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Posts Tagged ‘Two Lane Blacktop’

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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“You wake up to eerie silence. You call out ‘Hello?’ but no-one answers. You’re alone except for a film projector and speakers with infinite battery life and five of your favourite films at the foot of the projector. You have nowhere to be so start watching the films. What are they, where are you and how will your story play out?”

This is the scenario presented to us by Claire Packer at the recently rejuvenated Cinematic Delights.  Her expectation goes beyond just choosing the five films.  Find out more HERE.

  • My five films: What are the five films you would happily watch for the foreseeable future and why?
  • My fate: Where have you been deserted – are you adrift like Hanks in Castaway or are you an end of the world survivor like Smith in I Am Legend?
  • My finale: How will your time alone end? Will you be saved by Spielberg or will you live happily ever after on your own like Disney?

Let’s start in the middle where am I? I prefer to go with the Desert Island Discs/Hanks in Castaway option, as it always gives a degree of hope!

As for the movies, I set myself an extra challenge.  Eleven years ago, hosted a similar event that I called Desert Island DVD’s also taking its inspiration from the long running BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs.  I have decided not to choose any of the eight movies I picked before, they were: My movies back then were:

  • Casablanca (1942)
  • Some Like it Hot (1959)
  • Two Lane Blacktop (1971)
  • Goodfellas (1990)
  • Dazed and Confused (1993)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Oldboy (2003)
  • Serenity (2005)

Like last time, it isn’t just about my favourite films, its about films I can watch over and over and not tire of. One thing I can say fore sure, limiting us to just five films was cruel!

Chinatown (1974): I’m not sure there has ever been a film dripping with despair as Chinatown.  Not only is it one of my favourite movies, but it is strangely perfect for this scenario.  When I watched it during the first lockdown last year there was something comforting about watching people whose situation was more hopeless with than me. 

Fandango (1985): The most sentimental film on the list.  The film that give its name to my Blog and twitter handle.  This film has to be on the list for so many reasons.  Just taken on its own merits, it’s a great and under seen film.  It also lends a little much needed brevity to my list.  It is also associated with great memories; the favourite film of a close friend, it was on hard rotation when I was a student, we also visited some of the filming locations while on holiday in West Texas a few years back. 

The English Patient (1996): I loved the film from when I first watched it at the cinema twenty-five years ago.  It has since been either forgotten, overlooked, or dismissed.  I don’t care what anybody thinks, it’s an absolute masterpiece.  One of the few films that I actually think is better than the book on which it’s based.  Like Chinatown, I see more every time I watch it. 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): There is a conversation at the heart of the movie between Max (Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) about why the characters are doing what they are doing.  The answer is simple, they are all looking for either hope or redemption.  That’s kind of what all movies are about! And that’s just one of the reasons the film is so perfect. 

Atomic Blonde (2017): Comparisons with another film that came out a few years before are inevitable, but Atomic Blonde is both the slickest and most fun of its type.  It does the near impossible task of invoking other great films, without making me wish I was watching them. 

The final question: How will your time alone end?  That’s not for me to say, but we are nothing without hope!

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