Sixties film making has a particular niche and creators pressed new subject matter and techniques. The rise of the ‘biker film,’ thought to be low budget drive in fare for the teenagers more interested in making sure the ‘wild oats’ were well stowed away. Many of these films were training grounds for people like writer/ director Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, John Cassavetes, who became a pioneer of independent film making, plus the wonderful Roger Corman and others. One of the most interesting of these is the neglected film THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE (1968).
The arts climate was full of change. Films such as BLOW UP (1966) with David Hemmings, the off kilter fun of BARBARELLA (1968) with Jane Fonda (based on a comic strip), CANDY (1968), MODESTY BLAISE (1966) starring Monica Vitti, which was also based on a comic strip. The psychedelic film also had a turn. It usually involved a woman and some sort of altered reality. Lana Turner showed up in this genre with the slightly odd THE BIG CUBE(1969). For this, she ingested LSD given to her by George Chakris. Love and free love were looked at from all angles and in all colors.
THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE (1968) stars Marianne Faithful as motorcycle rider who is going to see her lover, played by Alain Delon. Both of these people were at the height of European cool with Delon appearing as the hit man with ice in his veins in Jean Pierre Melville’s classic LE SAMOURAI (1967).
Marianne Faithfull was a fashion model and connected with the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger in many ways. Faithfull was said to be found only wearing a carpet during the infamous drug bust at Keith Richard’s West Sussex Mansion in 1968. She may have flashed the police officers as she was going upstairs, making her an instantly cheeky sensation with the younger set and reviled for having no morals by the olders.
THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE (1968) is directed (oddly enough) by Jack Cardiff, who was extremely accomplished in creating the ‘Prism.’ Cardiff was cinematographer for such essential films as BLACK NARCISSUS (1947) and THE RED SHOES (1948), plus PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (1951) and THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951). The color palette used and defusing of colors blending with the wardrobe colors make this picture wonderful to look at.
The story is simply shot with Faithfull having moments on the road as she is on her way to see her lover while driving a lovely Harley Davidson Electra Glide bike – a symbol of freedom. She has flashbacks to relationships with the two men in her life who are radically different. Daniel (Alain Delon) is the intellectual, sensual school teacher who talks about the philosophy of love. He questions morals in his lectures, asking his students what they perceive as love, or, simply, lust. Raymond (Rodger Mutton) is more conformist as they have almost grown up together. In short, the opposite of Daniel.
On a ski trip in a flash back sequence, Daniel meets Rebecca (Marianne Faithful), they steal glances and talk, only to have Daniel come to her room that night after Raymond has politely left. Daniel and Rebecca spend the night together with all the full blown furore of sixties love making and flashy colors supplied by Jack Cardiff.
Jack Cardiff’s camera makes the story flow as he works the angles into long, liquid sequences. Faithful’s obvious looks are highlighted with closeups of her face and her one piece leather suit that must have influenced the look of Emma Peel and Cathy Gale from THE AVENGERS (1968) (Not the silly Marvel film series). Rebecca does put on the leather garb at the beginning of the picture, prompting credence for the American/alternate title of the film, NAKED UNDER LEATHER and its X rating.
The effects are obviously limited as Faithful does look to be on the back of trailer with the camera positioned in front as she is driving. One gets to many picturesque European locales such as France, Germany, Belgium on roads with little traffic that perhaps don’t exist anymore. Those days of simply driving up on to one guard at a gate point, showing your ownership and identity papers and being allowed to drive through are, of course, long gone. This happens to Rebecca as she enters a border crossing when she flirts with a border guard.
Rebecca experiences many moments on the journey as she stops into to have a drink, only to be noticed by the local male population. She dreams of unzipping her top and flashing them all before running away.
THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE(1968) is a wistful film about being free to love and being on the open road. That freedom does come at a price, as will be apparent at the film’s conclusion. It is an interesting look at sixties morals as Rebecca speaks profanity with a smile, and catches the eyes of people on the sidewalk as she drives through a town in an act of rebellion. Something a little different from the political dramas and bloodletting that was the reality of the Sixties.