Color, 1982, 82m. / Directed by Kathryn Bigelow & Monty Montgomery / Starring Willem Dafoe, Robert Gordon, Marin Kanter / Blue Underground (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

"Man, I was what you call ragged," understates biker Vance (Dafoe) in the opening minutes of The Loveless. "I mean, way beyond torn up. I wasn't gonna be no man's friend today. Been out of storage for about a year now, and to me, this endless blacktop is my sweet eternity. I knew I was going to hell in a breadbasket." En route to a biker show in Florida, leather-clad Vance winds up behind the rest of the pack and makes his way through long, desolate roads filled with beautiful cars and a wild assortment of residents. Spending his time at diners and juke joints, he meets another gang of bikers, plenty of rednecks, and a strange young girl, Telena (Kanter), whose slick hair and gender-bending clothing reveal her disconnect from the society around her. Before Vance hits the road again, gunshots will fire and several principals will be left in the dust.

For anyone who wondered where director Kathryn Bigelow came up with the classic barroom sequence in Near Dark, look no further than this fetishistic look at classic biker culture, a sort of unholy collision of The Wild One, Kenneth Anger, and Two Lane Blacktop. The classic cars, bikes, and clothing are lovingly filmed in gorgeous, neon-washed images that outdo most contemporary music videos; for example, a poolroom strip show featuring a blonde in a bra and girdle is shot with a flood of green light that turns an erotic tease into a wonderful surrealist flourish. The story doesn't go anywhere fast, of course, but the film captures a dreamlike time and place quite prefectly and comes anchored with a strong central performance from Dafoe, making his lead debut. (Interestingly, he would turn up two years later as the biker villain in Walter Hill's visually similar Streets of Fire.)

Virtually unseen on the big screen, The Loveless became something of a home video and late night TV staple, mainly thanks to Dafoe's presence. The video box looked more like gay porn than a biker drama, and Blue Underground's nicely-appointed DVD doesn't change that marketing strategy at all. (Granted, fans of Scorpio Rising may experience a few flashbacks during the brief running time.) The transfer finally presents a good, clear rendition of the film, complete with eye-poppingly colorful lighting and glistening chrome textures practically leaping off the screen. The 5.1 audio is fairly subdued but does a nice job with the catchy rockabilly score by actor Robert Gordon and John Lurie. The original mono mix is also included.

The biggest extra is a commentary track combining two seprate recording sessions, with Dafoe and Bigelow together and co-director Monty Montgomery (who went on to produce a number of David Lynch projects, not surprisgly) separate with Blue Underground's David Gregory. They all largely comment on the onscreen action but throw in a few good anecdotes about the film (originally titled U.S. 17), including the background of the music's creation, the methods used to do a period piece on a limited budget, and the film's influence in later years. Also included is the theatrical trailer ("Here they come, as tough as they come!") and a huge poster/still set of galleries including wardrobe tests and behind-the-scenes shots.

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