Wild In The Streets
Every four years several cyclical events occur; leap year, the summer Olympics and the United States Presidential election. This year leap years has the requisite 366 days but the other two was filled with controversy. The Olympics in Brazil was marred by fear of infectious disease and unrest while the election is historical that will result in the first woman President or an impulsive, bigoted and potentially dangerous narcissistic businessman. Coincidentally Olive Films has extended their ongoing incentive to remaster cult classic movies in high definition. Their latest release is a political horror story that epitomizes several social manifestations that went beyond dominating the sixties but defined the essence of that pivotal point in history; ‘Wild in the Street’. It depicts situation where a Presidential election resulted in a person in the Oval Office who was so completely egotistical and insane that his policy changes threaten to undermine the fabric of the American society. A widely popular rock star maneuvers the Congress to lower the voting age to ensure a decisive victory for his presidential bid. Virtually overnight the youth of America were in charge and anxious to make changes, the themes included in this story embodies the socio-political upheaval that plagued a nation threatening to rip it apart. In order to help the younger members of the audience understand this film it is necessary to first elucidate how the major plot points driving the movie were an extremely well-constructed exaggeration of the underlying discord that propelled the era.
When this film was first released in 1968 it was one of the one of the most politically contentious and socially transformative points in the county’s history. The war in Vietnam was on the verge of exploding into a few scale war that many believed to be a gossamer thin excuse to enhance the growth and profits of the largest and most influential corporations in the world. Leaders embraced by the youth of America were assassinated and the draft was ripping young men from their loved ones from their families and loved ones to the jungles in an Indonesian peninsular on the other side of the world. Protest on America campuses polarized the nation along generational lines giving rise to such mantras as "don’t trust anyone over thirty". That was the climate and widespread sentiment that made the events depicted in this film so upsettingly possible. Young people were driven to the streets by the fact the government considered an 18-year-old of sufficient age to die in a strange jungle but not to have a beer or vote. These attitudes were so deeply engrained in the zeitgeist of the country. This particular point in time turned this movie from a farce into a horror story. This preamble was necessary to help those of that tender age to understand the climate that our generation faced as we stood on the precipice of adulthood.
Max Frost (Christopher Jones) is arguably one of the most popular rock stars on the globe. Like many musicians of the 60s Max considered himself to be a revolutionary figure able to rally the youth of the world to follow him on a crusade of his own devising. His first act of terrorism, in the guise of protest, was exploding the new family car with a homemade explosive. Now his very early 20s, he surrounded himself with a cadre of cult like followers, extensively his band, the Troopers. They live commune style in a large mansion that Max purchased along with assorted girlfriends and others devoted to the revolution. All of them have share one thing in common; they are very young and exceptionally rebellious. For example, there’s his attorney, Billy Cage (Kevin Coughlin), a 15-year-old with a genius IQ. On the guitar is his girlfriend, Sally LeRoy (Diane Varsi), who previously presented fame as a child actress and serves on the keyboards. Abraham Salteen (Larry Bishop), who has a book on one hand, replacing the one he lost during a mishap while building explosives. Oddly enough, he plays bass guitar and trumpet judgments usually reserved for two-handed musicians. Rounding out the motley crew is, Stanley X (Richard Pryor), a member of a Black Panther offshoot plays drums on stage and as his expertise that anthropologist to forward the Machiavellian goals of Mr. Frost. Their first big break to launch their revolutionary agenda comes when they are asked to play the rally for politician, Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook), a politician cut from the same cloth as the Kennedy who is running for Senate. A major plank in his platform is to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. Once again, for the benefit of younger viewers of this Blu-ray, this was actually a real issue at the time, although would take another few years in the real world to come about. Instead of just playing the gig Max announces to the crowd’s agenda, why stop it 18? He wants the voting age lowered to 14. This would have the side effect of immediately flooding the voting pool with teenagers predisposed to voting for him. They top this off by premiering his new song, "Fourteen or Fight!"
Almost immediately, the newly enfranchised teenage voters begin protests and demonstrations all over the country. Going against his advisers, Fergus supports the demonstrations open to tap into the increasingly influential teen demographic. Ultimately, Max makes a compromise accepting a 15-year-old voting age, softening the political slogan to "15 and ready." With remarkable speed, the states begin to fall into line within a matter of days. Fergus is handily elected and when the senator of from Sally’s state that only dies she, as the only one to hold office, replaces her in a special election. Her first action is to propose an amendment to lower the voting age to hold political office to 14 years of age. He managed to get this passed by calling for a joint session of Congress in spiking the water with LSD so that their teenage aides can guide them to the desired vote. Immediately upon gaining the political upper hand laws of past that the old guard, anyone over 40, to submit to a mandatory retirement. Those over 35 a rounded up and placed in reeducation camps, with a perpetually kept high on doses of LSD.
Of course, as with any film of this type it quickly becomes apparent that the desire for power does not instill the ability to wield it properly, all effectively. Max’s initial act as president is to withdraw the military presence from around the world and turn them into an ad hoc police force. He has all the prodigies like those found in his own entourage identified and brought together and placed in charge of the ministration of the country, including the control of the gross national product. Some of his actions appear to be altruistic such as shipping, great excesses to Third World nations, but overall Max is now the leader of a hedonistic country with absolutely no constraints. To make certain of this he disbands the FBI, Secret Service and other law enforcement groups. Abdicating control the government to teenagers takes on a pandemic nature and soon spreads around the world. It would be a small to get away. The last scene of the film, but suffice it to say that is bone chilling, particularly in context of the story. Considering the current political environment, the far-fetched and unprecedented no longer seems impossible. Previously the DVD release of this film the movie shared disk space with another film, resulting in less than optimal technical specifications. Now remastered in high definition and presented on Blu-ray. You can watch this film with a video and audio far better than most of the small theaters prone to show it during its initial release in 1968. I remember seeing this movie, during my freshman year in high school in a small theater in Greenwich Village. With the new is filled with the generation gap and antiwar protests. The movie seems to be a cautionary tale that though unlikely to occur did initiate discussion. Watching it now.in my home theater after turning off the political news for the night. Once again, the film is a reminder that absurd things can happen in the arena of politics.