The 1960s and 70s were a time of great experimentation and revolt. New and different were in, and young musicians, artists and filmmakers’ battle cry was “why the hell not?” In a similar vein, a Parisian film maker hired a race driver to tear across Paris in the early morning in a Ferrari at speeds up to 120 mph with a 35mm camera strapped to the hood. In that same go for broke manner the producers of the film “The Girl on a Motorcycle” approached their task.
In the film, young Rebecca (played by a dewy fresh Marianne Faithfull) has locked horns with the choice all young people in the west had back then. “In my actions should I live for my parents and society at large or please myself and my generation?” And like most, Rebecca constantly vacillates between the two.
The film’s narration is largely her interior monologue in the stream of consciousness manner of a novel by James Joyce. The question is, to wit, should Rebecca stay with her sweet, indulgent, cello playing husband Raymond, or visit her lover, the man who awakened her sensual nature? Rebecca aims at both. Luckily her lover Daniel had the foresight to give, as a wedding present, the means of Rebecca’s escape – a powerful black Electra-Glide Harley-Davidson. This way Marianne Faithfull can roar, picturesquely, up the road from Alsace to Heidelberg and visit the rakish Daniel. Leaving her husband one foggy morning she slips on one of the most provocative outfits in film history, a fur lined, skin tight black leather jump suit with the obligatory large ring zipper down the front, (the heavily edited American version of this film was titled “Naked Under Leather”).
The film is redolent with late sixties charm, including great music by Les Reed, and the director/ cinematographer Jack Cardiff pushing the envelope of camera tricks and effects. Bold colors and solarized images blast one’s eyes, usually to good effect. Although this is a revealing film about a young woman’s innermost thoughts and desires, “The Girl on a Motorcycle” can be a guy’s film as well, besides the nudity. Whoever did the riding in the film is a first class racer. Bends and hairpin corners are taken at scary speeds in the wet and snow, and it is good to know the stunt rider wasn’t injured in the course of production. As a fairly new rider, Rebecca learns that joy on a powerful machine is the balance between control and freedom. Pleasure can give a nasty bite to the hand that strokes it too possessively.
Films are recreations of life, and by necessity have some creative lying within them. So, what about the 35mm short about a Ferrari filmed in a race across Paris that was all in one take? It really was someone racing in the sleeping city and several pedestrians are missed by inches (centimeters) but was it true? Yes and no. The danger was truly there, but the car wasn’t a Ferrari, but a large Mercedes. The director dubbed in the metallic symphony of a racing Ferrari at speed – making the illusion mind bendingly cool.
The Blu-Ray remastering of “The Girl on a Motorcycle” is very good and the mono soundtrack is left as it was. This film earned an X rating when it came out in 1968. My Uncensored European Version on VHS clocks in at 91 minutes. This R-rated DVD is 88 minutes long, and you lose some of the more provocative frontal images and sex. I guess the revolution for total freedom continues.
Be safe out there.
The disc includes audio commentary by Jack Cardiff, a trailer, and stills gallery.