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aka - Two-Lane Blacktop
USA 1971
Directed by
Monte Hellman
102 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Two Lane Blacktop

Monte Hellman's indie classic, scripted by Rudy Wurlitzer and Will Corry and based on the latter's story, is a film of its time. This is not simply because Taylor had hair and Wilson was a pin-up boy (as a member of The Beach Boys), but because it is so redolent of the late '60s ethos, famously captured in Easy Rider (1969) which structurally it resembles, but also because its cool or "existentialist" style, that in some respects recalls Antonioni  and that was ground-breaking in its day, has long since been overtaken by the deadpan laconicism  of Jim Jarmusch.

James Taylor and Dennis Wilson are The Driver and The Mechanic respectively, drag racing hustlers who in their souped-up '55 Chevy take on GTO (Warren Oates), the middle-aged owner of a '70 Pontiac G.T.O in a cross-country race to Washington DC with their car's pink (or registration) slips at stake. Along the way they pick up The Girl (Laurie Bird), a hippie hitchhiker.

Largely plotless with intermittent dialogue only broken by GTO's boasting stories and clearly made with a relatively small budget, the film is only superficially about drag racing and more of a samurai romance (which Jarmusch addressed directly in Ghost Dog,1999), the heroic outsider protagonist(s) moving through this floating world with no attachment, although arguably the final shot of the film self-immolating in the projector's gate suggests more of a self-destructive outcome than a journey of self-transcendence.

The performances are all effective with a chronically unsmiling Taylor being surprisingly good and Oates suggesting a next-generation Bogart. Harry Dean Stanton (as H.D.Stanton) appears briefly as a gay hitchhiker. Hellman, who was also the film's editor, plays fast and loose with narrative conventions having characters disappear without explanation and setting up scenes that have no pay-off but this all resonates with the era's  "anti-establishmentarian Zeitgeist on the one hand and its Zen spirit on the other .

FYI: Making her film debut here, Laurie Bird only appeared in two other films: Hellman's Cockfighter (1974) where she appeared as Harry Dean Stanton’s wife and Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977) in which she appeared briefly as Paul Simon's L.A. girlfriend. She committed suicide in the Manhattan penthouse of her boyfriend Art Garfunkel on June 15, 1979. s, at the age of 25.

DVD Extras: A very nice package includes an audio commentary by Hellman and producer Gary Kurtz; You Can Never Go Fast Enough in which Hellman recalls the production to a group of his students; a documentary by George Hickenlooper, Monte Hellman - American Auteur; a filmed talk by film writer Jack Sargeant on the road movie; and the original theatrical trailer.  

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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