Overlooked & Underseen: The Loveless (1982)
“Daddy calls me a slut. I think of it more as a skill…maybe talent.”
Look, I’m just going to get it out there; I don’t care for Kathryn Bigelow’s work. I made this admission, nay confession, on Twitter recently much to the consternation of my followers. When I said I didn’t like Near Dark, I felt as though I were given a scarlet P (for Philistine) and was put in Film Twitter jail for a week. The thing is, I can’t even really tell you why I don’t like Bigelow’s movies. The short of it is, they just leave me cold and disengaged. And, before you totally throttle me, I think Point Break is O-K. When I was looking through Amazon streaming for something to write about this week, I came across The Loveless. Honestly, the only reason I stopped on it was because of the smoking hot photo of a young Willem Dafoe. You know the one, leather jacket, awesome hair...
Dafoe (in his film debut) plays Vance, a biker who stops in a small town in rural Georgia. He’s waiting on the rest of his crew to show up so they can go down to Daytona Beach to watch some races. When they finally get there, one of their bikes has broken down, so they’re forced to stay in town until it gets fixed. They go to the gas station and tell the owner, Mr. Tarver (J. Don Ferguson) they will pay him to use his garage so they can make repairs. While one of the one the guys stays behind, the rest of the crew head over to the local diner.
The people in the diner are immediately suspicious of Vance and company. They’re total “greasers,” replete with leather outfits and Brylcreemed hair. Oh, I forgot to tell you this takes place in the 1950s. The locals want these guys out of there, and, to be fair, the bikers have lousy manners. They’re bored and they just want to get to Florida. The garage owner has it out for the guys and is getting the rest of the town on his side. They want to get rid of the “Commies.”
The crew keeps going between the café and the garage. At one point, a very young woman named Telena (Marin Kanter) stops for gas. Vance is immediately attracted to her and her gorgeous convertible. He convinces her to let him take it (and her) for a spin. Eventually, the two are caught by her Dad at a motel and he drags Telena away, half dressed and screaming.
The friction between the two factions finally comes to a head that evening at the local diner. At night, the place turns into a lounge, replete with a stripping waitress. Everyone’s drinking, the garage owner is rabble-rousing, guns are drawn and mayhem shortly ensues.
This movie is a bit of an odd duck. I’ll tell you right now, it isn’t some lost masterpiece. I wanted to highlight it because, even though I don’t think it’s great, it deserves to be watched. Although the run time is only 85 minutes, you really feel the first 60. The scenes in the garage with the biker gang are rather protracted and spend a lot of time on the bikers as they move around the garage. By this I mean, the camera lovingly watches these guys. For example, the mechanic is very easy on the eyes and we watch him bend over, stretch, and reach as he mends the bike. He’s very sweaty and we see his skin glisten as he cups the bike’s chain in his hands. I’m not kidding. If you have a kink for motorbikes, guys in tight leather clothes, and 50s hair, this is the movie for you.
Although the movie is supposed to take place in the 50s, it doesn’t really feel like it. They do play the music of the era (by Robert Gordon, who is also in the movie), and the clothes/lingerie look right, but something is off. And really, that might be on purpose. The movie clearly pays its respects to biker movies of the past but, those earlier movies were usually, at least, fun. This one just feels really mannered and staid. Again, that’s probably the point and I’m just missing it.
This movie is worth watching if only to see how far Bigelow has come in her storied career. Dafoe wasn’t really the only reason I picked this one to watch. It was also because I wanted to give this director another chance. I’m still not a fan and I still really can’t tell you why. Her films aren’t bad, they just aren’t for me. I’m really not selling this movie, I know. Look, if nothing else, watch it for Dafoe.