#270: The Loveless (1982)

The most lauded female filmmaker working in Hollywood today has to be Kathryn Bigelow. Following up her Oscar-winning war drama The Hurt Locker with a bold, “true story” account about the ten year hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, I was curious enough to go back to project that started them all. Straight out of film school, Bigelow teamed up with David Lynch disciple Monty Montgomery to co-direct and write this mood piece about fifties biker culture.

With continuous, fetishistic closeups of leather, cars, skin and bikes, The Loveless (also known as Breakdown) plays out like an ill-advised reshoot of The Wild One, minus the gang warfare, story, and the young serpentine-faced Willem Dafoe taking the place of Brando.

In his first ever starring role, Dafoe is the lonesome traveller Vance. He spends his life out on Route 66, with no direction home. Stopping off at pitstops, fixing up his bike with fellow leather-clad rockers, and picking up any chicks that he’s fortunate enough to have swung his way. He’s a compelling, enigmatic antihero, at first, but the brooding face and tired ‘rebel without a cause’ schtick leads to frustration very quickly.

That’s probably due to a distinct lack of narrative drive. Instead of a plot, Montgomery and Bigelow rely on heavy aestheticism and corny dialogue which wouldn’t seem out of place on a Dick Tracy comic strip. It actually reminded me of another ‘wild’ road movie, David Lynch’s forgotten gem Wild At Heart. Produced by none other than Monty Montgomery and co-starring Dafoe as the slimy Bobby Peru, the movies also share the same renegade characters, but Dafoe and his less than charismatic love interest Telena (Marin Kanter) fail to have the humour, narrative depth, or warrant the emotional investment you get with Sailor Ripley and Lula Pace Fortune (played magnificently by the extra-loony Nicholas Cage and Lynch’s muse, the beautiful Laura Dern. The best star-crossed lovers on the big screen of all time? Quite possibly).

I found myself grimacing throughout The Loveless. Taking a good, but difficult premise of biker boredom and isolation, it plays out like a trashy, extended music video to the sounds of the fifties. With the country twang of Brenda Lee and the rockin’ ferocity of Little Richard, the soundtrack is indisputedly fantastic. But The Loveless cheapens it all, mimicking the bygone era rather than paying homage to it.

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