Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Cycle Savages (1969)

With its sleazy violence, psych-rock soundtrack and wooden acting, The Cycle Savages (1969) ticks all the boxes of the outlaw biker gang film. Trashy even by the standards of this trashy genre, it wheels along without a hope of being a leader of the bikesploitation pack – unlike The Wild One (1953), with its iconic performance from Marlon Brando, or The Wild Angels (1966), featuring Peter Fonda’s famous nihilistic ‘we wanna get loaded’ speech. The Cycle Savages instead brings up the rear alongside roadhogs such as The Born Losers (1967), She-Devils on Wheels (1968) and Satan’s Sadists (1969).

Yet it is also a film about the power of art. Clean-cut, law-abiding Romko (Chris Robinson) is an artist who witnesses a sadistic biker gang called Hell’s Chosen Few terrorizing customers at a local diner. He makes speedy sketches of the criminals at work. The drawings are formally stiff, heavy on workman-like shading, but made remarkably quickly given the circumstances. Rumour of his sketches reaches Keeg (Bruce Dern), the gang’s psychotic leader. A local bartender warns Keeg about Romko. ‘He’s been drawing pictures alright. Plenty of ’em. You give him any trouble, he’s got pictures of you and your whole gang he can take to the cops.’ Hell’s Chosen Few are involved in running a prostitution ring and Keeg’s paranoia grows: ‘What’s gonna happen when The Man gets hold of these, huh?’ he asks his greaser hoods. ‘If they get hold of these pictures they’re gonna start connecting things up, right? The automobiles, the trips to the border, even the girls! Now you think we want pictures like this, huh, hanging all over town?’ He hatches his cruel revenge: ‘We gotta find a way to get these man’s hands, and wreck ’em. ’Cos without his hands, he ain’t gonna make any more drawings.’

Remarkable throughout is the bizarre and unquestioning belief on the part of everyone involved – from bikers to cops – in the veracity of the drawings. Never is it suggested that the artist may have made up the scenes he depicts. Romko’s art is treated as hard evidence, his pencil and paper as good as any photographic proof. The Cycle Savages is, in its own schlocky way, about art speaking truth to power, a fantasy of art having a clearly defined and practical social role.

Romko is fearless, and stands by what he makes, as all artists should. When the gang tries to intimidate him outside his apartment, and Keeg pulls out a flick-knife, the artist, unafraid, sneers at him: ‘My friend, the art critic.’ -Dan Fox frieze

BILL BRAME  (1969)
82 MIN / USA

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