[EDITOR'S NOTE: Contributor Robert Nishimura's video series Three Reasons continues with James William Guercio's Electra Glide In Blue. He feels this cult film is a perfect candidate for restoration and release on the Criterion label.]
Cult films have always remained one of the more enigmatic areas in Cinema Studies. There doesn't seem to be a distinct aesthetic that all cult films follow. Films that have been deemed cult-worthy come from any genre, country or time period. They are not limited to the independent or the underground, either. More often than not, cult films come from Hollywood's fly-by-night flops that end up in the bargain bin only to be fished out by eager or unsuspecting viewers. Since most cult films evade any common elements, any critical investigation on the subject quickly falls apart. The only definitive thread in this phenomenon is the fanatical devotion of its audience. Like any cult, the uncompromising worship among their marginal fan bases are what set these films apart from the rest.
Cult Cinema Studies really began with the advent of home-viewing technologies. Danny Peary's landmark book, Cult Movies (1981), was the first to make that classification, collecting all the obscure films and the extreme effects they have on their audiences. For the first time, fans could cull their resources to satiate their limitless appetites for that obscure film of their desire. Tape trading, bootlegging, midnight screenings and fan conventions became an immediate subculture that progressed so quickly that we have already reached the point where you would be hard-pressed to find someone who WASN'T a cultist in some regard. Social media sites and apps seem to be tailor-made for the cultist, allowing instant access and confirmation. Thirty years later the inmates are already running the asylum.
Such is the case with James William Guercio and his sole directorial effort, Electra Glide in Blue. Loathed and lambasted by critics upon its release, it came and went with nary a second thought until the cultists got their hands on it. It was too easily regarded as a Republican response to Easy Rider, which is probably why it was labeled “fascist” by critics and the hippie movement of which the film takes aim. But Electra Glide in Blue offers much more in its politics, style and genre than any film to emerge from the ‘70s counterculture. Easy Rider, in addition to kick-starting the New Hollywood movement, was the touchstone of a generation. It has become the quintessential document of the ‘60s counterculture movement, the transformation of the American Dream and the rise and fall of the hippie movement. Electra Glide in Blue offers much of the same thing, only from the pig's point of view. That is not to say it justifies the actions of the conservative right; it is a condemnation of both sides, and its moral ambiguity would mark the beginning of a new era in film history. If Easy Rider should be the film that encapsulates the decade of the ‘60s, Electra Glide in Blue deserves that distinction for the decade that followed.
At the time of its release, the knee jerk reaction by critics to classify the film as fascist was to be expected. The Vietnam War was still raging, the counterculture movement stood in such a stark contrast to the conservative right that there was no room for a neutral middle ground – certainly not from a motorcycle cop. Everyone in the film except Wintergreen is a caricature, from the long-haired pig-farming hippies to the racist, fascist rednecks who torment them. Both sides are ludicrous representations, but each are guilty of have the same narrow viewpoint. Electra Glide in Blue doesn't take sides; it only portrays the shortcomings of a two-sided argument. Never more applicable than today, a humanist without affiliation will only be drowned out by the clash of the right and left, Democrats and Republicans, Pepsi and Coke. The cultist phenomenon mirrors this same ambiguity in regard to viewer ownership and appreciation. The cultist can position films by Jean-Luc Godard and sexploitationist Doris Wishman on the same pedestal. The political message of each film(maker) is irrelevant to the cultist, only it's entertainment value.
Robert Nishimura is a Japan-based filmmaker, artist, and freelance designer. His designs can be found at Primolandia Productions. His non-commercial video work is at For Criterion Consideration. You can follow him on Twitter here. To watch other videos in his "Three Reasons" series, click here.
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