Friday 2 November 2007

The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) Jack Cardiff

It's been so long since I've seen The Girl on a Motorcycle that I couldn't even remember what it was about. However, as befits such an iconic piece of cinema I do remember certain images very well, not least Marianne Faithfull clad in leather and riding a motorcycle that suspiciousy doesn't tilt. How I could forget the opening psychedelia I don't know, but then maybe I didn't see an uncut version.

The film is all about escape. Marianne Faithfull is Rebecca and she's been married to Raymond, a boring Swiss schoolteacher, for two months. However as the film starts, she dons her fur lined leather riding outfit and heads out on her bike to meet her lover Daniel, played by Alain Delon. Daniel and her bike are both symbols of freedom to her and they're what make her feel alive, a little strange as Raymond is in Switzerland and Daniel is in Germany but there you have it.

Director Jack Cardiff made a lot of great movies, but not generally as a director. He was a renowned cinematographer who worked for Powell & Pressburger, Hitchcock, John Huston, Joseph Mankiewicz, you name it. His credits include things like Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes and The African Queen, which all looked stunning and the former of which won him an Oscar. In many ways both the successes and failures here (and there are many of both) all boil down to the fact that it's a film directed by a cinematographer. It looks wonderful but it looks even more wonderful to someone who works entirely visually. The only things that fail to the eyes are the rear projection shots and the fact that it's pretty obvious that the ony people riding anything are stunt doubles.

Another way to look at it is that much of the film has to do with simply watching Marianne Faithfull move, especially out on the road riding her bike but also skiing down mountains or simply moving her face. She is awesome to watch, truly magnetic in a way that very few of today's stars are. She's very real in a way only actresses in Europe ever got to be: beyond not being a barbie doll she has nothing artificial about her at all. She's delightfully imperfect. The bizarre thing is that given that she obviously only rides her bike in closeups when it's on the back of a trailer, most of the time we're watching her we're presumably actually watching someone else.

While there isn't really much of a story there is a theme and it ties completely into the direction of the counterculture at the time, all about free love and commitment, about what tradition would have us do and what we could through our own will render obsolete. The world has always done certain things certain ways but now we have an enlightened generation who chooses to shed all that and do things in a completely different way. That's at the grand level, but what most of it really just boils down to one is young girl who really has no clue what she wants.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Roy Wiffen was the stunt man / props man who rode the motorcycle as Marianne Faithful, while wearing a blonde wig.