#64 - Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman)

That Sacred Bond between Man and Machine

Even though I wasn’t really impressed with “Speed Racer” the movie did inspire me to look in to other movies that deal with cars and racing since I am a bit of a closet driving enthusiast. So I was reading up on “Vanishing Point” (the film I’ll be watching tonight actually) where this film got mentioned a few times. I’ve never heard of it before, but it intrigued me because it was described as a cult gear-head film. And after watching it last night it was not hard to see why it attained that status.

The stars of the film are not the actors but the cars and the open road, and in the lead role is a custom built ’55 Chevy. This car has personality written all over it with its matte gray paint job and huge hood vent. It’s a car with a purpose, and its purpose is to be driven and raced. The two guys who use this car, the Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) and the Driver (James Taylor), seem more like the silent servants of this metal beast than its owners. And when they do talk they talk about the car - about how it performs, about fixing it, racing it, driving it.

A free spirited girl (Laurie Bird) inexplicably joins them on their drive across the country; she just takes a seat in the backseat of the car without asking if she can come along. The Driver and the Mechanic don’t even ask her anything about why she is joining them or where she’s going, they just drive along. And along the way they agree to a cross country race with GTO (Warren Oates), who is named so because he drives a ’70 Pointiac GTO. And this race is quite strange as well, because they don’t seem to be racing at all and they help each other along the way to their destination. A destination that they decide on early in the film but then later seem to forget about as they talk about going somewhere else.

This all sounds very pretentious and hollow and I am sure many will see it as such. But I didn’t. For me it captured the essence of the gear-head lifestyle because it is very much about the wind in your hair and the free spirited nature of the existence on the road. It’s also about the uninhibited obsession that goes with it, and especially about going really fast in an awesome car with a stupid grin on your face. And there is quite a bit of racing and fast driving in this film. Racing is how the guys make their money on their journey, and although it’s not as spectacularly shot as in modern movies it’s much more exciting for me personally. The racing is shot in a very realistic way and you experience these races as a bystander would, from a removed point of view, or as a person in the car. So you can feel the physicality and the speed of these cars, the vibrations of their motors and almost smell the gasoline and burnt tire.

“Two-Lane Blacktop” is a beautiful film full of visual and thematic poetry. It’s a road and lifestyle movie and the “Easy Rider” comparison that I’ve seen flung around when “Two-Lane Blacktop” is mentioned seem very apt to me. The ending is as equally mystifying as the one of “Easy Rider” and inspires much thought. It’s a film that made me remember my first car and the relationship I had with it. There’s something sacred about that.


James Taylor - the Driver
Dennis Wilson - the Mechanic
Laurie Bird - the Girl
Warren Oates - GTO

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