"The Loveless" marked the feature film debut for co-director/co-writer Kathryn Bigelow ("Near Dark," "Blue Steel"). The movie was actually Bigelow's graduate student film thesis--a stylized and downbeat little film with a neo-noirish undercurrent that showed enough promise to prompt a brief art house circuit theatrical release--after which it achieved a cult following overseas and, to a lesser degree, in the U.S.
Willem Dafoe exudes a surly raw sexuality in his first credited screen role as 'Vance,' a rough and tumble biker traveling the back roads of America with his gang during the 1950's. Vance establishes the duality of his character in the very first scene of the film: He is decent enough to come to the assistance of a lone woman driving along a deserted stretch of road by changing out her flat tire. However, when the woman offers Vance a grudging pittance for his time and trouble, he doesn't hesitate to reach through the car window, grab her purse and rifle through her wallet until he pulls out a more satisfactory sum. He then proceeds to plant a groping kiss on her as a bonus. How you react to this scene is probably a good indication of whether or not you will enjoy this movie. It is pretty over the top.
Vance and his motorcycle gang are on their way to Daytona Beach for the races when one of their motorcycles breaks down--forcing them to spend the day at a little out-of-the-way garage and cafe off U.S. Highway 17 until they complete the repairs. The locals are a mixture of the curious and the openly hostile. The movie tends to drift along rather aimlessly through the first two-thirds of the movie, and then it suddenly takes a rather dark turn, picking up momentum and interest after the introduction of a disturbingly pre-pubescent looking Sportster Debbie (Tina L'Hotsky), a wild child with an instant interest in Vance. Following close behind is Debbie's psychopathic and degenerate father, Tarver (J. Don Ferguson), precipitating a violent showdown with Vance and his gang.
The film was intentionally designed to look like a low budget 1970's biker film (a la Roger Corman), but it manages to transcend the genre. Dafoe does not always look completely comfortable in his first role. He does, however, demonstrate a real screen presence and visually commands whatever scene he is in. (Some of the other actors are not so lucky.)
Most of the sexuality in the film is implied rather than explicit (with two rather brief and slightly creepy sex scenes), and there is a surprising lack of profanity. The dialogue is rather stylized--with a great deal of period slang. Be advised, there is substantial "dead air" time (no one talking). Co-director Monty Montgomery wanted a Sergio Leone ("Once Upon a Time in the West") feel to the film--with the day drifting along in "real time." The camera often focuses on the scenery, watching the actors performing mundane tasks, and spends a lot of time on close-ups of the tattoos on the bikers' anatomy, wardrobe details and the period-authentic motorcycles. This is accompanied by a great deal of male posing and preening, giving the film a sensibility that is closer to Kenneth Anger's homoerotic "Scorpio Rising" than Marlon Brando's "The Wild One."
The cinematography and scorching soundtrack alone are worth the price of the DVD. The music features rockabilly icon Robert Gordon (who also has a small role in the film), John Lurie, and a brilliant but un-credited film score from Eddie Dixon. This is augmented by `50's standards from sultry Brenda Lee and Little Richard playing on the jukebox. (The title line of this review is taken from Gordon's opening credits song.)
Substance may take a back burner to this film's lush and gorgeous style with its `50's mixture of vintage motorcycles, black leather, ducktail haircuts, poodle skirts, roadside diners with Wurlitzer jukeboxes, ribbons of endless highway and, of course, bad boy bikers. "The Loveless" isn't just for gear heads and biker culture enthusiasts. The film had the odd effect of making me feel really nostalgic for a time I didn't live through.
Extras include a blended commentary track with Kathryn Bigelow, Willem Dafoe and Monty Montgomery; a gallery of still photos; the original posters for the film; the theatrical trailer and scene selection.