Thursday, April 11, 2013

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD: ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE


Electra Glide in Blue (1973) has the trappings of an action movie, but the crime investigation at the center of its plot feels more like a Macguffin, a concession to genre that more effectively plays as a diversion leading toward the movie’s ambient incertitude. Its real subject is the tug of war internalized within John Wintergreen (Robert Blake), a Vietnam veteran who returns to life as a motorcycle cop and is (like we are) seduced by the cold sheen imagery and laconic bravado surrounding his post-war profession. Wintergreen is torn between sympathy for the freedom of outlaw bikers and structure and discipline of police work, and Blake’s well-modulated performance—gritty, funny, sympathetic, but hardly pleading—suits the humor and the toughened mettle of a man who may not be big enough (or paranoid enough) for the job.
The visions coaxed to life by Conrad Hall justify Wintergreen’s shifting self-regard— the celebrated director of photography conjures motorcycles cruising through air, warped by heat and compressed by long lenses-- images which have energy and forward thrust, but which are also powered by the ethereal beauty of strange, misplaced beasts in motion. Hall teases out the iconography of motorcycle-powered justice toward a much more ambiguous, unsettling end, intimating a very uneasy ride just ahead.
But director James William Guercio’s movie (his one and only, shot between gigs as producer of the music group Chicago, and featuring some of the band members in minor roles) finds just as much potency in immobility. It’s there in the looming monuments of the country through which those Arizona highways snake and wind. It’s there in the moments of repose when Wintergreen and his partner Zipper Davis (Billy Green Bush) are parked by the side of the asphalt, thinking and talking about everything and nothing. (Hall finds poetry in close Panavision glimpses of the hard gravel and sagebrush along the edges of the highway —you can almost smell the desert dust and feel the heat radiating off the pavement.) And it’s there in the movie’s horrifying final image, in which a cop is installed on the road like one of those monuments looming behind him, perhaps as yet another reminder of a bloody American past and the many fallen, aggressors and victims who couldn’t reconcile themselves to a country bent on tearing itself apart. Electra Glide in Blue refashions the countercultural martyrdom of Easy Rider into a blunt blow toward an entire nation profoundly divided, the darkest fate reserved for those who see both sides yet end up in the middle of the road.

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(Electra Glide in Blue screens Friday and Saturday night, April 12 & 13, at the New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles, the front half of a "Something Old, Something New" double bill sponsored by the UCLA student chapter of the Association of Moving Image Archivists. The film's screenwriter, Robert Boris, will discuss the film with AMIA chapter president Ariel Schudson before Saturday evening's screening. Friday night's special guest will be Ron Perlman, who costars with Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks and Carey Mulligan in the series' second feature, Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 feature Drive. Advanced tickets can be purchased here.
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6 comments:

Taidan said...

Superbly written piece, Dennis.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Taidan. You've seen the movie, yes?

Taidan said...

I haven't, but your piece made it seem like a good idea.

Patrick said...

I'm old enough to have seen this in a theater during its original release. I've forgotten most of it, but the ending has stayed with me, I haven't ever had the urge to see it again because of that. You've no doubt noticed they don't do that sort of thing anymore (just compare the endings of the 2 versions of "The Mechanic"). Anyway, I might watch it again now if it shows up on tv someday.

Larry Aydlette said...

Haven't seen it in ages, thought it was all sort of muddled, but my remembrance of it is muddled, too. But if I'd known members of Chicago were in it...

vishnu a said...

My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!



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