Monday, November 5, 2012

#414: Two-Lane Blacktop

(Monte Hellman, 1971)

This movie was made by a Hollywood studio. Like, a real one! That gave them money and everything! I just want that to sink in for people as they watch Two-Lane Blacktop, a decidedly anti-Hollywood car movie that followed in the wake of Easy Rider's surprise box office success at the end of the 1960s.

Still, Two-Lane Blacktop makes Easy Rider look like Oliver!, and it's almost impossible to make a comparison between this film and a single other movie that has been released by a major studio in the last ten years in terms of tone and pacing (maaaaybe the Solaris remake, but even that is sci-fi - and needed Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, and George Clooney to get made). There's little dialog from the two leads, the plot moves at a glacial pace, and the movie in general is much more about the feel of the film than anything it is saying.

This might be taken by a large number of people as an indication that the film is expecting you to fill in the gaps where they didn't bother to put any real meaning (a recent example of this that was moderately successful was Drive, which is better than its reception but not nearly as impressive as its reappraisal might imply). I think there's a lot to be said for the film being somewhat of a trend piece masquerading as a deep meditation on life, but I think this argument falls apart simply when you look at what kind of impact this film has had on people. Now, I'm not here to say that any movie's popularity inherently confirms its philosophical significance. But I think the way in which Two-Lane Blacktop is presented, the way it has been received, and the basic criticisms that might be leveled against it - not that it's shallow, but that it's too removed, too obtuse, and too of its time - fall apart when faced with its timeless appeal and meaningful place in the lives of both youngsters of the era and car nerds of any era.

On a personal level, however, Two-Lane Blacktop represents little more for me than an example of just how impressive the auteur infiltration of Hollywood was post-Easy Rider and The Graduate. As someone who has almost no interest in cars as anything other than something that can get me from place to place, hopefully without costing me too much money, the film would need to have done one of two things: introduce me to a world I know nothing about or deliver compelling characters that I would care about on a universal level. The film's zen-like approach to these two elements make these goals impossible.

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