January 2, 2015

Girl on a Motorcycle

Girl On A Motorcycle (92 minutes) 1968/Rated R – starring Marianne Faithfull, Alain Delon, Roger Mutton, Marius Gornig, Catherine Jourdan, Jean Leduc, Jacques Marin. Photographed & Directed by Jack Cardiff. Released through Anchor Bay Entertainment Home Video.

As Rebecca, the girl on the motorcycle, Marianne Faithfull awakens one morning, taking a look at her placid life in a small French village with an ordinary, meek schoolteacher and thinks, “I’ve been stultified. And the bike is waiting. Chomping at the bit.” With that, having dreamed of flying birds, she alights on her motorcycle, taking flight to Heidelberg, Germany, back to the arms of her lover, Alain Delon.

This ‘60s time capsule comes complete with Jean Luc-Godard-like philosophical musings, a groovy brass/tambourine jazz-rock score, and optical negative coloring courtesy of cameraman/director Jack Cardiff. It also prominently features the lithe female form of singer Faithfull, both in her birthday suit and in a leather jumpsuit. The leather fixation, in fact, is so heavy-handed that border cops suggestively pat it down, German diner patrons ogle it, and her lover caresses every inch of the garment muttering “your body’s like a violin in a vinyl case.” It’s no wonder the American release of this picture was retitled “Naked Under Leather.”

Released during the period Marianne was living with Mick Jagger, pregnant with their child, “Girl On A Motorcycle,” even though it is based on a French novel called “La Motorcyclette,” could very well be a veiled allegory of Faithfull’s own liberating sexual path. Just like she left her nice-guy, art student husband, John Dunbar, for a musical/carnal/drug-littered sojourn with party boy Jagger in real life, Faithfull’s character leaves her nice-guy, schoolteacher husband in the film for the “free-love” espousing, no-commitment wiles of university philosopher, Alain Delon. As she simply sums up her dissatisfaction about her film husband, “It’s his bloody kindness that’s killing me.” The love scenes with dashing Alain are awash in pulsating synthesizer chords and a red-tinted, liquified look. It sort of resembles making love inside a lava lamp.

The story is threadbare. The whole plot could truly have been told in about 15 minutes. We see glimpses of how Delon and Faithfull began their affair, but the majority of the film is spent fetishistically tracking the leather-clad Marianne in long wide shots across the French and German countryside. Most of her dialogue is looped in as her “thoughts,” so Marianne is not given much to do other than look detached, sad, and also, achingly happy. Her big, bright smile comes across so forced that the subtext reads “why am I on a motorcycle for 3 months?,” and “what they’re paying me is nowhere near enough” (reportedly 20,000 pounds).

Like most of the “statement” films of the late ‘60s, this one ends a-la-“Easy Rider,” with Marianne in blissful anticipation of reuniting with her lover, suddenly smacking her bike into a car on the highway and doing a nasty header through a windshield. Of course, in real life, shortly after this film was released, Marianne’s fate turned just as bleak when Jagger dumped her after she miscarried and years of heroin abuse kicked in. Thankfully, Marianne cleaned up her act and has become, over the years, an inspiration to other female rockers who envy her smoky-voiced singing and hard-edged songwriting. Originally released in an R-rated cut on Monterey Bay Home Video in the Eighties, “Girl On A Motorcycle” can now be found in it original, glorious, uncensored, widescreen European version on Anchor Bay Entertainment Home Video.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

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