Sunday, November 16, 2008

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, Monte Hellman)

There's this band, you might've heard of them. They're called the Beach Boys. Well anyway, about a year and a half ago I decided to give the Beach Boys' music more than just the casual listen. Well, 29 or so albums later, I was hooked. I even ended up seeing them play a free concert in Boston that summer, with special guest John 'Have Mercy' Stamos. It was rad. I started following the adventurous life of Dennis Wilson, the Beach Boys' infamous deceased drummer, which led me to his one starring role....Two-Lane Blacktop. Luckily Criterion released this film shortly after with more bells and whistles than you could shake a stick at. Wait, what? You know what I mean.

Two-Lane Blacktop is really about two cars more than any human characters. A GTO, driven by..well, he has no name, but the credits list him as GTO (Warren Oates). The other car, a '55 Chevy is driven by (here we go again) The Driver (James Taylor in his one starring role) and The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson, see above). They are all just out cruising the country with no real destination. The driver and the mechanic stop and race cars for money when they need food or gas. They eventually meet up with GTO and decide to race to Washington D.C. The prize? Whoever loses gives their car's pink slip to the opponent. Along the way, a young hitchhiker tags along and ends up going back and forth between the quiet Chevy and the boastful GTO. Will she distract the drivers from the prize?

The thing that makes Two-Lane Blacktop so great is the fact that it is like no other movie out there. The musicians-turned-actors (James Taylor and Dennis Wilson) really don't have to try too hard to act because their characters have so little dialogue. The film deals more with the cars and the beautiful western landscapes than the characters. GTO and the hitchiker babble on about nothing, while the Mechanic and the Driver are virtually silent, keeping the characters very simple, yet mysterious. Warren Oates is great as the fast talking GTO and Laurie Bird's wandering hitchhiker is very interesting and different. The originality of the film, along with the cinematography and the thought provoking characters make this film a classic road movie. It may not be everyone's taste, but if you "get it", it's well worth the trip.


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