The Pink Angels (1971)

Starring John Alderman, Tom Basham, Robert Biheller, Jackson Bostwick, Karen Bouchard, Dan Haggerty, Joe Hansen, Bruce Kimball, George T. Marshall, Henry Olek

Directed By Larry G. Brown

I do not claim to be an expert on homosexual outlaw biker gang movies, but if Pink Angels is any indication, I can safely say that they are an acquired taste. Pink Angels is sometimes on uppers, sometimes on downers, but almost always stoned to the bone. It’s really difficult to put a finger on a film that paints its characters as twisted, stereotypical caricatures while at the same time elevating them as weird, but cool, counterculture icons. I can’t tell if this film was made to protest, embrace, document, or lampoon gay culture. All I know is that despite its sloppy mediocrity there is definitely some kind of bizarre, rogue force looming beneath the surface, trying desperately to say something worthwhile.

The film is very loosely strewn together by a main plot which attempts to follow the bikers as they make their way down the coast, freaking out squares, cops, and the military on their way to a drag-queen convention in Los Angeles. Nothing is that simple in the world of cinema vérité though, as the film careens off course about a dozen times, working all kinds of bizarre tangents, subtle (and not so subtle) innuendo, and pointless exploitation into the mix. If there’s one thing I can guarantee with Pink Angels, it’s that you will never know what it’s going to throw at you next. One moment we have the fellas squirting bottles of mustard and ketchup at each other during an impromptu food fight at a highway fast food restaurant, and at the next we have a gay man raped by a sex-crazed woman and left to fend for himself in his underwear on the side of a road. Whew!

The gang itself consists of a pretty diverse crew. You have the spectacled John Lennon impersonator, the cross-dressing black guy who spends an afternoon shopping for lipstick and high heels, the latently homosexual leader of the pack, the effeminate design-conscious yuppie of the bunch, and the enormous Nordic looking Viking-man who wears a helmet adorned with a swastika, but orders drinks that contain “something stiff, that stimulates my throat”. The characters are all memorable, in part because of the long and goofy strings of adlibbed dialogue they toss back and forth at each other. In one scene a man is offered a cigarette and declines, giving some long-winded story about why he quit years ago. Ten seconds later the same guy takes a drag of said cigarette, claiming that he lives life “one puff at a time”. This kind of freewheeling spirit permeates the film, not always for the best, but enough to give it its own distinct charm.

In one of its most unnecessarily extended and truly strange moments, The Pink Angels set up a champagne brunch out in the wilderness, fully adorned with expensive silverware and candles. Suddenly they are confronted by some straight-laced Hells Angels types. The manly men are intimidating and unruly enough to spook the Pink Angels into covering up their homosexuality as they round up a bunch of loose young women (and one elderly one) and have to go to the lengths of staging a fake, beer-soaked, dry-humping orgy as they attempt to hide their true sexual tendencies from their unexpected visitors. True biker decadence is laid out in the open as the handheld camera becomes a fully acknowledged participant in the proceedings, coming face to face with toasting martini glasses and flying suds. It’s a strange spectacle that manages to be gross, restrained, and barely poetic all at once.

And how can I forget to mention the strange, intercut scenes involving a very cut and dry, ultra-conservative military general who spends his days listening to homophobic propaganda in front of a giant American flag?  At first I assumed that these scenes were simply artistic embellishment on the part of the filmmakers, serving no real relation to the rest of the movie. Eventually these scenes do weave their way into the fabric of the rest of the film, and when they do… boy! I didn’t see this ending coming from a million miles away. It’s a shocking statement that flies directly in the face of the film’s easygoing spirit and makes Easy Rider’s ending look tame and restrained in comparison.

In the end, Pink Angels isn’t a great film. It’s not even a good film. It was advertised as a comedy but there is nothing particularly funny in it. It will frustrate those who are in the mood for a biker movie, fans of gay & lesbian cinema, or lovers of cinema vérité (all three of you). I can’t recommend it to casual viewers, but the strange and quirky energy this film emits makes it impossible to dismiss altogether.