, ,

There is hardly anything to recommend Wild in the Streets except that it excites the unsavory fascination of a crash scene. There is almost too much to discuss in this exploitation parable from American International Pictures (AIP) about a youth-worshiping revolution that puts a psychotic in the White House. Besides the striking, if superficial, parallels with our current political reality, there is much to pique interest, if little to praise.

The story is an absolute mess. Max Frost (Christopher Jones) is a successful rock musician and promoter who lives with a coterie of groupies (including a young Richard Pryor) at his Beverly Hills compound. Aside from mindless hedonism, Frost believes in nothing more than his hatred of anyone over the age of 30. He nonetheless decides to support senate candidate Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook, wasted here) whose main policy position is to lower the voting age to 18. Frost’s support comes with the condition that Fergus campaign for the age to be lowered to 14. Jump over a lot of messy filler to Frost (not Fergus) becoming president. His first diktat is that everyone be corralled into concentration camps at the age of 30 then kept permanently drugged by LSD.

Presumably Streets is meant as satire, but it is too witless to score points and it certainly cannot pass as drama. Instead, it alternates between hysteria and misshapen, listless “action.” One garish scene follows another, punctuated by loud screaming. Shelley Winters, in one of her hag horror performances as Frost’s estranged mother sets the tone as screamer-in-chief. Despite the chaos, however, the filmmakers manage to remain hideously on-target as they mine the worst of American culture.

In the hands of a good director, Streets might be no more cohesive, but at least it could offer a rabble-rousing turn on. Unfortunately, Barry Shear may be one of the most inept hacks ever to direct a feature. (Most of his work was for television.) His mid-’60s cinematic chichi (rapid cutting, split-screens, handheld camera, a God-awful rock score) are just so much strain to prove “hip” credentials, like a passport to the floor of the discotheque or a plea that the filmmakers, at least, understand youthful anger.

There are two ironies in this flagrant flattery of Baby Boomer narcissism. The first is that the year Streets was released (1967) did indeed herald the coming dominance of the young “Film Generation” when Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate became smash successes. Whatever you may think of either of those films, however, they are clearly serious efforts that could appeal to audiences regardless of age.

More obviously, the clock ticks. The “young” generation in Wild in the Streets is now in its ’70s, many voting for the hard Right. The film ends by implicitly raising the question of what happens to Frost and company when they reach 30? It is the one moment that can almost pass as wit in an otherwise tattered catalog of confusion posing as expressive freedom.