Tuesday, August 10, 2010
STONE (1974) - Sandy Harbutt
Australia's answer to Easy Rider and perhaps a little more hardcore. Whereas Hopper's seminal '70s American biker film climaxes with an acid trip and a roadside assassination, Stone begins there and gets dirtier as a biker gang, the Gravediggers, take revenge on the shadow group who's been knocking off their members. This being post-Altamont Australia, the Gravediggers are rougher stuff than Captain America and Billy the Kid. They're more like Hell's Angels by way of Sydney. They drink more lager than they smoke dope, dabble in Satanism, are prone to violent hazing rituals and have more biker "Ma's" in their gang willing to ride a bareback Hog than even a young Nicholson could handle.
The gang's leader, Undertaker, looks a lot like Eddie Vedder and takes highway justice into his own hands until an undercover cop named Stone convinces him to let him join the gang and help find the killer. Wary of "pigs," the Gravediggers put Stone through a battery of allegiance tests mostly involving high speed chases, low-grade psychedelics or Stone getting the shit kicked out of him. All of this leaves him very little time for anything resembling a proper investigation.
That's OK. These types of movies are not about policier plots so much as descending into the bowels of a particular subculture. The difference with Stone is in the authenticity. You just feel like the guy who made this (Sandy Harbutt, i.e. Eddie Vedder) lived this life, rode these Hogs, took these bad drugs and slept with all of these women. There's a certain raw '70s energy in Stone that rampant CGI car chases, extreme sports and Keanu Reeves just can never touch. It's a shame Harbutt's only other directorial effort of note is an Aussie TV version of Jesus Christ Superstar. I would have liked to see what else he could do, on four wheels or none at all.
Beyond that, for a low budget Aussie effort the soundtrack and cinematography's pretty damn impressive, too. Easy Rider may have had a soundtrack built wall-to-wall with '60s classic rock hits, but there's something about a long motorcycle funeral procession filmed on a highway and set to an obscure track called "Cosmic Flash" you just have to respect. It's practically biker code.