The Loveless
Blue Underground // R // $19.95 // November 16, 2004
Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 4, 2004
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The Loveless is particularly notable for two reasons. First, the 1982 movie marks the first real film role of two-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe's career. It also was the first feature film credit of Katheryn Bigelow, who would go on to helm Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days, and squander an incomprehensible amount of money with the colossal dud K-19: The Widowmaker. Oh, and its other co-director, Monty Montgomery, became better known as a producer in Hollywood, but to me, he'll always be the cowboy in Mulholland Dr. Other than the success some of the talent behind the movie would go onto enjoy, there's not much else to say about The Loveless, and when a notoriously verbose writer like myself makes that sort of claim, that can't be a good sign.

The movie's set at some point in the 1950s, opening with Vance (Dafoe) barrelling into a sleepy Georgia town on his motorcycle, quickly establishing that he's not entirely a bad guy but isn't exactly a knight in leather armor either. He's shortly followed by the rest of his crew, who are stuck in town as they take a stab at repairing a broken down bike on the way to a race in Daytona. Vance quickly endears himself to a couple of the female locals itching to hightail it out of town, but he and his pals grate on the nerves of nearly everyone else. Most are just mildly annoyed and mutter under their breath, but Vance's fling with a slutty teenager sends her wealthy redneck father into a murderous rage, culminating in...well...I don't think I'd call it a climax, but whatever.

The Loveless is sort of a biker flick for the arthouse crowd -- a glimpse at '50s nostalgia through early '80s lenses -- leaving me behind a couple exits back on the demographic interstate. Part of my problem with the movie is its very deliberate pace. Though this was certainly an intentional decision on the filmmakers' part, I found it maddeningly dull. Any attempt at a story is shelved in favor of excruciatingly long scenes of the bikers mostly standing around, giving Kathryn Bigelow a chance to pad out her leather and chrome fetish to feature length. Vance's narration sounds like he's been skimming Sartre off-camera, offering sterling gems like "this endless blacktop is my sweet eternity". This is a film with individual moments I liked -- Vance buying booze in the black-owned liquor store that the town slut refuses to step foot in, for one -- but I found myself wholly disinterested in any scene featuring any of the other bikers. It's a very nice looking film, and Dafoe has an incredible presence, but those alone aren't enough to buoy a movie.

Hell's Angel Sonny Barger said the following about Easy Rider: "It was not, and is not, a motorcycle movie; it's a movie about two drug dealers who cross the United States on motorcycles." While he hasn't commented on The Loveless (few people have), I wonder if he'd see it as more of a "pure" biker movie, in the same way that 2001: A Space Odyssey is so frequently pointed to as a rare example of "pure" sci-fi cinema, untainted with the influences from action and horror that have come to define the term and therefore often labeled as boring by some. I dunno. The flipside of the packaging describes The Loveless as "the thinking man's biker movie". Maybe I'm not so much a thinking man, but whatever the case may be, I was bored stiff. I'm sure there's an audience out there for a movie like this, but I'm not part of it.

Video: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video looks pretty nice. The image is sharp and colorful, with Kathryn Bigelow apparently having as much passion for the glow of neon lights as she does for leather and shiny metal. The source material is mostly clean, with some negligible speckling and the like sporadically visible. A tinge of softness and some mild film grain are also intermittently noticeable, though neither are likely to be flaws with the transfer. Some electronic ringing was spotted around edges with some frequency, and I'm kind of surprised to see something like this on a Blue Underground release. One cropped example is provided below. Still, this doesn't make a huge dent in my overall opinion that this is a good presentation overall, especially considering the age and obscurity of the film.


Audio: The Loveless has been given the six-channel treatment with this Dolby Digital 5.1 remix (448Kbps). It's a more active mix than Blue Underground's simultaneously-released Smithereens, and the presence of motorcycles and cars careening across the screen offer more opportunities for pans across channels. Dialogue and the rockabilly-flavored soundtrack both come through pretty well, if still tainted somewhat by the limitations of the original audio. I thought the remix sounded pretty good, but if you're a purist and want to stick with the original mono, or if you'd prefer a Dolby Digital stereo surround track, those options are available as well. There are no subtitles or closed captions, though.

Supplements: The featured extra is an audio commentary, pieced together from two different sessions. Willem Dafoe and Kathryn Bigelow were recorded together, and co-director Monty Montgomery was recorded separately with Blue Underground's David Gregory. Montgomery is much more of a dominant presence in the track, with Dafoe and Bigelow punctuating periodically. Montgomery covers most every possible aspect of production, from its cinematic influences, the writing process, financing, casting, everyone leaving New York to shoot a movie in his old stomping grounds of Georgia, and its eventual, unremarkable theatrical release. He also points out what he sees as some of the weaker aspects of the film. Other comments include Robert Gordon bringing one of the motorcycles from the movie back with him to New York and using it as a coffee table as well as the use of a real stripper (a happy accident) and one of the actors getting a genuine tattoo. Although I'm not exceptionally keen on the movie, I did think this was a pretty good commentary, although it would've been nice to have Dafoe and Bigelow contribute a little more.

The disc's sizeable still gallery is divided into a number of different sections -- two posters, thirty-five black-and-white stills, twenty color stills, eighteen wardrobe test stills, seventy-three (!) behind the scenes shots, fifteen shots of other promotional material, eighteen storyboards, and a couple of home video releases. Finally, an anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer has also been provided. The disc includes a set of animated 16x9 menus, and a list of its twenty chapter stops is visible through the transparent keepcase.

Conclusion: Despite a memorable performance from Willem Dafoe and some nice visual contributions from Kathryn Bigelow, The Loveless is rather dull and difficult to recommend sight-unseen.


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