be an homage to Peckinpah. It's just a different kind of biker movie, less concerned with action and more about what it was like to be these guys, or be around them, in a sleepy nothing-town in the mid 50's. If Antonioni made a biker movie and had to have a soundtrack of wall-to-wall rockabilly, it might be this.

9 / 10

Don't we look good in black leather!

In the 1950s, a group of leather-clad bikers led by Vance are on their way to Daytona, Florida to compete in a race, but they get sidetracked into a quiet Georgia town to fix up a broken down bike. The uptight locals see them as nothing but trouble, and surely enough problems occur. The waitress of the dinner catches Vance's eyes and another being a brash, young teen, Elena.

Wearing black leather never looked so cool! "We're going nowhere? fast" Well, this tag-line accurately describes this sublime, independent feature. Sure, it's not for everyone's tastes, but I loved this ultra-slick, inventively moody trip through the eyes of a couple of laid-back bikers of the 50s. For some people it might be aimlessly dull, because of the mellow tempo and it consciously ticks a long at a leisurely pace with vast empty spaces. I found it to be an evocative tale (despite being quite broad) that has a real hypnotic trance surrounding its arrestingly stylish framework that milks out the sullen atmosphere. There's such an authentic feel about it and so many inspired and iconic imagery seeping off the screen that you can't bear to take your eyes off it.

The film was co-written and co-directed by Kathryn Bigelow and Monty Montgomery in their first major feature. The pairs' profoundly, textured direction, catches every little elegant detail (great use of the soothing neon-lighting and composition) with the guidance of Doyle Smith's crisply spacious cinematography. Being shot on location really added to the film's natural presence and unattainable free spirit. Story-wise, there's nothing really conventional about it, but just letting the poetically distinctive situations evolve into an impulsively, harrowing conclusion. The dialogues are rather dry and very sparse with splashes of sly remarks. While, it might not have a lot to say in its context. The stirring visual and music contributions do actually round it off nicely. A divinely, swish rockabilly soundtrack by Robert Gordon and mostly John Lurie becomes a major part of the scene, as it does shape the swanky feel.

A huge curiosity would be that of William Dafoe's first major feature role and he rings true in a brilliant performance. His confidently, hardened turn simply has you in awe of his on screen magnetism. There are memorable no-bar performances by Robert Gordon, Tina L'Hotsky, Lawrence Matarese, Danny Rosen and Phillip Kimbrough, who snugly fill the shoes of the tightly rapport biker gang. Marin Kanter has attitude in her part as, Elena. J. Don Ferguson plays Elena's father, Tarver and brings to the table a character just waiting to crack. Finally, Elizabeth Gans is delightful in her role as the waitress, Augusta.

This is more than just a basic biker; exploitation movie and I sure loved it. A beautifully, worthy obscure gem that's worth a look for those who enjoy a lot finesse mixed with a touch of enigma.

7 / 10

Casey's Movie Mania: THE LOVELESS (1982)

Before director Kathryn Bigelow became widely recognizable with her later effort in 1987's NEAR DARK, 1991's POINT BREAK, 1995's STRANGE DAYS and of course, right down to 2009's Oscar-winning war drama THE HURT LOCKER, she made her first feature debut in a low-budget independent drama called THE LOVELESS when she was still studying in NYC as a film student. THE LOVELESS is a stylized and eccentric genre movie that pays homage to 1950s biker movies (notably Marlon Brando's THE WILD ONE) with art-house sensibility. This movie is also notable as Willem Dafoe's first lead role.

Set in 1950s, the story centers on Vance (Dafoe), a leather-clad biker who rides into a small Southern town where he supposes to meet up with his fellow motorcycle gang at a cafe somewhere at Highway 17. Their plan is to head over to Daytona Beach for the races, but they forced to postpone for a while when one of their motorcycles breaks down. While waiting the broken motorcycle to get fixed in a nearby garage, Vance and his motorcycle gang hang around at the cafe. Along the process, Vance flirts a bit with a widowed waitress named Augusta (Liz Gans). She also hooks up with Telena (Marin Kanter), the rebellious teenage daughter of a psychotic father, Tarver (J. Don Ferguson).

THE LOVELESS is also co-directed by Monty Montgomery, who is best known for producing David Lynch's WILD AT HEART (1990). Both he and Bigelow favors a lot in fetishism (mostly close-up on leather outfit, motorcycle, chrome) that it's quite mesmerizing to watch their stylized eroticization of a '50s biker culture. Somewhere in between, you can also see Bigelow's earlier attempt in lurid direction that will later becoming one of her trademarks in her subsequent movies. Despite its low-budget standard, the visual is adequate enough for this kind of genre, while Robert Gordon's (who also appeared as an actor here, playing one of Vance's motorcycle gang member named Davis) rock soundtrack is a standout. As for Willem Dafoe, he made quite an impression playing a stoic lead character.

But most of the movie is a disappointment. Despite clocking at a brief 82 minutes, the movie can be excruciatingly tough to sit through. The pace is deliberately slow to a crawl, especially in the long-winded first hour. Here, the movie lingers in a circle as we watch the characters sit around and talk about nothing in particular. Other times we see them stare silently into space, waiting for something to happen, and all the mundane tasks that goes on and on. The purposefully-stylized dialogues, which meant to be cool, are mostly borderline into self-parody. Meanwhile, the sudden burst of violence that occurs in the final act, fails to deliver any would-be shocking impact.

Suffice to say, THE LOVELESS isn't much of a recommended effort, other than those who always curious to see how Bigelow and Dafoe get started during their early careers.

www.caseymoviemania.blogspot.com

8 / 10

The Loveless

Kathryn Bigelow's first feature, as well as Willem Dafoe's first credited role. Dafoe plays a 1950's biker who rolls into a small Georgia town en route to Daytona and meets up with some biker friends. The locals treat them with a mixture of fascination and contempt. But this isn't EASY RIDER or THE WILD ONE... its moody atmosphere plays more like a meeting of Kenneth Anger and David Lynch. Eerie bright colors, an aura of sleazy cool, homoerotic imagery, long lingering shots, smoky score and hip soundtrack. I found it fascinating and it unexpectedly drew me into its world. Some of the performances are weak and some of the writing is corny, but ultimately these flaws just add to the sense of iconography at play, a kind of mythical recreation of archetypes from another time. These characters (both the bikers and the townsfolk) are indeed "loveless", living without drive, detachedly picking up cheap kicks wherever they can. I really enjoyed watching this stylish, elegiac film.