‘The Girl on a Motorcycle’ has some odd coincidental similarities to ‘The Leather Boys’, last month’s film. It too involves a mixed up teenager, a love triangle and a husband called Ray(mond). Even one of the motorcycles was Norton’s successor model to the Dominator which appeared in the previous film. The protagonist, Rebecca - Marianne Faithful long before her sad decline - lives with her complaisant husband Raymond, an ineffectual schoolteacher, played by the little known Roger Mutton. Though newly married she also he has a lover, Daniel played by French heart throb Alain Delon, a smooth talking, pipe smoking intellectual. Typical line: ‘your body is like a violin in a velvet case’. Daniel is a Philosophy lecturer at the University of Heidelberg, while Rebecca lives at an unspecified location on the French side of the frontier.
Daniel teaches her to ride on his Norton, believed to be an Atlas, not the sort of machine normally recommended for learners. Sitting behind her to teach clutch control on a public road he chides her when she nearly collides with oncoming traffic. An obnoxious know all, his tuition is completely unstructured and larded with supposed profundities ‘Most people behave like machines; you must make the machine part of your body’.
In order to facilitate the relationship he gives her a Harley Electra Glide, then an exotic rarity on European roads, as a wedding present and she uses this to commute between husband and lover. The film’s action takes place as a series of flashbacks on what turns out to be her ultimate journey. The bike itself, finished in gleaming black and chrome has a brooding presence and Rebecca imbues it with personality as the facilitator of their transgressive relationship.
We see Rebecca slipping out of her marital bed and into a memorable one-piece leather riding suit, neglecting any form of base layer whatsoever. She then rides across the Franco-German border to see Daniel. As well as the suit she wears some type of close fitting bonnet - see pic- which while it may hold her hair in place offers no protection in the event of an accident. Daniel though has been a poor role model, as he rode helmetless with her on the pillion on icy Alpine roads, a bobble hat his only headgear. Has Rebecca attended the 1960’s French equivalent of Direct Access Training; has she passed her test? We’ll never know.
There are some atmospheric scenes of the Harley being ridden very progressively through the early morning countryside. Close observation will reveal however that in every close up shot of Rebecca on the bike she’s quite obviously bolt upright on the back of flat-bed lorry or in front of a back projection. The expert rider pushing the heavy bike round the bends in the long and middle distance shots is in fact GP champion Bill Ivy with a blond wig.
As well as the riding however we have to put up with ridiculous and sadly dated ‘psychedelic’ and fantasy sequences: circus rings, galloping horses, flocks of birds, or are they bats? All often accompanied by a cheesy Hammond Organ soundtrack. We listen to Rebecca’s internal monologue as she rides along and she seems to be becoming more and more unhinged, bouncing up and down on the Harley’s capacious saddle in anticipation of her tryst and gurning quite disturbingly. Has she taken in Daniel’s advice to ‘anticipate at least one mile ahead on wet roads’? Has she hell. As she nears her destination she overtakes a lorry in the face of heavy opposing traffic, failing to anticipate that it may move out, crashes and executes a perfect head first dive through the windscreen of an oncoming car. Cue long shot of exploding car, mangled bike then the final scene showing her non-arrival in Heidelberg.
In contrast with The Leather Boys gritty realism TGOAM lacks verisimilitude on almost any level. Action takes place in a France and Germany where English seems to be the working language, albeit spoken in comical accents; Daniel talks pretentions nonsense to his philosophy students. On the biking front we see riding in inappropriate conditions, impractical attire and little road sense. Rebecca’s fate is an object lesson in the dangers of indulging vivid personal fantasies rather than focusing on the road, other road users and the hazards they may present.
This film features the motorbike as heavy handed metaphor for individualism and freedom from conventional marital ties and of the danger that this brings. As the petrol station attendant who is charmed by Rebecca to fill her tank on credit says of the big black Harley ‘I know zis bike, eet iz a brute of a zing’, her kittenish sexuality is emphasized by the bike’s ultra-macho image. Are we meant to empathise with Rebecca as she defies conventional expectations to seek excitement with her lover? I think we were meant to; but there’s something seedy and inappropriate about and older and supposedly sophisticated man taking advantage of her confusion and vulnerability.
The moral for riders? Learn to ride from someone with proper credentials, possibly not someone with whom you are having an adulterous relationship; choose a bike suitable to your experience and ability; wear protective gear which reaches the appropriate European standard and most of all concentrate on your ride, not on whatever else is going on in your life, however complex it might be.
Has anyone ever taken up riding as a result of watching this film? If so they will have had to bridge a massive gap between fantasy and reality. Nonetheless TGOAM is an entertaining period piece and worth seeing if you’ve never done so before. It was recently on Talking Pictures – Freeview channel 81, so will probably come round again. You could splash out on the DVD, or otherwise just check some of the key scenes on YouTube.
Next month Part 3: Easy Rider
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