The other day I was thinking about how much time has passed since 1980, and that it’s about the same amount of time as had transpired from 1940 (math!) and that the amount of time from now back to the end of WW2 was about equal to the mount of time from the end of the American Civil war to WW2. Why does it seem all the change in the world happened recently? Probably mainly because I’ve experienced the last forty years keenly. I was just listening to a story about confidence men on NPR and how it’s been an American tradition, especially in terms of the foundation of Mormonism and Barnum, and others. Trump is an American tradition inasmuch as his “con-artist” soul produces the obvious gutter scam on a daily basis. People are as taken in by hokum as they always were-they love, not just enjoy, but love pouring their money into obvious cons (it’s no accident that Trump’s major con before he got elected to office, was in trying to out-casino the casino industry, resulting in his bankruptcy and his being underwritten by Russian oligarchs because the banks wouldn’t fund him anymore . . .
OK there’s your history lesson for the morning, The Loveless is a bleak tale set in a desolate aspect of Americana. It resembles Easy Rider a bit in its devotion to dreamy empty riding around and the inherent viperish disrespect afforded anyone different, anyone threatening status quo. Here we have a Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies version of Willem Dafoe, and you might actually have your eyes pop out at this non-craggy visage of the well known actor. An actor who I thought should have been Spiderman, his ache, his ability to perform, and his countenance far more suited the wise-cracking burned-out crime fighter than the slew of baby-faces they’ve installed in the role over the past twenty years.
This film is about a bunch of riders heading to Daytona for the races, and stopping off in a less than congenial spot. The fun of the film is less in the action than it is in the lack of it. Long moments are spent just staring, single frame, no motion, at Defoe looking out a window, or puttering over dumping a pound of sugar into his coffee. An old soda machine is given center stage to sort of remind those of us who’ve used those old boxes and glass bottles that the world had a different layer of skin in those days one which undoubtedly still exists as you leave the city in the Carolinas or Georgia.
Soon enough Dafoe’s buddies arrive in their leather and on their bikes, and filling up a sleepy diner full of lipsticked and desperate waitresses giving off their needy vibes with come on lines like, “My husband died.”
What the film does well is get across the emptiness of life while trying to play out it’s hopeful excitements. Dafoe’s character gets some love so the title isn’t really applicable. What the film does wrong (for me anyway) is tip into the meanness and violence of a drunken murder spree a little too easily. This film could have been a beloved classic had the tale settled on the period’s passions and proper presentation. Enough of us have been these youths, devoted to motors and recklessness and stupid challenges of bravery to have made this thing stand out from the usual motorcycle gang film, or Happy Days. What we get is a kind of on the road touched with beauty, but infected with the circumstance of generational abuse. Sometimes film makers mistake the devolvement into a western shootout, but missing the Jack Palance character to make it worthwhile, is a necessary process. Does every study of youth culture and sexuality need to unwind into a genre thriller? It’d have been more fun to watch Dafoe’s Vance, equipped with his new lover, realize that Daytona and the knife wielding thugs he devotes to aren’t really what he wants from the trip.
It’s free on Prime and well worth the short time it’ll take to knock it own. Just when everything’s going Jake, dad.
2 thoughts on “The Loveless (1981)”
This is an excellent review. If you aren’t a con-artist in ‘Merica than you aint nothin’.
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Hey Gary! Thanks. The whole economic model is one of gambling and even if you don’t want to gamble–if say you have good math skills, for instance — the national lore and fiction is this crude hopefulness that each of us will be a millionaire. It’s a rotten insult, and so at least we can have motorbikes and leather jackets and maybe lean into the desperation a bit. I just hate it when the cute girls come to shitty ends. I mean, carried off by a monster is one thing, but a biting a barrel . . . OK I won’t say more!
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