Joe Namath vs Wayne Cochran
1970. C.C. and Company. Lovin, Brawlin and Bustin it up!
The dawn of the sensitive machismo. By the nineteen seventies men were exploring new more fluid identity roles. If you were born before the 1960’s you grew up with men who projected a tough, rugged, unreachable, silent and often violent facade. During the post-60’s sexual and feminist revolution we collectively began to see a more responsive, emotionally evolved machismo. A kinder, gentler, somewhat emotionally available, and the in-touch-with-the-needs-of-others kinda man.
I recently sat through this 1970 film about a good-natured, undomesticated, red-blooded outlaw named C.C., played by football icon Joe Namath. I’m not sure how this film escaped my long time obsession with shitty biker B movies, but the magic of the internet has enlightened me once again. This is something I would have watched as a kid and thought nothing about it’s brutish and clumsy portrayal of the complex social code between men and women and the the suggested roles that are imposed on us. The virile yet fragile and sympathetic protagonist, C.C. is a new (the outsider) member of The Heads, a typical Hollywood cornball biker gang that just likes to harmlessly play hard and, drink, ride and of course occasionally abuse their women. C.C. is one of the good boys at heart gone bad. Namath does his job posing stiffly for the camera, his acting was surprisingly better than his co-star and aging starlet Anne Margret, who by this time was a veteran of many films, including the 1964 hit Viva Las Vegas with the King himself, Elvis. It is amazing she starred only one year later (Oscar-nominated performance) in the Mike Nichols film Carnal Knowledge. A dark film which truly exposes the catalogue of male sexual conventions and dysfunction of it’s time. Director Mike Nichols talks about examining how men subconsciously wanted to escape from of the post WWII straight jacket of men simultaneously excluding and being obsessed with women.
“Maybe you’re not supposed to like it with someone you love.”
From the film during Jonathan’s and Louise’s sexual impotence bed scene:
Jonathan: I’m not kind.
Louise: I don’t mean “weak” kind the way so many men are. I mean the kindness that comes from enormous strength, from an inner power so strong that every act, no matter what, is more proof of that power. That’s what all women resent. That’s why they try to cut you down, because your knowledge of yourself and them is so right, so true, that it exposes the lies by which they, every scheming one of them, live by. It takes a true woman to understand that the purest form of love is of a man who denies himself to her, of a man who inspires worship, because he has no need for any woman. Because he has himself, and who is better, more beautiful, more powerful, more perfect… you’re getting hard… more strong, more masculine, more extraordinary, more… bust. It’s rising, it’s rising… more virile, domineering. More irresistible. It’s up, it’s in the air…
How Joe eats a sandwich
Wayne Cochran: “The higher the hair, the closer to God,”
And then there is Wayne Cochran. Midway through the film C.C. and Anne head out for an evening of music and wild, if awkward dancing. Now, I know of the original Ma Rainey, See See Rider blues (a play on easy rider) song and how it was updated by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels “C.C. Rider” in 1966. But my mind was blown when Wayne Cochran and The C.C. Riders take the stage. He feels very out of context to me, but a welcoming surprise and some real energy. I was fully ignorant of Cochran and his contribution to the pop zeitgeist. He is boldly dressed in a cheesy skin tight red jump suit, white dress shoes, and an awful platinum white wig, all held on by a thin headband. After a little research, I learn Elvis literally stole Cochran’s outrageous style. The King, I always thought was the originator of his crazy rhinestone covered 70’s vegas act. However, he owes a great debt to Cochran and his fun, kitschy persona. Influenced by Wayne’s wardrobe (capes, jumpsuits, big belts) he even began using CC Rider to open his concerts. The King would not have been reborn without the White Knight and his preposterous stylish performances. The 2nd Blues Brother album is also dedicated to Cochrane and his CC Riders. Blue-eyed Soul. Soul Man. So, there we have this juxtaposition of the 1970’s careless, easy rider masculinity,against the unhinged, flamboyant, effeminate portrayal of the ultimate blue-eyed soul man. Quite the hilarious and entertaining contrast for a bike film.
Monstrous male ego exposed
These two versions of masculinity play out throughout the film, exposing the shift that was occurring post 60’s sexual and feminist revolutions. The “Me Generation” was just burgeoning. Free love, baby, was upsetting the conservative status quo. At the beginning of the film,C.C. saves Ann from being, molested, potentially raped by his depraved buddies, or co-gang members. I began to cringe more and more, as the scenes played out this shameless misogyny. After punching out his “competitors”, C.C. and Ann form an immediate suggested bond. C.C. is however disappointed as the toe truck arrives just as they are about consummate their free love in the back seat of her broken down Mercedes, television and mini-bar included. The biker gang of course is filled with misogynistic child-like goofballs, pawing, offensive wooden lovers. C.C. stands in as the antithetical hero, with his “aw-shucks” grins. A thoughtful, sensitive rebel, lost inside but accepting of the dominant patriarchal leader-of-the-pack mentality. He is often filmed chuckling at the silly chauvinistic antics of the gang. Back at the hideout, gang leader Moon conspires to set C.C. straight. Standing contrary to the wounded male ego Moon, C.C. represents a more amenable and egoless modus operandi. Moon, a maniacal physical presence, is struggling throughout the film to maintain his status as leader, as man amongst men. He demonstrates his power via his fearful intimidation, physical strength and abuse. He represents the ugly male stances of power, sexism, and disdain for himself and others. Emotionally stunted, he throws his women to the ground and glares as other gang members dance around his rage and taunting. All along the women are portrayed practically enjoying the violent, abusive behavior. At one point Moon even exploits the women’s place within the gang as prostitutes, their sources of cash. The women are seen happily hitching rides with men on the road, supposedly to seduce (their power) them and take their cash. All this playing out under the mantle of good fun, male dominance and pimping. It’s just what gangs do, we assume?
This film really raised a lot of questions about Hollywood, it’s influence and the normalization of violence, specifically against women. How we accept these as norms within our culture of fear and power. I watched so many of these films growing up, not fully understanding their impact, how they shaped the view of myself, my place and my view of the opposite sex. How many of these films that were made in absentminded “good fun” embracing very negative and maligning representations of women? I thought about how many women as actors agreed to these superficial roles of the prostitute, the needy sex kittens, the damsel in distress, etc. And, what about all the men writers, directors earning a paycheck off of these disparaging, mocking portrayals. These were the codes of conduct imposed on all of us. It looks at times like they were all oddly having fun making these films, did they? Where they unconsciously trying on these roles, knowing how inappropriate or damaging they could be? Sadly, in the end they were all sold as entertainment, shock, money, theater ticket sales. A sad testament to our collective conscience? How many of these characters are with us still today? Will we ever escape this history of discouraging and disrespectful depictions of gender, sex and power?