Wild In The Streets

Director: Barry Shear
Christopher Jones, Shelley Winters, Hal Holbrook

Sometimes when I am writing reviews for this web site, I wonder about how various people who come here react to the various things that I write. I like to think that most people get some enjoyment as well as some good advice. But I think that there are some people who might consider me a traitor. The most obvious reason is that even though I am Canadian, I greatly dislike most Canadian movies, and I state that fact over and over. And I imagine that there is a strong possibility that I will get more negative attention by what I am about to reveal, that I have never voted in any government run election. The last time I did any kind of voting was when I was in university and they were holding an election for student government; inspired by a Daniel Pinkwater novel, I voted for the Marquis de Sade for all of the positions that were on the ballot slip. Why have I never done any real voting? Well, one big reason is that if you put yourself on a voter's list, you then risk getting a jury summons notice sometime down the line in your mail box. And there is no way I would want to be confined for a long time in a jury box, unless it was a film festival jury where I could vote against every considered Canadian film. Another reason why I haven't voted is that my life is so busy, I don't know all the issues and about all of the candidates whenever it's time for an election. But I think the biggest reason why I have never voted is that I don't think that my vote will, one way or another, make any difference, at least to where I am living. It seems to me that no matter what candidate gets voted in for whatever position, there is always a lot of grumbling about what the elected official subsequently does or does not do.

I will freely admit that if I were to be asked what I would campaign if I were to run for office, or what I would do if I were actually elected, I would have no idea what to say for my answer. Even if I had some idea for answers, I would probably find that once elected, I would find it difficult, if not impossible to fulfil my campaign promises. Making promises is so much easier than actually doing something to make them true. I am at an age when I look at many things with cynical lenses. Anyway, with that in mind, there is certainly a lot of talk about finding candidates for political office who will do a good job. One thing about all of this talk that I have seldom heard is finding candidates who are quite young. I don't mean people in their 30s, but in their 20s or even younger than that. At first glance, there seems to be some evidence to suggest that a candidate who is very young might be a good choice. Being very young, there is less of a chance that he or she will have been corrupted or made to look at things with a cynical glance. He or she would probably be a lot more enthusiastic and dedicated than many older candidates. On the other hand, there are a number of potential pitfalls that come with the idea of a very young candidate. One big pitfall is with the lack of experience. I don't know about you, but if I needed an operation on my heart, I would certainly want to have a surgeon who was well experienced with heart surgery. Lack of experience has the potential to hinder you in politics as well. Up here in Canada, when Justin Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party in 2013, there were a lot of people (not just from the opposing parties) who claimed that he had a lack of experience, and he was forty-one years old. Several years later, a lot of those naysayers probably thought they were proved right.

Still, there are definitely some times when a very young person in politics has done well. Over the years, I have come across in the news reports of young people (some still in their teenage years) managing to win political elections, and some of them have managed to do quite well once in office. Wild In The StreetsSo I don't think that one should immediately dismiss the idea of a young person becoming a voted-in government official. What is interesting, however, is how the entertainment industry has taken this idea so many times and always seeming to show with their fictional stories how the idea would be such a good thing if it were to happen in real life. At least, that is how kids and teenagers witnessing these fictional tales interpret them. I certainly got that impression when I was very young. So I thought it would be interesting to look at one such fictional example as an adult, that being of course the movie Wild In The Streets. The main character of the movie is one Max "Frost" Flatow (Jones, Ryan's Daughter) a young man in his early 20s who has become the most popular rock singer in all of the country. One day, Max is contacted by a campaigning politician named Johnny Fergus (Holbrook, Rituals). One of Fergus' platforms is to lower the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen, and he feels that Max on his bandwagon could help not only getting this issue passed, but get him elected. Max agrees to support Fergus, but in short notice starts to do things his way. Max first starts campaigning for the voting age to be lowered to fourteen, and soon pressure from the country's youths force the various states of the union to reduce the voting age dramatically. With the country's youths now able to vote, Max uses the opportunity to get his lady friend Sally (Diane Farsi, Bloody Mama) voted into Congress. Once in Congress, Sally introduces a bill to lower the age requirement for political office, which gets passed. And after that happens, Max in short notice starts a campaign to be elected as President of the United States. Fergus is of course as horrified by these events as other people that are his age or older, but there seems to be no stopping Max and his friends. What could happen if Max is elected?

