Genre Grandeur – Two Lane Blacktop (1971) – BluePrint: Review


For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Travel Films here’s a review of Two Lane Blacktop (1971) by David of BluePrint: Review

Thanks again to Rebecca of Almost Ginger for choosing this month’s genre.

Next month’s genre has been chosen by Nick Rehak of French Toast Sunday and we will be reviewing our favorite Biographical Films.

Please get me your submissions by the 25th of May by sending them to bionick@movierob.net

Try to think out of the box! Great choice Nick!

Let’s see what David thought of this movie:

__________________________________________

Director: Monte Hellman
Screenplay: Rudy Wurlitzer, Will Corry & Floyd Mutrux (uncredited)
Starring: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird, Dennis Wilson
Producer: Michael Laughlin
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: 15

Two-Lane Blacktop is a film I’ve been keen to watch for a long time. Being a big fan of 70’s cinema and road movies (well, car chase movies more so) I’ve had this on my radar for years, but it keeps passing me by for whatever reason. Well with Eureka releasing a finely polished Blu-Ray of the film under their prestigious Masters of Cinema banner, I leapt at the chance of firing it up. Now that I’ve finally watched the film I’m pleased to say I thought it was very good and it stood up to the hype for the most part, but I’m finding it difficult to articulate why.

Two-Lane Blacktop follows The Driver (James Taylor) and The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) as they drive aimlessly across America in their lovingly suped-up ’55 Chevy, challenging other petrol-heads to drag races to fund their travels. Along the way they pick up The Girl (Laurie Bird), an irritable youngster who seems to be drifting around just looking for kicks. Following the same route across the nation is GTO (Warren Oates), a middle-aged city-slicker driving a bright yellow 1970 Pontiac GTO, straight out of the lot. The two cars eventually meet up and set a race across the rest of the country, meant to end in Washington DC with the winner taking the pink slips of the other car.

The main reason for my befuddlement (yes, it’s a word) over my feelings on the film is that Two-Lane Blacktop is purposefully elusive. There is very little going on in terms of narrative, the main protagonist says very little and the more talkative characters rarely do so to drive the film forward (no pun intended). As the director Monte Hellman puts it, “the dialogue is a music track… the story is told through the subtext” (paraphrased). Yet somehow, this all works and not just in a chin-stroking pretentious sort of way. Yes, it is possible to gain a lot of meaning from the events on screen, but this is thankfully achieved in a largely natural way. In using non-actors in several of the key roles (singer-songwriter Taylor and Beach Boys member Wilson had never acted before and never did since), their performances can seem a bit hollow at times, but retain a naturalism that most professional actors struggle to exhibit. Surprisingly enough, these raw and flawed performances are set against seasoned character actor Warren Oates and still hold their own, largely because their characters are supposed to be so contrasting. Oates is magnificent, revelling in the bullshit stories he tells to the various hitch-hikers he picks up along the way and off-setting that with some subtle, more suggestive problems bubbling under the surface. Taylor on the other hand delivers lines a little woodenly, but has an enigmatic quality that makes him always fascinating to watch. Wilson doesn’t fare quite so well, but the focus on his character is minimal.

Speaking of enigmatic qualities though, that is really how the film works most of the time. The whole thing is an enigma, emphasised by its strange and almost surreal conclusion. The whole race aspect fizzles out, The Girl, after toying with all the men, loses interest and ditches them all and in a final coda as The Driver goes back to the drag strip the film itself just burns up, literally. The final moments spent with GTO suggest that it’s all the stuff of legend as he turns the race into another story to tell his hitch-hikers. This helps the whole thing play out like a mythological telling of the death of the sixties and the aimless disillusionment of its byproducts, with the subtly sombre tone accentuating this. Maybe it’s more about the fruitless longing for continuous youth or innocence though as none of the characters have any ties or goals, but they never seem happy. As GTO puts it towards the end as he dreams of settling down, “if I’m not grounded soon I’m going to go into orbit”.

But I don’t know – I’ll leave the philosophising to the chin-strokers, reading some of my last paragraph makes me want to slap myself. I think I just fell in love with the mood of the film – its picturesque view of the open road, the character in the sounds of the two muscle-cars (possibly the real protagonists) and its free-wheeling nature. The fact that it’s hard to pin down probably makes me like it more anyway – I get bored of being force fed stories and messages. Do we really need them when we can make our own from what we’re given or simply let the experience wash over us. And thats how I felt ultimately as I watched the film, I just enjoyed being along for the ride. It’s not perfect, I could have done with a little more to latch onto at times in terms of emotional depth, but it’s undeniably an original and beautifully made film that is intoxicating to watch.

One thought on “Genre Grandeur – Two Lane Blacktop (1971) – BluePrint: Review

  1. Pingback: Genre Grandeur April Finale – Top Ten Travel Movies – Almost Ginger | MovieRob

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