Saturday, January 12, 2008

Two Lane Blacktop

More sixties disillusionment. I've alway liked the movie "Two-Lane Blacktop," a counterculture road movie that defied the conventions (new even then) for celebrating alienation and outsider status. Although it starred outre pop culture figures like James Taylor and Warren Oates, nothing much happens in "Two-Lane." They rumble down the road (called only The Driver and The Mechanic), have brief mumbled exchanges, and pretty much think only about how to keep the car running. AO and I recently saw it again by happenstance, and apparently a lot of others have recently watched it. (It's being released as a Criterion DVD.) What I didn't know that at the time of its release it was hyped as the next Easy Rider, but then went on to fail miserably as a commercial movie. A recent Slate review explains the movie's appeal.

"Unlike its contemporaries, Two-Lane Blacktop wasn't a sentimental celebration of restless youth. Refusing to play to its demographic, it offered an abstract and diffident vision of the counterculture. Unlike The Graduate, it didn't romanticize youthful disaffection; unlike Bonnie and Clyde, there was no cathartic violence; unlike Easy Rider, there was little sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Yet the reasons moviegoers rejected it at the time—its skepticism and rigor—are the same reasons the film, released this month on DVD by the Criterion Collection, has emerged as one of the great movies of Hollywood's last golden age." Link

Now I have a better idea why I found the movie so appealing. It's even more objectless than something like Rebel Without a Cause or even Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. The Slate reviewer argues that Two-Lane Blacktop's real meaning is in its aestheticism - which seems about right, especially if you like the roaring engine and blinking sun of a 10-minute take of natural light and sound in a muscle car. The "melting film strip" at the end also tends to make film fetishists swoon.

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