Home Video Reviews
Unfortunately, The Loveless doesn't date well, and is interesting only when looked at within its historic context. American independent film was at a low point in the early 1980s, with many "indie" distributors being arms of the Hollywood studios, and those studios showing more interest in remakes and sequels than in nurturing small movies. It's a situation not unlike today's, but it was before the proliferation of film festivals and home video, so there was much less of a chance for low-budget movies with no stars to get attention.
Like other budding New York indie directors, including Jim Jarmusch and Susan Seidelman (whose Smithereens is also just out from Blue Underground), Bigelow and Montgomery were trying to grab some of the attitude of the post-punk music scene and the downtown Manhattan art scene into The Loveless. The latter yielded Dafoe, who came out of the Wooster experimental theater group.
The Loveless is most definitely a neo-biker movie, not a biker movie. Its plot, about a group of northern greasers pit-stopped in a small Georgia town on the way to Daytona, is a rehash of 1953's The Wild One. Like Brando in that movie, Dafoe's Vance is clearly the leader of the pack and, again like Brando, he catches the eye of the antsy teen daughter (Marin Kanter) of a local bigwig (J. Don Ferguson). When the story isn't mimicking The Wild One, it's aping the leather-and-chrome fetishization of Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising. Meanwhile, its score is by N.Y. neo-rockabilly singer Robert Gordon, who co-stars as one of the bikers; other music is provided by John Lurie and Evan Lurie of the downtown neo-jazz group The Lounge Lizards.
So The Loveless is like a cover version of an old song. But Bigelow and Montgomery don't add much of a revisionist twist to the familiar story and images they co-opt. The most interesting aspect of the movie is that it came out when the Reagan administration was conjuring nostalgia for a quaint, Father Knows Best 1950s, while this 1959 story presents a much different picture: a racist, abusive, corrupt society at war with itself (north vs. south, old vs. young, white vs. black). Regardless of that fertile contrast, The Loveless comes off as very self-conscious and very slow. Put it next to a genuine 1950s juvenile delinquent movie, or even Robert Rodriguez's neo-j.d. movie Roadracers, and it's a post-modern pose that rarely musters the energy or sense of danger it needs.
Montgomery frankly acknowledges the movie's lack of narrative momentum in the disc's audio commentary, explaining that he and Bigelow had asked Gordon to compose a Once Upon a Time in the West-inspired, suspense-building score. But Gordon spent most of the money on one song, sending the directors scrambling for other music sources. The commentary, which also includes Bigelow and Dafoe, also reveals that the movie was shot in Montgomery's native Georgia on the bypassed highway U.S. 17, which was replete with untouched period detail. All three commentators spin tales of their professional and technical naiveté during the summer of 1980 shoot.
For more information about The Loveless, visit Blue Underground. To order The Loveless, go to TCM Shopping.
by Paul Sherman