You don’t hear so much about Hell’s Angels these days, but for ten years from the middle of the 1960s on, they were frequently held up as either a symptom or the cause of the decline and fall of Western civilisation. On the open roads of the United States of America, it was possible to see a hint of doomed romance about it all, especially if introduced to the subject by Hunter S Thompson’s book about them or pop cultural nudges such as Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run or the 1969 film Easy Rider. The dark heart was never for from the surface, though, as the dreadful events of Altamont, which also occurred in 1969, captured so vividly in the ostensibly Rolling Stones film Gimme Shelter, so graphically demonstrated.
The BBC got around to the subject in 1973, but what is special about this documentary is that it most prominently features a grim, grey drabness, both of those who it features and, in a more general sense, of Britain in the 1970s. It’s an anaemic portrait of a country that was having the joy stripped from it. There is, just as there is in Easy Rider or Born To Run, a sense of nihilism in Hell’s Angels, but in the UK it manifests itself as a sullen fog rather than a far off rumble of thunder. It’s as depressing as it is fascinating, an accidentally revealing snapshot of a people and a country apparently on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
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