Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (Monte Hellman, 1971, USA) Three nameless men race the two-lane blacktop to nowhere, measuring their lives by the tachometer but spinning their wheels helplessly, exhaling high-octane fumes of incorporeal angst. Director Monte Hellman has structured a simplistic story: three men race cross-country for each other’s pink slips: the ownership of their cars. James Taylor is The Driver, Dennis Wilson is The Mechanic, and Warren Oates is GTO, and these nameless characters sputter through a minimilistic narrative, the thin plot device like a blown transmission bringing forward momentum to a screeching halt. But herein lies the beauty of the film, in the tiny moments between action, viewing their lives through a dirty windshield, hearing the existential scream of a ‘55 Chevy 454. The two-lane metaphor is a representation of the dichotomy between the older (GTO) and the younger (The Driver, The Mechanic) generations: one had everything and lost it, the other never had anything to lose. Amid this social disinterest comes The Girl, whimsical and free spirited, eventually shrugging off her baggage and deciding her own destiny. The men are slaves to their obsession, their dialogue a prayer to the mechanical gods they worship, every action a quick fix to feed the starving beast. The film isn’t about the race; it’s about the characters in the race and the bonds they begin to share, like worshippers at the same alter, all of who are abandoned by The Girl. As GTO picks up disparate hitchhikers, Oates adds humor and depth to his character as he tells each one a different life story until he is lost himself, dominated by his own tall-tales; one scene with Harry Dean Stanton in uncomfortably funny! James Taylor and Dennis Wilson add a sublime gracefulness, a gentle humanity to this race against entropy, living their meager lives moment by moment. The race’s outcome is never revealed, only the slow burn of celluloid as their future disappears towards a silent and unknown destination. (B+)

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