Monday, October 8, 2012

Teenage Wastelands: Wild in the Streets and G-a-s-s-s-s

Wild in the Streets, by Barry Shear, 1968

In the mid to late 60's, it was becoming clear: for the first time, the youth were calling the shots.  There were more teenagers than ever, thanks to the post World War II baby boom, and they were making sure their voices were getting heard, through protests and pop culture.  It was only a matter of time before this was addressed in a movie.

Barry Shear's Wild in the Streets is a darkly satirical take on the idea of teenagers taking power.  It stars Christopher Jones as Max Frost, a rebellious, but highly intelligent young man who runs away from his parents (but not before taking a few swipes at their prized possessions), and starts a new life of sex, drugs, and rock & roll.  He forms a band, who are also his entourage and think tank, and together, they begin fighting to lower the voting age to 14, by writing hit songs motivating an army of teenage fans to organize and revolt.  Once Max gets what he wants, though, it's not enough anymore, so he keeps pushing for more, and the world quickly turns into a dystopia.  It's basically a crazy dark version of this comic book.

Wild in the Streets pushes all of its ideas to their furthest extreme, and doesn't pull punches.  I think it's aged very well, too.  It's dark and extremely cynical, and it doesn't make any effort to make even the protagonist likeable.  There are no good guys in this movie, and that makes it even more fun.  The soundtrack is pretty good, too.  Usually fake bands in movies don't have good songs, but Max's band has some really good stuff, including one song that became a hit in the real world, "Shape of Things to Come".  Also, the editing in Wild in the Streets got a well deserved Oscar nomination.  It has a great ending, too.  The last line is laugh out loud funny.

G-a-s-s-s-s, by Roger Corman, 1971

G-a-s-s-s-s is kind of like Wild in the Streets if it was stupid.  I mean, it's actually kind of enjoyable, but it's not making any kind of big political statement or anything.  It's about what happens if a mysterious gas is released that kills off everybody over the age of 25.  While the smart teenagers in Wild in the Streets would have probably been ready to take over and pick society back up, Roger Corman's youths are probably more realistic: they spend most of the movie goofing around.

Corman was clearly less interested in making a statement than he was in making a movie that teenagers will shell out their cash for.  It doesn't stand the test of time nearly as well as "Wild", and it wasn't intended to.  It's loaded with pop culture references many of which flew right over my head.  This is a movie for the kids of 1971, not the kids of 2012 or any other time.  He obviously didn't foresee the home video market.  G-a-s-s-s-s has a soundtrack by Country Joe and the Fish, which is not bad, but it doesn't have the punch that the original songs in the other movie had.  It also, like many Roger Corman films, has a cast of several young actors on the rise, including Bud Cort, Cindy Williams, and Talia Shire.

One bit that I liked was that when the end of the world comes, the kids all sort of split into their high school cliques.  When everybody is looting, the jocks steal all the meat.  Later, we learn they're all dying of poor nutrition and want the vegetables that the hippie kids are growing.  I thought that was pretty clever.

I would never trash on Roger Corman.  I love the guy.  He directed and produced lots and lots of stinkers, a bunch of decent, fun movies, and once in a while, a real gem of a film would squeeze through.  G-a-s-s-s-s is not one of the gems, but it's one of those decent fun movies.  It's often doubled with Wild in the Streets, and I can see why, but Wild in the Streets is the superior film by a wide margin.

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