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Posts Tagged ‘James Taylor’

Easy Rider (1969) didn’t chronicle the end of the decade/era, and the death of hope and optimism that the 1960’s promised, but it certainly symbolised it. It could be argued that the loss of hope wasn’t followed by despair, but by a new more measured hope with less lofty ambitions, a more weary even cynical hope, but hope none the less. And this is what we saw on the big screen, the cinema of new Hollywood. In truth, a child of the 70s, I saw it on late night TV, and VHS in the 80s and 90s. The Watergate scandal of 1972 may have ground zero for the political and conspiracy thrillers of the time, films like The Parallax View (1974), The Conversation (1974), but the spirit, or lack thereof found a place on screen before that, it found it on the road!  There has always been a link between cars and movies, the two were invented around the same time, and both found popularity in the United States, a country built out of exploration, and a country built on a dream; and as Mark Cousins reminded us The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a (2011) “movies look live our dreams”.


While there had been movies about cars and drivers before, the road movie as we know it was born in the 70s, buit on a foundation from the Golden Age of Cinema. We are not talking the capers of Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), or the various Gumball/Cannonball movies (various movies from mid 70’s to mid 80s), I am referring to the existential road movies like Two Lane Blacktop (1971), and Vanishing point (1971). Existential movies, where to drive is to live, to stop is to die. Kowalski (Barry Newman), the hero of vanishing point is just driving, we never understand why. He drives for the sake of driving the way we live for the sake of living.  If you don’t know the film, the plot of the film revolves around a man delivering a car 1,200 miles from Denver Colorado, To San Francisco.  He has a week to get there but for reasons never explained is compelled to do it in a couple of days.  There is little plot, and almost no explanation, but flashbacks give us an idea of what is going on.  The Driver (James Taylor) and Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) in Two Lane Blacktop may not have names but they have more of  purpose, or do they.  They cruise around looking for action in the shape of drag races like the subjects of a Bruce Springsteen song, but when we look a little deeper, they have no purpose, they are racing for money to fund their lifestyle, so they can continue racing.  They are not the unwilling or repentant criminal looking for one last job so they can go clean, they are living day to day, a modern take on the hunter gathers of our past.  But does that make them any different to anybody working a day job, as Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt from Fight Club ((1999) said nearly 30 years later “working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need”.  Are they closer to the breadline than the average wage earner, or do they have a fallback? Both films have an other-worldly character enhanced by uncertainty and ambiguity,  this was lost in the 90s, made for TV remake of Vanishing Point, everything they gave Kowalski by way of motivation, stripped away a layer of meaning from the subtext of the movie. 

Although most associated with America, the genre isn’t exclusive to the nation. By the end of the 70’s the angst and desire had been forgotten, swallowed up by “blockbusters”.  Australian filmmaker George Miller fussed the road ideas of the road, if not the road movie itself with a dystopian future.  For a more recent generation, their knowledge of the Mad Max franchise may not stretch beyond the fourth, and most recent instalment: Fury Road (2015), but it started long before that in 1979. Inspired by the fuel crisis and economic crash of a few years earlier the first film depicted the beginning of society crumbling. Max, the movies “hero” first hits the road for revenge, but by the end of the first movie, he disappears down the road.  Not with the glory of a cowboy riding into the sunset, but a long and dark road, as a man with nothing, and nothing to live for.  Max’s only option for survival it to live, to exist, and he can find this simplicity, only after he has lost himself on the road.  A generation later, the characters of Fury Road think they can find hope, redemption, or even eternity on the road, for most none of this is true. 

Both as surreal and mainly masculine genre, director Chloe Zhao gave her a new take, and grounded and more real take.  Nomadland is loosely based on Jessica Bruder none fiction book of the same name we see real life people living a nomadic existence.  This, like many other road movies was exist in the traditional heartland of the western genre, but this isn’t a pioneering story of A to B, of someone with a destination. It is the story of a person not looking where to live, but how to live.  As the world gets smaller, and cars have begun to lose importance in the world, we may think the days of the road movie are numbered.  I don’t think they are, we may see a day were they become nostalgic chronicling relatively recent past rather than telling their own contemporarily stories, but in the hands of talented filmmakers, this artifice will not prevent the real story, one that is lingering beneath the surface. 