When I sat down to watch Wild In The Streets, I acknowledged to myself that I was not part of the audience the filmmakers were aiming towards. I was seeing the movie more than fifty years after it was made, with so many changes to our culture (youth and otherwise) since then. Also, I could not be considered a youth anymore; having left my young years behind some time ago, I guess I would be now considered part of the "establishment". These reasons are just some of why I had a (slightly) kinder viewpoint to the establishment adults in the movie than with the up front and center youths. Though I don't trust any politicians in real life, I had to admit that the character of Johnny Fergus was the most palatable figure (young or old) in the movie. True, his plan to get Max on his campaign is more so he can get elected rather than any concern for youths, but at least he's somewhat honest about this. He does value his family, and gets out of shape when he sees his children preferring Max over him. Though the movie doesn't give him a complete voice (we never really learn what he plans to do if elected as a Senator), he all the same comes across as a much better politician than many real life examples. And he certainly comes across better than any of the adults in the movie his age or older. Take the character of Max's mother Daphne, played by Shelley Winters (Tentacles). She is depicted as a complete shrew, a selfish woman who didn't want Max born in the first place, abused him during his childhood, and upon discovering that the now adult Max is rich and powerful one day out of the blue (?), tries to re-enter his life so she can exploit his success and wealth.

To tell the truth, the establishment adults like Daphne in Wild In The Streets almost totally appalled this middle aged adult. I suspect that almost all of these establishment adults were made to be real louts so that the youths in the movie would come across better than they actually were in comparison. But to tell the truth, the youths in the movie were even more appalling, so much so that I think I would have felt the same if I were in their age group in or out of the sixties era. Just take a look at the movie's so-called hero, Max. Before he becomes famous, he decides to rebel by manufacturing LSD in great quantities and blowing up his father's car with dynamite. A few years later when he has become famous, we learn he has fathered four illegitimate children (none of which we really get to see), and considers Fergus' age of thirty-seven to be "old". I already didn't like Max at this early stage in the movie, and it just gets worse from there, mainly because for the remaining part of the movie, Max pretty much becomes a secondary character. He makes somewhat less appearances than you might think, and when he does appear, you never really get an idea of what is driving him or making him think the way he does. For example, late in the movie he says that people who are the age of sixty or older should all be in wheelchairs. And he says those who are thirty should be forced to retire, and once people reach thirty-five should be placed into concentration camps and forced to take psychedelic drugs. Why does Max have such hostility towards all older people? It can't all come from his experiences with his mother. We never learn the answer to that and other questions that come up concerning him. I couldn't figure him out. In this weakly written role, actor Christopher Jones seems kind of lost. Jones puts a lot of posturing in his performance in what seems to be an attempt to convince the audience his character knows what he's doing, but it's done with a sneery attitude that just makes Max even harder to take.

At least Jones has more to work with than the rest of the youths in Wild In The Streets. Max has a loyal entourage, who at first glance show some promise, like a homosexual who is treated like an equal by Max and his friends. But that first glance is pretty much the last one as well; we learn almost nothing more about them during the rest of the movie. (Richard Pryor, who plays Max's drummer, isn't even given one chance to show off his comic talents.) For that matter, it eventually becomes clear that Winters' character also isn't the least bit necessary, not just for the fact that she exits the movie early on and does not reappear until close to the end. The screenplay also wastes potential when it comes to bringing up serious topics and discussing them at length. At one point of the movie, Max and his youths bring up with Fergus and his fellow politicians the idea that the youth struggle of the country could be compared to the suffragette movement and the revolution in 1776. This could have provoked some good arguments from both sides, but instead the issue is quickly dropped and the scene ends. With such a sorry script, it's no surprise that director Barry Shear (The Deadly Trackers) seems unable to present what happens in any sort of compelling manner. Even popular stylistic touches of the time (like split screens) are at a minimum. The flat made for television look of much of the movie, plus some drastic cost-cutting measures like stock footage or filming "crowd" scenes mere inches away from the camera, show that Shear clearly had an inadequate budget on top of a sorry screenplay to work with. Apart from a few not-bad songs in the soundtrack (like the top 40 hit "The Shape Of Things To Come"), Wild In The Streets is an embarrassment seen today. I strongly suspect that the youths that dug the movie when it first came out (and made it a big box office hit) were to rewatch it today would be even more appalled than I was. So I would recommend them to track down a copy of the soundtrack album instead.

(Posted October 7, 2019)

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See also: Big Man On Campus, Candy, Preacherman