Sunday, June 3, 2007

Two-Lane Blacktop

Two-Lane Blacktop

Okay, now we're talking. This is one of those existential driving movies from the days of Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, where the mere fact of driving is elevated to some kind of mythic level. This takes it so far that the characters don't even have names, just roles. The cars aren't here to do crazy stunts, really, they're just here to be here. It's an aesthetic that's very unlike modern movies, or for that matter most of the movies made at the same time, so I think it's interesting to see what's basically an entirely different take on what movies could be like if you took out the characters, plot, and most of the dialogue. The girl enters the movie for no reason and then leaves it an hour later. There's no explanation given, and I get the feeling even the character doesn't know why she leaves. She just does.

This movie was one of the inspirations for the actual Cannonball Sea to Shining Sea etc., and it does feature a race from "wherever they are in the Southwest" to Washington, D.C., even if the race kind of peters out and they never get there. So it's sort of a godfather of the coast-to-coast race movie, even if its general nihilism gets in the way.

I'm not really a car guy, so I don't know what to make of conversations like "396?" "454." "No shit." I have conversations that are almost as incomprehensible, but they're about what's inside my friends' computers.

In its way, Two-Lane Blacktop is even more stripped down than Vanishing Point. The main characters are just as stoic, and here there isn't even police to fight against. It's not clear if the Driver and the Mechanic are just directionless slobs or have rejected society or what. They just drive around from city to city and get in drag races. They've got that total zen acceptance that you get after about twelve hours solid driving. Their lives are nothing but the car, and occasionally racing people to make money to get parts.

The Driver, Mechanic, and Girl make an interesting contrast to the GTO. He's angry, talkative, and defensive. He hit the road because his life fell apart, or possibly because he was scouting for film locations, or maybe because he used to be a test pilot. The people in the Chevy don't talk about their motivations, because they've cut away all the fat from their lives. As well as their car.

Speaking of nihilism and existentialism. I was impressed when Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry ended by having their main characters suddenly slam into something and explode. This movie goes even farther, ending the movie with the film melting and breaking. That is hard core right there.

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