While best known as one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, the late, great Jack Cardiff also had a few interesting directorial credits to his name, the best known probably being 1968's Girl On A Motorcycle, which he also shot.
The film follows a woman named Rebecca played by Marianne Faithfull who, through voice over, tells us her story which we witness through a carefully staged series of flashbacks. When we meet her, she's just been wed but soon decides to leave her husband, Raymond (Roger Mutton), behind as she jumps on a motorcycle and zooms across the German countryside to visit her old lover, Daniel (Alain Delon), a university scholar. As far as the storyline goes, there are few twists and turns but that's more or less it.
Opening with a fantastic psychedelic acid dream in which the fetchingly beautiful Faithfull sees herself riding around on a white stallion as Delon literally whips the clothes off of her body, her husband sitting helpless in the middle of all of this and being ridiculed by the schoolchildren watching all of this unfold. Very early on we come to realize that this is a movie more interested in imagery than plot. It's also a film about relationships and more specifically about what Rebecca wants out of her relationship. Raymond is portrayed as weak and meek, a man who lets his students ran amuck and who can't seem to keep control over anything in his life, including his sexy young wife. Daniel, on the other hand, is all about control and that's definitely a quality that Rebecca finds stimulating, both on a cerebral level and a highly sexual one.
Looking quite beautiful jetting around the country in nothing more than a black leather catsuit and riding her Harley Davidson with more than a little innuendo (at times it's made very obvious that she gets a physical and sexual pleasure out of riding it), Faithfull may not deliver the most intense performance ever captured on film but she sure does look fantastic here. Her narration over the flashback sequences is a little overwrought at times but all in all she does fine with the material and plays the sex kitten side of the role quite convincingly. Delon is... Delon. The poster boy for French cinematic cool, he's quite appropriately got control here, delivering quite a commanding performance. His wedding gift of the motorcycle he bequeaths to Rebecca isn't so much a gesture of good will towards the newly married couple but is instead a symbol of what he knows she wants, and that's the freedom to be with him. He's coy, clever, and smart and completely aware of what he's doing by giving her the bike.
Quite psychedelic in spots, the movie features a few interestingly shot acid trip style scenes that play just as well as those seen in the similar movie The Trip which Roger Corman made a year earlier with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda who would, ironically enough, go on to make Easy Rider, a much better known picture than Girl On A Motorcycle but a film to which it is often (and quite understandably) compared.
The whole 'stream of consciousness' narration is a little heavy handed and obvious and the dialogue, what little there is, can come across as forced and scripted rather than natural or meaningful but as dated and very much a product of the late sixties as this film is, on a visual level it's excellent. Cardiff knew how to shoot a film like few others and he makes the most of the freedom he was afforded with this project. Yes, it's a meandering film that doesn't really go anywhere and nope, not a whole lot of anything really happens in the story but it's easy enough to just go with it and get lost with the visuals. The score, heavy on fuzz guitar, compliments things rather appropriately and adds to the whole sixties vibe that this one offers up in spades.
Girl On A Motorcycle arrives on DVD in a good in 1.66.1 widescreen transfer. Cardiff went all out on this picture with his use of color and it really shows in the acid trip sequences where things get swirly and strange looking. Black levels fare well, not reference quality but they look good for a film of this age, while skin tones also look decent. Grain and mild print damage is present but never in anything resembling a distracting way, and there aren't any issues with edge enhancement or with noise reduction. There are, however, some minor compression artifacts that pop up from time to time, most obvious during the darker scenes. Aside from that though, the movie looks good, if a bit rough around the edges.
The only audio option for the feature is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track. No alternate language options or subtitles are provided. There's not much to complain about here, the movie sounds quite good considering its age. The motorcycles have got some nice low end rumble to them and the score sounds nice and punchy. Somehow the dialogue manages to come through clearly enough despite all the rock n roll and roaring engines behind it. A little bit of hiss here and there but otherwise a fine track.
The main extra on the disc is the commentary track from director Jack Cardiff, who shares some decent stories about the making of the film and what it was like working with one of the coolest leading men in the history of French cinema and working with an 'it girl' of the era. He talks about the themes that the film explores and discusses what he feels works and what doesn't. He clams up somewhat often, and so there is a fair bit of dead air here and there but generally he's got a fairly sharp memory here and shares some interesting anecdotes about his work on this film. Aside from that, the disc also includes a still gallery, a theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection.
Girl On A Motorcycle is a fairly fascinating product of its time, the type of movie that could only have been made in the 1960s. Delon and Faithfull make for two interesting leads and the camera work and soundtrack are both top notch. As far as the narrative goes, well, it could have been better but if you dig sixties counter culture films and like a bit of sex appeal mixed in with your motorcycle riding, then consider this one recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.