DVD Review: Electra Glide in Blue

Starring: Robert Blake, Billy Green Bush, Mitchell Ryan
Director: James William Guercio
Rating: 10/10

Screenshot (116)This, the only film directed by music producer James William Guercio, is a true one-off, and a prime piece of ’70s cinema. Robert Blake plays Wintergreen, a pint-sized Arizona motorcycle cop who compensates for his shortness of stature by having big dreams. Sick of riding a scooter (the Electra Glide of the title) and hassling hippies (the favourite hobby of his colleague Zipper), he longs to make it to the homicide division where he hopes to have a chance of using his brain.

His alertness on the scene of a mysterious death (he’s desperate for it to be murder, Screenshot (119)and not a suicide) helps him to catch the eye of snappily dressed, cigar-chomping detective Harve Poole, (Mitchell Ryan) but Harve turns out to have some funny ideas (“this country is undergoing a precisely organized conspiracy of police genocide”) and life at homicide turns out to be more of the same fascist bully-boy tactics, and disillusionment sets in.

Screenshot (121)Wintergreen is a great believer in the clothes making the man, and the camera has an almost fetishistic way with his police apparel. Early on, there’s a montage of him strapping himself into his leathers which is like something out of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising, and later there’s a similar scene where he dons, with great delight, the frilled shirt, beige suit with wide lapels, ten gallon hat and cowboy boots that are the unofficial uniform of the homicide cop. In either get-up, he cuts a slightly absurd figure, with his voice that creeps upwards into a squeak when he’s giving orders, but he tries hard.

Throughout Guercio’s approach is wry and slightly sad, moving the murder investigationScreenshot (122) forward with seeming casualness, sketching in Wintergreen’s despised redneck milieu with a sharp eye (no one seems to read anything other than comics, a poster of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper is used for target practise at the firing range), but also allowing for surreal comedy and larger than life, parodic figures, such as the splendidly crazy Harve (“When the night talks to you, you’ve got to listen,” he says, waxing mystical). Wintergreen’s own Candide-like journey from innocence to experience is arguably slightly too extreme, but the mood sustains it. Beneath it all is a sharp sense of melancholy, the bleakness and despair behind the colourful facades that people wear and an abiding sense of loneliness which, Wintergreen comments, “will kill you deader than a .357 Magnum”. It all plays out against the bleak expanses of Monument Valley, which would be enough to make anyone feel small.

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