I recently read an interview with Marianne Faithfull, conducted while promoting her latest album "Easy Come, Easy Go", in which the singer/actress referred to GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE as "awfully silly", a description that I could not agree with more. Peppered with psychedelic imagery, less then subtle Freudian metaphors and an unruly youth that too often than not seems more confused than rebellious, GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE is in everyway a product of its era, one that, along with a much publicized relationship with Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, would help cement Marianne’s status as an icon of the late 1960s. While dated, the film does allow for famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff to try his hand at a number of creative camera tricks as he follows one woman’s attempts at breaking free from one stifling relationship while trying to reignite another, more exciting one from her past.
Rebecca (Marianne Faithfull) has had her fill of married life and after only two months of not so wedded bliss, the slender beauty decides that it’s time to leave. Sneaking out of her maternal bed, Rebecca paints herself into a black leather jump suit, hops on her hog and hits the open highway, determined to make her way back into the arms of her lover Daniel (Alain Delon, Le SAMOURAI) by day's end. As she makes her way from France across the border into Germany, Rebecca reflects back on the circumstance that led her to this moment.
Once complacent, working in her fathers’ antique book store, Rebecca’s life is forever changed the moment her eyes catch Daniel's, a suave professor and frequent customer of her father's. While their initial introduction proves fleeting, a chance encounter while on vacation leads to a late night rendezvous that releases the young woman’s repressed desire and sexuality. Spellbound by the standoffish bachelor, Rebecca begins to spend less time at work and more time on the back of Daniel's bike, eventually convincing her lover to give her lessons in riding. Having never broken off her engagement to Raymond (Roger Mutton), a meek and boring school teacher, Rebecca taunts Daniel with the news of her impending nuptials, to which Daniel responds by presenting the soon to be bride with the wedding gift of a brand new Harley. As he is seemingly unwilling to commit or settle down, Rebecca gives up on Daniel and decides to make a proper go at married life with Raymond. However her passion won’t let Daniel be so easily forgotten and it doesn’t take long before the newlywed sees her lover’s gift as a means of escape from a life that seems closer to death.
Having recently passed at the age of 94, director Jack Cardiff left behind a legacy rooted in cinema that dates back to the early days of silent film. He is most often noted and praised for his work as a cinematographer, having worked with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston and Richard Fleischer on a variety of different pictures ranging from THE AFRICAN QUEEN to CONAN THE DESTROYER. As a director Cardiff’s range was equally eclectic, having helmed both THE MUTATIONS, which was released on DVD under it's alternate title THE FREAKMAKER by Subversive Cinema in 2005, and SCENT OF MYSTERY, the first, and I believe only film to be showcased in Smell-O-Vision. With GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE Cardiff’s deft eye for composition is in full display, as the film features several inventive and attractive set ups, however there are just as many hits as there are misses as his desire to experiment with a variety of camera techniques and trickery may have gone a touch overboard considering the material. One minute Marianne is cruising along, framed by a single, fluid, 360 degree take, only to cut to a poor rear projection shot of the actress leaning left and right like a young Frankie Avalon trying not to mess up his hair.
Marianne looks quite fetching in the film's signature black leather one-piece and while the actress provides a serviceable performance, her character's narration drags the picture down in a sea of existential psychobabble and flashbacks within flashbacks. As her character opens up, it becomes rather clear that Rebecca is a bit of a masochist and possible a closet exhibitionist. However it is how the audience is presented with such character traits that frequently proves to be tedious, contradictory and frequently perplexing. A polarized multicolored dream sequence of a woman riding naked on horse back while being laughed at by her lover, may be a means in which to illustrate Rebecca’s confused sexual subconscious or I could have accidentally dipped into my uncle's private stash of “Sweet Tarts” again. Either way, opening the picture with such brain melting imagery leaves little to be desired in the film's talky midsection as you keep waiting Rebecca to have another acid flashback in hopes that something interesting might happen.
GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE, which was also marketed under the much more provocative title NAKED UNDER LEATHER, was originally released by Anchor Bay in 1999 with a small handful of extras, including a commentary by Cardiff. This initial, now out of print release was packaged with an attractive, if not overly simple cover that featured Marianne adorned in the film’s noteworthy leather jumpsuit. Two years later a U.K. release took its cue from the film’s original ad campaign and featured an intriguing and titillating cover that highlighted Marianne’s God given talents. For its latest DVD release, Redemption has decided to go in another direction for its packaging, using an unattractive, drab, boring still shot from the film for its cover. A huge mistake, as it offers nothing eye catching and will undoubtedly go unnoticed by your average DVD browser.
Presented with an anamorphic transfer in the film's original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, picture quality was not apparently job one (or two) as the film suffers from a prolific display of spotting and weak, dreary coloring. Detail is fair but only in those few instances where the grain and debris break long enough to get a clear glimpse of the action. The mono English language audio can best be described as bi-polar, as one minute Rebecca’s narration sound like a whisper, only to turn around and find your ear drums busted as the roar of her Harley comes out of nowhere to shake your teeth and windows. It’s a frustrating affair that offers little service to Les Reed’s score and will have you rubbing off the up and down arrows on your remote contro's volume button. Extras include the orignal theatrical trailer, a brief stills gallery and trailers for SACRED FLESH, SAINT FRANCIS, SATANIC SLUTS and COLD EYE OF FEAR, under the title DESPERATE MOMENTS. (Jason McElreath)
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