Moving Pictures- Two Lane Blacktop

Car movies have always been a Hollywood staple, much like the Western, or movies featuring John C Reilly. When you’re not able to be out enjoying your car; say during a stint of house arrest, or unforeseen herpes outbreak, you can still take solace in sitting back and losing yourself in a couple of hours of high-octane celluloid escapism. Hooniverse will be offering up occasional suggestions of classic car flicks, starting today with one of the best street racing movies ever made.
Two Lane Blacktop Two Lane Blacktop Poster
Called a “definitive American road movie” by Netflix, 1971’s Two Lane Blacktop is a transitional cult film that bridges 1960’s hippie eclecticism with 1970’s Viet Nam cynicism. Directed by Monte Hellman, who had just come off a stage production of Waiting for Godot, and would later go on to helm such classic fare as Cockfighter and Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out!, and staring noted ’70’s action hero James Taylor, as well as deceased Beach Boy and Manson Family host Dennis Wilson.
As if these major thespians weren’t enough, the film also stars character actor Warren Oates and Art Garfunkel squeeze Laurie Bird. Bird, a photographer, and the two rock musicians, had no professional acting training prior to the film, and Bird only completed two other films before her untimely death in 1979. Oates, the only professional actor in the troop, later stared in the aforementioned Cockfighter.
But the real stars of the picture are the cars, headed by a primer gray 1955 Chevy with a 454 big block and a 1970 455 GTO.  The Chevy also appeared in American Graffiti. Each car is meant to be the embodiment of the respective driver’s persona, but don’t watch the film for the heavy-handed symbolism, watch it for the cool races and the high-revving soundtrack.
CarDomain
The film is spare with both plot and dialog, but the story is basically: James Taylor is the Driver, and Dennis Wilson is the Mechanic of the Chevy. They drive around, looking for challengers (note lower case “c”) to race, sort of a retro version of Pinks. They meet up with Warren Oates driving the GTO, and issue the throw down for a cross-country race.  Along they way, the laconic rockers pick up hippie girl Bird, and well, she goes along for the ride.
As the movie opens, The Driver is handily winning a street race. This is followed by a run-in with John Law that forces the anti-heroes to pack up and head east. The Driver and the Mechanic continue to ply local yokes in drag races, winning enough cash to grab road-side meals, and 97 octane for their bread-winning chariot.
While on their journey, punctuated neither by top-40 radio, nor discourse of contemporary topics, they encounter GTO (Oates) who picks up hitchhikers while wearing an Old Navy’s worth of sweaters and then talks them to death in a sort of oratory Zodiac serial killer fashion. Not really, but it may have added a heightened level of energy to the film had it actually been so.
GTO is a searcher, a fairly typical archetype for a film protagonist, and it is his relationship with The Driver and The Mechanic that moves the plot forward.
The ending is more whisper than a bang (especially in relation to the contemporary Vanishing Point) but the rest of the movie makes up for this. Overall, Two Lane Blacktop has aged much better than the earlier disenfranchised youth road-trip film Easy Rider and feels about as relevant to a modern viewer as does Vanishing Point.
The trailer gives but a taste of the raw tension that explodes on the screen:

For several years, it was hard to find on DVD, the Anchor Bay edition having gone out of print, but thankfully, last year Criterion Collection released a new version. So go hit up your Netflix queue, or send someone down to the Wallmarts and pick up Two Lane Blacktop. Remember, there is no cure for herpes, but with proper treatment and a good Car Movie, you can forget your troubles for a little while at least.
Sources: Jamestaylorweb, Cardomain.com.

10 Comments

  1. I stumbled across this movie on Speedvision many years ago when Bruce Dern was hosting Drive In Theater or whatever they called it. I really enjoyed it. Every so often I would remember that that guy is James Taylor and chuckle a little.

  2. Great Car flick. I love the ending. Which I won’t ruin for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.
    GTO is lucky they had a really good Owners Manual. Sadly, I know a few car guys that are just like him.

  3. I am not exactly proud to admit that this is one of the very few movies I watched by (allegedly) downloading them off thin air. I actually did try very hard to get this at the local stores and even off Amazon. I really can’t be blamed.
    And you’re right, there really is not much of dialogue or plot going on in there. Loved every minute of it!

  4. Wait….Wes Siler was hoon (in that movie) already before I was born?
    Damn long career and dude looks still quite young.

  5. I honestly couldn’t understand a word that girl said…sort of sounded like she escaped from special school.

  6. Whenever I make a list of my favorite car movies, it starts with Two Lane Blacktop. After all these years I still don’t remember what the movie was about – the power of my fixation on that 55, which I still think looks better in grey primer than black.

  7. Now THAT IS what I’d call an interesting thought on things. What I would advise perhaps is speaking to other people involved in the scene and bring to light any conflicting points of view and then update your site or create a new article for us to . Hopefully you’ll take my ideas, I’m looking forward to it! Try to cover off on some graffiti characters as well if possible, they’re very popular at the moment.

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