Wild in the Streets (1968) – By Matt Singer

Wild in The Streets is so corrosively powerful that
its total implausibility, intense cynicism, and
depressing story are rendered one giant moot point.
Streets deserves a cult revival, or at the very least
a DVD release. It is a fascinating cultural artifact
of the late 1960s.

Max Frost is the biggest musician in the world. He
ran away from home at a young age, destroying his home
and burning the family car because he despised his
possessive, domineering mother (played with the
intensity of a amplifier feedback by Shelly Winters)
and eventually — and inexplicably — wound up a
multimillionaire rock star. Only 24-years-old Max
decides to support the campaign of Johnny Fergus (Hal
Holbrook), who is campaigning on a platform of
lowering the voting age to 18. Frost initially
appears on behalf of Fergus but quickly realizes it is
he who controls the youth of America, and thus has the
power, so he begins making demands. Soon the platform
calls for a voting age of 14, and (without spoiling
too much), Max assumes the Presidency and, through the
liberal use of LSD, remolds the United States as he
sees fit.

Though produced by the low-budget drive-in experts
American International Pictures, Wild in the Streets
is more thoughtful, with higher production values,
than any of the company’s cinematic contemporaries.
For a psychedelic drug movie, it contains a
significant amount of subtext and philosophical
weight, and manages to critique both sides of the
youth movement debate, cleverly skewering both the
Johnson administration’s restrictive policies for the
old and the elite, as well as youth’s overeagerness
for violent revolution, drug use, and free love. As
critic and historian Jack Stevenson notes in Addicted,
his book on the history of drugs in cinema, “if we can
call [Wild in the Streets] an exploitation film, it’s
a divinely inspired one.”

If Streets was keyed into its own time period, it
remains strangely vital in our own society. Its
commentary on the dangerous allure of celebrity is
still dead-on; the scene in which Mrs. Frost discovers
her runaway son is now a hugely successful musician
and proudly proclaims, “I’m the mother of a famous
man! I’m a celebrity!” rings even truer in the era of
reality television than it did in the era of Andy
Warhol.

Ultimately, the film could only have come from AIP. A
major studio would never have allowed a film that
proposed such radical social change (even if it
cautioned against extremism), nor one that allowed
such a nuanced portrayal of such controversial topics
as the draft and drug use. The rhetoric of the Cold
War — of the encroaching godless, socialistic hordes
— is used over and over in the film to imply that Max
Frost and his crew may have many good ideas, may even
deserve some of the freedom they fight for, but still
pose an inevitable threat to our society. In one of
the smartest ironic touches of the film’s final act,
Frost’s heavily armed police force add the peace sign
to their traditional uniform, so that, in essence,
antiestablishment becomes the establishment with less
change than may initially seem necessary. A bully is
a bully no matter what uniform it wears.