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I have mentioned on many occasions the link between cinema and cars, but what is a car without a driver? Mel Gibson’s “man with no name” in How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo) is credited as Driver, but he is not the first or the best Driver; here are my top five characters called Driver (or The Driver):

FIVE: Driver (Dwayne Johnson) in Faster (2010): A throwback to both car and revenge movies from the 70’s. Dwayne Johnson is an archetypal antihero like Gator McKlusky in White Lightning. A man of few words, on a mission for revenge, the movie is far better than you would expect as its star, Johnson. Mostly likely to be seen driving: 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 

FOUR: The Driver, (Ryan O’Neal) in The Driver (1978): A minimalist classic about the best getaway driver in the business and the cop trying to catch him in the act. At its best in the chases and car related scenes notably the destruction of a Mercedes-Benz 280 S in a parking garage but not as cool or as slick as it thinks it is in the other scenes. It became the inspiration for many movies that followed as did Ryan O’Neal in the title role. Mostly likely to be seen driving: Anything with for wheels but notably: 1973 Chevrolet C-10 Pickup and 1977 Pontiac Firebird

THREE: The Driver (Clive Owen) in Ambush, Chosen, The Follow, Powder Keg, Star, Hostage, Beat the Devil, Ticker (2001-2002): Not actually a movie but well worth a place on the list. Along with Croupier (1998) this is where a lot of the Clive Owen for Bond talk came from. A series of web based BMW adverts with A list directors including: Tony Scott, John Woo, Guy Ritchie, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Kar Wai Wong, Ang Lee and John Frankenheimer. Aided by a supporting including Stellan Skarsgård, Gary Oldman, Danny Trejo and James Brown & Marilyn Manson (as themselves). With a great blend of action comedy and style they are that little bit more than just a series of car commercials. The idea is so good, so good that Luc Besson and Jason Statham took the idea and ran with it and thus, Frank Martin and the Transporter franchise began. Mostly likely to be seen driving: Various BMW’s from the early 2000’s

TWO: Driver (Ryan Gosling) in Drive (2011): When I first heard about Drive it was to be a Hugh Jackman action heist movie directed by Neil Marshall. While that could have been a great B movie, what we got from director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling was so much more. Reminiscent of Michael Mann’s underrated classic Thief (1981). Violent rather than action packed, but the real pleasure is the way it manages to be retro and completely up to date at the same time, it is the star making turn Gosling has been waiting for. Mostly likely to be seen driving: a stolen getaway car or 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu

ONE: The Driver (James Taylor) in Two-Lane Blacktop (1971): A very different movie than the others on the list, where the others include violent action movies, Two-Lane Blacktop is an existential road movie, it is THE existential road movie. A time-capsule of the pre-Interstate Highway era and a metaphor for disaffected youth in a time when a nation and the world as a whole had lost its way and lost its innocence. This is life after Wyatt tells Billy “We blew it” in Easy Rider. The characters don’t have names in the true sense, they don’t need names! G.T.O (Warren Oates) drives a GTO, The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) looks after the car, The Girl (Laurie Bird) is the girl they pick up along the way, The Driver (James Taylor) is just that, the driver. Mostly likely to be seen driving: 1955 Chevrolet One-Fifty Two-Door Sedan

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I recently re-watched Cameron Crowe’s semiautobiographical masterpiece Almost Famous and am pleased to report it is as good as I remember it, possibly better. The movie is full of memorable moments that all spring from one key scene. When his sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel) leaves home to be a stewardess she leaves William Miller (Michael Angarano and Patrick Fugit) a gift that will set him free. A bag of records including:

  • Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys
  • Sweet Baby James, James Taylor
  • Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones
  • II, Led Zeppelin
  • Axis Bold as Love, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  • Wheels of Fire, Cream
  • Blue, Joni Mitchell
  • Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan
  • Tommy, The Who

I understand the albums we see are baste on Crowe’s own record collection from the time. Despite being recorded before I was born I own most of these albums we see. One thing has always bugged me about the scene, we get a glimpse of another cover but I have never been able to work out what it is. In the hope of finding the answer I took to the internet. I didn’t find the answer I was looking for but I did find THIS script from the movie. As is often the case it differs from the finished film, it contains this description of the scene:

William locks the door. He reaches under his bed. It’s a black leatherette travel bag, with tartan design. He unzips the bag — it’s filled with albums. He flips through the amazing, subversive cache of music. Cream’s Wheels of Fire… the seminal Bob Dylan bootleg Great White Wonder… the Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out… The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds… Abraxas by Santana… Jethro Tull’s Stand Up… The Mother’s of Invention’s We’re Only In It For The Money… Led Zeppelin… Crosby, Stills and Nash… Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew… and The Who’s Tommy… with a note taped to it.

Take a look at this, as he flips through them its the third album we see between Sweet Baby James and Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! Any ideas who what it is?


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