Riot on Sunset Strip
|Riot on Sunset Strip|
|Directed by||Arthur Dreifuss|
|Produced by||Sam Katzman|
|Written by||Orville H. Hampton|
|Music by||Fred Karger|
|Edited by||Ben Lewis|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
|Box office||$1,200,000 (US/ Canada)|
Riot on Sunset Strip is a 1967 low-budget counterculture-era exploitation movie, released by American International Pictures, and both filmed and released within six weeks of the actual late-1966 Sunset Strip curfew riots.
The film attempts to capture the essence of the period around the Sunset Strip riot, and also adds a subplot that revolves around a young girl's troubled relationship with her divorced parents. Her dosage with LSD by a would-be seductor, the subsequent 'acid trip' she experiences, and her later discovery by a police sergeant as the victim of gang rape, are among the movie's peak moments.
The film is now available on DVD through the MGM Limited Edition Collection.
Plot and themes
Riot on Sunset Strip invokes a familiar period theme: An innocent high school girl named Andy (short for Andrea) immerses herself in the California hippie subculture, thinking it to be a safe harbor from her troubled home life: Her parents are divorced, and her mother is a slovenly alcoholic. In the film's denouement, Andy is covertly dosed with LSD and gang-raped, leaving her in a traumatized state from which she must be rescued by her policeman father, with whom she is ultimately reunited.
The film resembles a captivity narrative, and demonstrates a crucial feature of such narratives in which the captive – at least temporarily – takes on the "alien" customs, values, and behavior of her captors: Andy (depicted as shy and innocent) undergoes an instant identity transformation when her diet soda is spiked with LSD. She suddenly begins performing a wild erotic dance lasting some minutes, temporarily turning her into a loose-woman-who's-asking-to-be-raped, which is what her captors want her to become. However, it's not her fault – she's merely the victim of an insidious pharmaceutical technology which (according to the mythology of the period) produces instant licentiousness.
In Riot on Sunset Strip, the female protagonist is not literally "captured," but naïvely attracted to a new counterculture phenomenon, not entirely unlike Maria Monk's naïve attraction to the strange (to Protestants) world of monastic Catholicism. Thus, while Roman Catholic and hippie cultures have little in common, we see a parallel between nativist rejection of Catholicism in the nineteenth century, and nativist rejection of 1960s counterculture, with the captivity narrative used as a moral tale to discourage experimentation with either.
The movie's plot/content is also consistent with analysis of the rape-revenge genre by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. She notes that nineteenth century captivity narratives have influenced the contemporary rape-revenge category, and points to such shared devices as a "helpless" maiden who is rescued by a "hero," as well as the combining of entertainment with propaganda. She quotes scholar James R. Lewis as stating that "The motive behind captivity propaganda is to involve the reader – to inspire the reader to take up the role of the heroic avenger[.]" Heller-Nicholas also suggests that for (professor of English) Elliott Gruner, "modern captivity narratives seek to titillate as they mimic morality tales. Contemporary filmic instances of captivity, he suggests, reduce the impact of rape, as it is little more than a generic requirement of the captive's story[.]"
In Riot on Sunset Strip, the "hero" is the policeman-father who ends up carrying out "street justice" against the rapists, and winning back his estranged daughter. The film reinforces the view that fathers are the social control agents for family values in the home (and guardians of their daughters' chastity), and policemen are the social control agents for family values in society. The film unselfconsciously blares the message that the answer to the "youth problem" is less divorce and better policing.
There's an additional connection with the (sometimes pornographic) anti-Catholic literature of the nineteenth century: Though Riot on Sunset Strip purports to be a moral tale exposing iniquity, it's also a commercial exploitation flick. The "trip" scene in which a high school girl is graphically portrayed as a sexual entertainer is obviously gratuitous. The film propagandizes, but also titillates. As in some anti-Catholic works, before the "helpless" maiden is rescued by the "hero", she has sexual adventures to which the audience is treated.
The film fulfills these familiar elements of the captivity narrative:
- A captor portrayed as quintessentially evil
- A suffering victim, often female
- A romantic or sexual encounter occurring in an "alien" culture
- An heroic rescue, often by a male hero
- An element of propaganda
The garage punk classic song, "Riot On Sunset Strip," was written for the film by Tony Valentino and John Fleck of the Standells.
- List of American films of 1967
- Hippie exploitation films
- Captivity narratives
- Rape and revenge films
- "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. These figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
- Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study New York: McFarland, pp. 70-71
- See entry on "Anti-Catholic Movement" in The Oxford Companion To United States History, p. 40, which states that the wave of Catholic immigration after 1820 "provided a large, visible enemy and intensified fears for American institutions and values. These anxieties inspired vicious anti-Catholic propaganda with pornographic overtones[.]"
- Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p263