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Two-Lane Blacktop

Two-Lane Blacktop has probably become a cult movie for all the wrong reasons – for its on-the-road resonances, for the macho characters, for a certain US chic. The fact is that Blacktop displays the best qualities of director Monte Hellman: a freewheeling style that allows its story of obsession to retain a certain humour, and which permits characters with little to say a great space for evocation. The story – of two fanatical car freaks driving their hotted-up ’55 Chevrolet across the States – hardly exists. Its mood is overwhelming. The two men go from race to race, gambling on the outcome to get enough money to continue their apparently pointless journey. On the way they pick up a girl (Laurie Bird) who is attracted to the Driver (James Taylor) but sleeps with the Mechanic (Dennis Wilson). They come up against a driver in a flash Pontiac (Warren Oates) and a challenge is set: the two cars will race to Washington, and the winner will take both cars. The girl moves into the Pontiac and the race becomes a frenzied competition of repressed desire.

In outline, Blacktop is a film about that great American subject – the competing of masculine wills – and its form(the cross country journey) even suggests that this may be some allegory on the State of the Nation. But Hellman’s real interests are harder to classify: time, the space between people, the place that exists between spoken intentions and our most deeply held desires. In personal terms, the film is about why ‘the road’ has become such a crucial fiction within the American dream since the James Dean generation. It is about getting nowhere fast, and about how that unique American pursuit symbolises so much. Existential in tone, Two-Lane Blacktop is a surprisingly articulate movie.

U.S.A., 1971.
Colour.
Panavision anamorphic.
101mins.

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