Back in 1968, Wild in the Streets was AIP’s low budget youth generation attempt at political satire. Directed by long time TV director Barry Shear (The Todd Killings) it stars James Dean clone Christopher Jones as twenty-four year old rock star Max Frost. Max is charismatic, and he rallies the American youth with songs like “We’re 52%” and with plans to take over the political process making the rock singer himself President. Not trusting anyone over 30 is their mantra. It’s time for the youth generation to take over country. After all, it was all these “old timers” who got us into every mess since the beginning: war, famine, racial hatred, poverty, etc. Max’s plan is collect all the “old” people and put them into concentration type camps feeding them LSD so they will trip out and not harm anyone or their pitiful older shelves. This even includes Max’s own parents from his trouble childhood. With the “old” folks in storage, Max sees no need for war. It’s all sex, drugs and rock and roll. He disbands the military as well as the FBI and The CIA. If your under 30 the world will be peachy. The unanswered question is what happens to Max and all the others once they reach the despicable age of 30?
The film was aimed directly for the 60’s youth market and scored a financial success for the AIP. Made for about one million dollars, it cashed in with five and a half million in ticket sales. Even back then it was considered by some critics as an ill-conceived trashy mess. Others saw it as campy fun. Both aspects still manage to survive especially the latter. Just watch Hal Holbrook acting like he’s on acid and Shelley Winters eating so much scenery she probably needed to spend the next six months having it all surgically removed.
The cast includes Diane Varsi, Richard Pryor, Millie Perkins and Ed Begley. Also look for Gary Busey, Dick Clark, Army Archerd, Bobby Sherman, Melvin Belli, Barry Williams (young Max), Peter Tork and Walter Winchell all in small roles or walk-ons.
It all looks and sounds silly; the political rhetoric is nonsense. A relic of the psychedelic sixties. That is until the arrival of the 2016 presidential race where we have, instead of a rock star, a reality show star running for President on a platform that does not seen much different from the fictional Max Frost. Sure, the age thing is no longer there, but we now have a potential Presidental candidate who’s going to pull America out of all it international agreements, spits out racist and sexist statements, wants to ban the press, preaches hatred, mocks the disabled, divides the country and may intern in concentration like camps, just like Max did with the older citizens, a certain group because of their religion.
In his political novel, It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis writes about “Buzz” Windrip, a populist U.S. Senator who runs for President on a platform of reform and a return to traditional values and patriotism. After his victory, Windrip eliminates Congress, outlaws dissent, kills protesters and creates internment camps for enemies of the state. He would made America great again.
Underneath its somewhat silly exterior, Wild in the Streets and its egotistical rock star are like our egotistical reality star of today, a frightening horror show all being played out with the potential to turn the country from the greatest democracy in the world into a totalitarian state filled with hate and fear.