“wild in the streets” as political satire, prescient black comedy, and good old b-movie hokum (part 3)

This is the third part of a three part article on the movie Wild In The Streets. It will only make complete sense if you read Parts 1 and 2 first.

• Through the past, deeply dark but darkly humorous

In newly elected President Frost’s first “state of the union” address, his speech is not as satirical as it probably seemed in 1968. That is, until he announces his plan for Americans over the age of 30, which is when the humor darkens deeply. When Senator Fergus draws a gun in a feeble attempt to assassinate the new Executive during his speech, we get an echo of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. These were both recent events and fresh wounds to movie-goers in late 1968 and early ’69, when the film was making the rounds of theaters and drive-ins.

When the President’s new plans are put into motion, citizens over the age of 35 are placed into “rehabilitation camps,” a term carefully coined to avoid using the Nazi’s concentration camps for Jews and other undesirables (which is what Max’s facilities are nonetheless) and the American relocation camps for people of Japanese origin (also a polite term for concentration camp) during WWII.

In a subtly funny scene, the initial inmates are seen being shipped to Camp Paradise (ho ho) in what looks like a giant Volkswagen bus, the quintessential hippie vehicle (when hippies had a vehicle)! The bus has the classic VW two-tone look, with the bottom being green and the top, white.

The inmates are forced to ingest LSD on what I would assume to be a regular basis, just as any patient in a facility for the “mentally ill” is placed on a regular regimen of psychotropic drugs today). They are stripped of the clothing that marks their personality and forced to wear a unisex-like robe, depriving them of a smidgen of individuality and self-respect.

Scenes of the inhabitants of Camp Paradise in their park-like environment have the old folk singing childlike ditties and dancing ring-around-the-rosy. These scenes would not be out of place as a depiction of the Eloi in George Pal’s movie version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Made in 1960, this was one of the best produced and realized science fiction movies of the pre-Space Odyssey era.

More dark humor: Hawaii was the only state not to support Max in the election. The island populace is punished by being given a “lethal overdose of STP.” Those Hawaiians who survive are left in a non-functioning state that I could easily associate with the term acid casualties—if I believed in such media-born propaganda as LSD-damaged brains

(STP was an extraordinarily powerful hallucinogen that provided a very short but a very intense trip. It caused many a bummer and never caught on with the Leary Generation. Its biggest moment may have been when David Crosby appeared on stage with the Byrds at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967 with an STP decal from the automotive additive of the same name affixed to the front of his guitar.)

In another key statement concerning the movie’s message, President Frost is questioned about how he intends to handle citizens over 35 passing themselves off as under-25s. He off-handedly responds, “My feeling is if they can fool us, then they’re all right. I mean, anyone who is that lively is not that dangerous.

• The extreme left as the extreme right and we won’t get fooled again!

In another of the film’s accurate socio-political observations on behavior, the young Americans that assume political power behave just like every other group with the same power has behaved in history! This includes a black-garbed (think “SS”), long-haired secret police for rounding up stray over-30s who are simply trying to live outside the law and the restrictions of the dominant social beliefs and ethics of the mass culture.

When this goon squad arrests Max’s mother, she attempts to resist arrest by claiming to be young. The squad leader assails her with the best double-entendre of the movie when he claims, “You are the biggest mother of them all!”

In a later scene, Max drops off a young girl for babysitting and the child is dressed in black, calling forth memories of the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) movement of the 1920s through the end of the war.

I will end this section by noting that the Frost administration does have some redeeming features and positive goals, including the return all troops stationed around the world, thus ending US imperialism. Max also announces plans to feed the hungry of the world with excess American grain, a plan that is doable and has been bandied about in real life for decades with little success. (It does, after all, undercut the principles of capitalism . . .)

__________________________________________________________

Referring back to this piece’s title and its reference to political satire, prescience, black comedy, and hokum, let’s ask some questions:

  • Does Wild In The Streets work as political satire? Yes, absolutely! While some of it was sophomoric even in 1968 and even more is dated in 2014, some satiric aspects of it have taken on whole new meanings in the years since its release.
  • Does Wild In The Streets qualify as prescient? The definition of prescience is “the ability to know what will or might happen in the future” (Merriam-Webster). It is often used to describe statements or works of literature that contain pronouncements or observations or even whimsies that seem to predict events that were not considered probable at the time but that come true. So, using the dictionary definition with “might” the as the operative word and the second popular usage definition, this movie is somewhat prescient, even if in humorous ways.
  • Is Wild In The Streets a black comedy? The definition of a black comedy or dark comedy is “a comic work that employs black humor, which is humor that makes light of otherwise serious subject matter. The term black humor (was coined by Surrealist majordomo and theoretician André Breton in 1935 to designate a sub-genre of comedy and satire in which laughter arises from cynicism and skepticism, often relying on topics such as death.” (Wikipedia) So then, yes, Wild In The Streets certainly has elements of black humor and therefore aspects of a black comedy.
  • Does Wild In The Streets qualify as B-movie hokum? The definition of hokum is “A stock technique for eliciting a desired response from an audience” (Free Dictionary). So the answer is affirmative again: it is difficult to watch this movie and not be aware of its basis as being a modestly budgeted movie with modestly talented principals exploiting such aspects of its time as the then nascent youth movement, the emergence of the drug- and counter-culture, the ascendent influence of rock musicians, and the growing awareness by at least some of America to the ongoing corruption of many of its staidest institutions. And those exploitational aspects are the hokum.

__________________________________________________________

To bring this article to a conclusion, I am turning to another external source and the opinions of another critic, Charles A. Cassady, Jr.:

“Viewers may be put off by the ambiguous conclusion, but American International Pictures put this package together with an adroit mixture of dark humor, good music performed by the principals, and the deft use of docudrama footage of ’60s demonstrations and marches on Washington. Campy psychedelia, the downfall of so many groovy movies, is saved for the concert scenes;.

The real money shots here are the lampoons of both youth culture and ageism, flung around like Marx Brothers Molotov cocktails. The hip script by Robert Thom persuasively directs the Don’t trust anyone over thirty argument at Fergus, Mrs. Flatow, and other gray-haired, starched, war-stirring, and scotch-swilling Establishment figures, but he doesn’t let the youth movement off easily either.”

That statement from Video Hound’s Groovy Movies – Far-Out Films Of The Psychedelic Era (page 310) nicely sums up the movie, but it implies that the music was performed by the actors, who are any movie’s “principals.”

It was not . . .

__________________________________________________________

In a shameless effort to steer traffic from my music/record collectors-oriented site (ratherrarerecords) to this more political blog that you are on now (nealumphred.com), I will be posting a complementary fourth part to this article (“paying attention to conservative thought in film, music, literature, and other lowlife pursuits”) here that will not appear there, despite it’s having some bearing on the main article above! 

In a similar attempt to steer traffic from this politically charged site (nealumphred.com) to the more benign music/record site (ratherrarerecords.com), I will be posting a complementary fourth part to this article there that will not appear here. “the avid record collectors price guide to ‘wild in the streets‘” deals with the musicians responsible for recording the music on the soundtrack and related records (of which there were several) and includes a discography/labelography and price guide for these records. Should this be of interest, click on over and give it a read. Of course, while there, please peruse the rest of the articles . . .

4 Replies to ““wild in the streets” as political satire, prescient black comedy, and good old b-movie hokum (part 3)”

Comments, suggestions, additions, and arguments welcome!