Friday, September 19, 2014

Wild in the United Kingdom: The Scottish Referendum

By now votes in Scotland have been tabulated, with Scots choosing not to declare themselves independent of England. This issue was of great emotional concern to British subjects on both sides of the border, as well as to fans of Sean Connery, Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald, and the movie Braveheart. Personally, I don’t have even a wee bit of Scottish blood (and I am absolutely not a scotch-drinker), so my opinion doesn’t count for much. But what’s striking to me is the fact that Scots as young as sixteen were allowed to vote on their political future. (70% of them apparently supported independence.)

Sixteen-year-old voters? I can’t help thinking of an outrageous movie from 1968, Wild in the Streets, in which a twenty-four-year-old rock-n-roll millionaire named Max Frost (played by the late Christopher Jones) is elected President of the United States.  How does that happen? I’ll tell you, but consider this a great big Spoiler Alert. In the world of the movie, 52% of the U.S. population is under the age of 25, reflecting the huge Baby Boom generation coming into its own in the late Sixties. Max, wildly championed by this youthful demographic, signs on to help the Senatorial campaign of a hip Kennedy-style candidate, Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook).  Fergus is advocating that the voting age be lowered from 21 to 18, to match the age at which young men are eligible for the military draft.  (This happened for real in 1971.)  But during a big campaign rally, Max Frost throws the youth of America into a frenzy by arguing, via a new song called “Fourteen or Fight,” that younger teens too should get the vote.

The upshot is that, once every state but Hawaii has granted fourteen-year-olds the ballot, the federal government as we know it is completely overturned. Under the influence of the L.S.D. that’s been added to the D.C. water supply, Congress rewrites the Constitution, making Max eligible to run for the presidency. Once he’s won, he proceeds to overhaul the social system on his own terms. It seems Max has little use for the older generation, as represented by his addled mother (Shelley Winters). He loudly rejects the ravages of passing time, declaring, “I don’t want to live to be thirty. Thirty’s death, man.”

Under Max’s leadership, all citizens who reach age thirty face mandatory retirement. Anyone with the bad fortune to turn thirty-five is shipped off to “Paradise,” a remotely-located retirement home where regular doses of hallucinogens help keep folks in line. But, as the end of the film shows us, the tide is about to turn. Super-Spoiler Alert: the film’s last line belongs to a child who’s vowing, “We’re gonna put everybody over ten out of business.”

The darkly comic screenplay for Wild in the Streets was written by Robert Thom, based on his 1966 Esquire story, “The Way it All Happened, Baby.”  The producers were the American International Pictures team of Samuel Z. Arkoff and Jim Nicholson, who had a talent for bringing to America’s theatres and drive-ins the concerns of young America. Though AIP backed many of Roger Corman’s greatest hits, Roger had nothing to do with this film. (When trying to deal with similar themes in 1970’s Gas-s-s-s-s!, Corman ran afoul of Arkoff and Nicholson’s increasingly conservative sensibilities, and they never worked together again.)     

But I well remember Robert Thom’s contribution to the opening pages of Roger’s Death Race 2000. He was sardonic, bitter, and brilliant. Somehow it seemed apt that we discussed his work over lunch: for him a Rob Roy and a bloody plate of steak tartare.   


  1. Wow - that's a meal I could and would skip every day and twice on Sunday. I took a poke at watching Wild in the Streets on the late show as a pre-teen or newly minted teen - I got bored and turned it off. I've since seen it in its entirety as an adult - it is indeed outrageous - and well worth a watch - if only as a time capsule.

  2. I agree, Mr. C. Note how Bob Thom's drink of choice coincidentally repeats the Scottish theme of this post.