Who are you going to find more intimidating, a teenager in hot pink pedal pushers or a biker dressed up in leather? It’s not a trick question and, in truth, films like The Loveless owe their existence to the fact that there’s an obvious answer, but that doesn’t mean obvious answers aren’t flawed or that types aren’t misleading.
Vance (Willem Dafoe, in his feature debut) and his buddies know exactly what people see when they ride into town in Kathryn Bigelow and Monty Montgomery’s The Loveless. A stylized film about bikers on their way to Daytona, they only stop in Georgia half a day for bike repairs, yet half a day is more than enough time to make an impression and the locals won’t forget their visit anytime soon.
Are the bikers really to blame for what happens during their pitstop? They’re not (in any sense of the word) innocent, but that doesn’t mean the town’s right to lump them all together and make out like it’s the lifestyle that dictates their moral character. As the cook (Don Tilly) at the diner tries to tell one of the waitresses (Margaret Jo Lee), “They ain’t gonna hurt you unless they know you’re scared.” The same goes for people who don’t make any effort to disguise how much the gang’s presence offends them. Vance and his pals revel in making townsfolk squirm but you can tell when they tire of their antics, too. That’s when Vance will bring up money and the arguments quickly stop from there.
There’s no question the town overreacts when it comes to the bikers, but the bikers take advantage of their street cred, too. The fifties biker, after all, is a very particular type of biker – cool as can be but, as for tough, that’s debatable.
Combs and cheesy slang are the bread and butter of the fifty’s biker, yet Vance is no Fonz and that’s because, underneath the posturing, the Fonz is a hero. Vance is not. He floats the idea of being a hero around in his head, but never acts on the notion and this is where The Loveless‘ preoccupation with the bad boy image most intrigues. Vance isn’t misunderstood. He’s not a sweet guy if you get to know him but he’s not the menace people peg him for, either (at least he doesn’t have to be).
On the opposite end, Marin Kanter’s performance as Telena defies her costume, as she’s somehow able to come off as a convincing tough girl in the most un-fearsome of outfits. It’s a fascinating use of an iconic image to play with expectations and proves that types don’t have to be limiting.
In terms of bonus features, every interview is brand new for Arrow’s release, including a commentary with Montgomery, moderated by Elijah Drenner. If you need recommendations, Peter Stanfield’s booklet essay considers The Loveless within the tradition of motorcycle movies and “Chrome & Hot Leather: The Look of The Loveless” mentions a few other films that influenced Bigelow and Montgomery, including those of director, Douglas Sirk, who would keep his camera still.
The Loveless is available on Blu-Ray from Arrow Films and feels like a languid precursor to films like David Lynch’s Wild At Heart (which Montgomery would produce).