The end of the year is full of holidays and consequently provides time to sit in from of a TV and watch a DVD. Earlier this year I put together a list of “car movies” and gave Two Lane Blacktop the short shrift. This 1971 movie deserves better.
First of all finding a copy of the DVD release is a challenge in and of itself. Whether it is worth the time and the cost is a matter of opinion, but I invested both and had the pleasure of seeing this classic thirty five years after it was originally released.
Easy Rider was a movie that lost itself in making a statement about drugs, counter culture, and the disparity of America’s regional cultures. American Graffiti was a movie that used the small town car culture to illustrate how it was to come of age during the Vietnam conflict. Two Lane Blacktop let the audience into the world of the young Americans who were looking for what all youths yearn for; a way to make their own mark in the world while retaining their own identity (which has yet to be defined).
The cast includes two cars, a ’55 Chevy with a 454 big block and a Muncie 4-speed (you can hear it as the Driver bangs through the gears), and a new GTO with a 455. The contrast between the two cars is magnified by the contrast between the two drivers.
James Taylor is the Driver and Dennis Wilson is the Mechanic of the Car (the ’55 Chevy). Warren Oats is GTO, the driver of same. Dean Stanton makes a cameo appearance as the token gay hitch hiker (far more realistic than the ones in Vanishing Point). Laurie Bird plays the Girl perfectly. The epitome of the era’s hippie chick.
The movie opens with a California street drag race in which the Car wins, but the event is busted by the police sending the Car on its trek east. Along the way the Girl enters the Car in typical hippie chick fashion by just getting into the back seat area of the Car. The Driver and the Mechanic drive off without giving her a question or a glance. It is amazing how well the California Beach Boy meshes seamlessly with the Martha’s Vineyard music artist.
On the road east they encounter Warren Oats and the GTO. Warren picks up hitch hikers just so that he can have someone to tell his stories to. It becomes clear that GTO is a lost soul who cannot understand when his materialism cannot support his fantasy. He feels he must challenge the Car and what it represents in order to prop up his insecurities. So the gauntlet is thrown down in the form of a race for “pink slips” or titles. GTO picks Washington, DC as the destination and the slips are mailed to the post office there for the fastest car to pick up.
As they head east they establish a relationship of cooperation that Warren Oats is clearly uncomfortable with, yet drawn to like a moth to a flame. Its as if he’s never had a friendship before and cannot understand why this one establishes itself without his having to create a personna to attract with.
Later it is revealed that the Car never mailed its pink slip to DC as the race becomes more of a partnership than a competition. At Deals Gap, the start of the Tail of the Dragon, the Girl leaves both cars and drivers for a motorcycle and GTO and the Car head for the things that have always drawn them. The Car goes to the nearest drag race and GTO picks up more hitch hikers while he tries to make up a new fantasy for his passengers to be drawn in with.