From Europe With Love

Filmmakers from ‘other than America’ have always had a different take on two wheels.  They simply didn’t experience the same vilification of motorcyclists as boogeymen as in the USA post-WW2.  Many words have been written on why bikers (and teenagers) became the bete noir of  American society during the Cold War: suffice it to say our cultural fascination with outlaw culture led to the ‘threat’ of biker gangs being blown all out of proportion to their numbers.  How could a few hundred 1% club bikers threaten the capitalist behemoth in its heyday?

European filmmakers were thus free to focus on sex, adventure, and crazy dreams on two wheels, which is what most people want from bikes, right? Here are a few classics to keep you entertained for this week’s Quarantine Cinema:

1. Girl On A Motorcycle (1968)

The poster says it all: we’re a zip-tug away from the grand prize. [Studio promo]
Newly-married Rebecca leaves her husband’s Alsatian bed on the Harley-Davidson given to her by a former lover.   Her early-morning ride (escape) to visit her lover is accompanied by reveries about her conflicting desires; her stable husband versus her passionate motorcyclist lover.  As she nears her destination, Rebecca’s excitement over this sexual reunion becomes an extended motorcycle masturbation, with the vibration of her V-twin bringing her to a frenzy of erotic speed. (See our article ‘The Sex Machine’ here)

Marianne Faithful and Alain Delon, reason enough to watch the film. [Studio promo]
Rebecca’s character is based (visually) on Anke-Eve Goldmann, a real-life German motorcycle rider and competitor, who invented a one-piece leather riding suit for women, which she had made at Harro Leathers.  Anke-Eve bucked societal norms by daring to ride a powerful motorcycle in post-war Germany, and faced considerable condemnation initially, but became famous as a journalist writing for magazines around the world by the 1950s.  She was friends with author André Pieyre de Mandiargues, who wrote his novella ‘The Motorcycle’ with a central character resembling Anke-Eve, who was then married to a German television producer, but had a passionate affair with a dashing Swiss motorcyclist.  Rebecca bears no real resemblance to Anke-Eve, who was confident and strong, although her leather catsuit ‘inspired’ a generation of European men…as did Marianne Faithful’s reverse strip-tease in this film!

The real ‘Girl on a Motorcycle’, and the clear inspiration for the book ‘The Motorcycle’ on which the film is based: Anke Eve Goldmann. Read all about her here! [Vintagent Archive]
‘Girl on a Motorcycle’ (called ‘Naked Under Leather’ in Europe…a more exact representation of the film’s intentions) is part of a long tradition of eroticized girl+motorcycle films, beginning in 1928 with ‘Impatience’ (watch it here!), and continuing with such films as ‘Barb Wire’, etc.  The motorcycle as a totem of erotic power, combined with a beautiful woman, is a one-two punch for both filmmaker and audience, and has become an irresistibly enduring subject for films.  Watch ‘Girl on a Motorcycle’ free on Cine Meccanica!

2. The Leather Boys (1964)

“Follow me, and wait and see!”

Boys, bikes, and boys! And cafe racers, and the Ace Cafe, and Rita Tushingham – it’s the real deal, and mostly a very accurate picture of the Ace Cafe scene. [Studio promo]
Gillian Freeman, whose 1961 novel “The Leather Boys” was made into the seminal Rocker/Ace Cafe/Cafe Racer movie of the same name, died in 2019 at age 89. The novel was commissioned by the London publisher Anthony Blond, who reputedly suggested she write a novel depicting ‘Romeo and Romeo in the South London suburbs’.  Freeman wrote the book under the pen name Eliot George, an inversion of 19th Century writer Mary Ann Evan’s nom de plume George Eliot, used to conceal her identity as the female author of the astounding “Middlemarch”, and the equally famous “Silas Marner”. Freeman’s novels were not literature in the same league as George Eliot’s, and “The Leather Boys” is a one-night read, and a pulpy novella that was nevertheless groundbreaking for its frank depiction of a homosexual relationship as spontaneous and free of even the consideration of shame.  Read more about The Leather Boys here.

The Ace Cafe is the perfect setting for this tale of cafe racer pals in London. [Studio promo]

Watch ‘The Leather Boys’ free on YouTube!

3. La Strada (1954)

“Here he is – Zampano!”

Anthony Quinn as the original Overland camper-biker, in Fellini’s classic ‘La Strada’ [Studio promo]
In poverty-stricken postwar Italy, Federico Fellini depicted what was probably the only example of an adapted, personalised ‘chopper trike’ in his 1954 masterpiece, ‘La Strada’. Anthony Quinn played Zampanò, a proud, irascible rebel and individualist, who earned a living as an itinerant clown/ strongman around Italy. His three-wheeler motorcycle van was built from an Italian Sertum 500cc single-cylinder bike, which Fellini unearthed from a mechanic’s garage. The old mechanic had resuscitated a wreck of a Sertum, and converted to 3 wheels for his everyday transport. Fellini was inspired by its great character and used it in the film, but because Anthony Quinn was such a large man it ‘became’ a Harley, and was passed off as such by Zampanò in the movie, thanks to a larger handlebar and headlight. Zampanò has such affection for his trike, he decides to live in it! The extreme character of the motorcycle represents something of the man’s essence; a nomadic spirit, a wild nature, and an unsociable personality. [from Paul d’Orléans’ ‘The Chopper: the Real Story’ (2015)]
Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina and their Moto Guzzi Falcone motor home. [Studio promo]

Rent ‘La Strada’ for £3.49 on iTunes UK.

4. Eat The Peach (1986)

“Nothing was going to stop them: it was time to Eat the Peach”

A truly undersung film, and it’s about a Wall of Death! [Studio promo]

‘Eat the Peach’ is a 1986 British-Irish comedy film, directed by Peter Ormrod. The title is derived from the T.S.Eliot poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. The story takes place in an Irish village a few miles from the border with Northern Ireland. When the local Japanese-owned computer factory closes, the principal employer is a mob-rum smuggling operation. One day out-of-work Vinnie (Stephen Brennan), and his brother-in-law Arthur (Eamon Morissey), watch the 1964 Elvis Presley film Roustabout, in the village bar.  Seeing a cyclist in the film ride a Wall of Death, Vinnie is inspired to make his own: he draws up  plans and clears a patch of land near his house.

Can you stand up to the G-forces? One way to check it out… [Studio promo]
Vinnie’s wife Nora (Catherine Byrne) protests and goes back to her mother with their daughter Vicky. It’s a new kitchen she wants, not a Wall of Death. The men however, continue with the work and sinking tree posts into the ground and putting up a huge cylindrical construction. They become energetic and resourceful. Vinnie believes his Wall of Death will be a source of income – that people will buy tickets to stand on a gallery around the top of the rink and watch him and Arthur give their daring performances. Nora returns.

Give it a watch! [Studio promo]
The film is based on the true story of brothers-in-law Connie Kiernan and Michael Donoghue, living in County Longford (Ireland), who built a wall of death in their back garden for fun. The director, Peter Ormrod, happened to see their huge wooden barrel just off the road when he was looking for items for Irish television.

Watch ‘Eat the Peach’ free on YouTube!

Corinna Mantlo is the Editor for Film at The Vintagent. She is also the owner / lead designer at custom seat maker Via Meccanica. She is also the founder of both Cine Meccanica and the Motorcycle Film Festival. She has contributed to several books, including “The Chopper; The Real Story” (Gestalten 2014) by Paul d’Orleans. In her spare time, Corinna travels as a professional daredevil with the American Motor Drome Co. Wall Of Death.
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