So when while browsing in a bookshop one Sunday afternoon during the mid-1980s in the Warwickshire, England, town of Stratford-upon-Avon, world-famous as the birthplace of one William Shakespeare, I chanced upon a fairly large brand-new hardback book entitled The Black Leather Jacket, sporting an embossed, textured front cover designed to look and even feel like the real thing, and documenting the fascinating history of this truly iconic item of clothing, I lost no time whatsoever in purchasing it and reading it from cover to cover as soon as I arrived back home.
Written by English journalist Mick Farren and first published in 1985, this engrossing book reveals and extensively illustrates via a comprehensive selection of very distinctive glossy b/w photographs how its titular subject, the black leather jacket (or the BLJ, as I'll refer to it hereafter for convenience), has evolved and diversified since its origin during the early years of the 20th Century.
The BLJ's progress is succinctly chronicled from the standard unadorned predecessors worn by the likes of WW1 fighter pilots and the Gestapo of WW2, through the classic 1950s Brando/Dean rebel styles, plus all manner of self-customised be-studded and badged-to-the-hilt individualized versions worn by outlaw bikers and 1960s rockers/greasers, to the slashed and safety-pinned punk gear of the 1970s, and the somewhat emasculated 1980s fashionista formats more at home on the catwalk than the highway, as well as every conceivable variation in between. So too is its enduring intrinsic appeal, traditionally daring, dark, even dangerous, regardless of its ever-changing external form. But that's not all.
In 1988, Channel 4, a terrestrial TV station in the UK, produced and screened a 60-minute docu-movie directly inspired by Mick Farren's book but simply entitled Black Leather Jacket (i.e. no The). It was directed by Nick Mead, co-written by him with Farren, and produced by Paul Cowan. Narrated by big-screen bad boy Dennis Hopper of Easy Rider fame, Black Leather Jacket stayed faithful to the contents of Farren's book but also featured clips from a number of classic movies relating in some way to the BLJ and motorbikes, such as the cult 1970s British biker/horror movie Psychomania, which I've reviewed here (on my Shuker In MovieLand blog, which also includes here a version of this present Eclectarium article re my black leather jacket).
Moreover, it contained an excellent rock soundtrack too, including contributions from famous BLJ-wearing performers such as Elvis Presley, The Clash, Gun, L.A. Guns, Zodiac Mindwarp (remember them?), Velvet Underground, Kiss, and Motorhead – whose song 'Black Leather Jacket' was used as this documentary movie's title song, accompanying clips of a teenage BLJ/Levis-wearing Michael Vartan (in his on-screen debut) riding a Harley through a neon-lit city centre at night and duly dubbed Motorcycle Boy in the credits.
Knowing full well that I would definitely enjoy Black Leather Jacket just as much as I'd done with the original book, I had the foresight to video-record it for future re-watchings at home, which was just as well, because I never remember it being re-screened. Tragically, however, as was so often the case with all but the highest-quality recordable blank videocassettes available back then, the picture quality of my precious recording of it diminished with repeated viewings down through the years.
Imagine my surprise but delight, then, when just over a year ago I discovered not only that Black Leather Jacket had actually been released as an official sell-thru video but also that there was a single example of it listed at that very same time on ebay, on a Buy It Now basis. So that's what I did, and just a few days later I was able to watch and enjoy it in its original top-quality viewing state all over again. But that's still not all.
Just a few miles from where I live in the West Midlands, England, is the prestigious Walsall Leather Museum, devoted to the history of the town of Walsall's long-established leather trade and manufacturing, and during summer 1993 I learnt from a friend who worked there that they were planning to stage a temporary public exhibition devoted exclusively to the BLJ!
As a local biker who had painstakingly customized several of my motorbike BLJs in the classic 1960s rocker/greaser style (having been inspired to do so after seeing and admiring original examples worn by various bikers featured in clips from Black Leather Jacket of London's famous biker/rocker-associated Ace Cafe and 59 Club during that decade), it occurred to me that the Museum may perhaps be interested in including one of them in their exhibition as a representation of that particular BLJ genre. So one afternoon shortly after learning about their plans, I rode there on my motorbike wearing one of them – and was delighted when they were indeed very keen to exhibit it!
The Walsall Leather Museum's 'The Black Leather Jacket' Exhibition ran from 4 September to 14 November 1993 inclusive, but I was invited with other contributors to an exclusive preview, and when I turned up on my motorbike (wearing a different BLJ), there on display in a tall glass showcase was my very own jacket, fully labeled and fully visible from all angles. If pride is a sin, then I sinned very extensively that day!
Moreover, perhaps because of how eyecatching it was, bristling all over with badges, studs, chains, and above all else its full official Easyriders back patch, it was my BLJ that attracted much of the media attention relating to the Museum's BLJ Exhibition.
It was pictured in a number of newspaper reports (including one by none other than London's eminent weekly broadsheet The Observer, the world's oldest Sunday newspaper, founded in 1791, and in which I am referred to as "a local biker with a vivid sense of design" - love it!), as well as in a special BLJ article entitled 'Black Art' authored by motorbike journalist Mike Phillips and published in the October 1993 issue of Bike, Britain's best-selling motorbike magazine.
My exhibited BLJ also featured in two local TV news reports, and in one of them it was even worn by Midlands Today presenter Richard Ulridge while sitting astride a motorbike and then riding off on it, with my BLJ's Easyrider back patch fully displayed (click here to view both of these TV news reports – and my BLJ! – on YouTube).
If you'd like to watch Black Leather Jacket, most of it can currently be viewed free of charge on YouTube, where it has been uploaded in nine parts (but, oddly, Part 3 is seemingly missing), though the resolution quality is not great. Click here to begin viewing with Part 1.
Finally: To view a complete chronological listing of all of my Shuker In MovieLand blog's other film/TV reviews and articles (each one instantly accessible via a direct clickable link), please click HERE, and please click HERE to view a complete fully-clickable alphabetical listing of them.
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