Two-lane Blacktop - Movie review
As part of our celebrations for Penta’s 50th birthday, we have been digging pretty deep in the pop culture of the ‘70s. Last month we took you on a quick tour of the cornucopia of excellent music releases from 1971 (“our” year!), and so it seemed just right to devote August to our other favourite topic: movies.
We’ve found a little cult movie that we bet not many of you have watched. “Two-Lane Blacktop”, by Monte Hellman, struck a chord here at Penta. It’s not your typical blockbuster, but it’s also not laden with heavy social connotations as many arthouse movies are. So hear us out, like you would with an old friend showing up with a DVD and a six-pack of beers. “Trust me man, it’s good.”
Released in 1971 by Universal Pictures, “Two-Lane Blacktop” is possibly the Ultimate Road Movie. The story is as simple as it gets: two street racers criss-cross the US in their old ‘55 Chevrolet 150, which they beefed up to the max. They make a living by challenging residents to race against them in the vast countryside. In Arizona a female hitchhiker joins them, and the story picks up when later on in New Mexico they encounter a very determined, older driver, who accepts the biggest challenge of all: whoever gets to Washington DC first will win both cars, leaving the loser empty-handed.
What makes this movie so unique is its complete lack of pretence. Although it later grew into an indie favourite (from the late ‘90s onwards), this film honestly doesn’t care if you like it or not. It does not make easy sentimental overtures; there are no tear-jerking speeches about the meaning of life or love. No, there’s just no time for that – the characters have to race, and the road consumes EVERYTHING. We don’t even get to know their names, and we are left to call them by their roles: the Driver (successful songwriter James Taylor), the Mechanic (Dennis Wilson from the Beach Boys), the GTO (Warren Oates, better known for “The Wild Bunch” and “In The Heat of the Night”), and the Girl (Laurie Bird, Art Garfunkel’s former girlfriend).
And yet, although stripped of most dialogue and dominated by the roar of the engines, it’s a disarmingly human movie, that throws you off and makes you seek more connection and more authenticity. In our very competitive age, where everyone has a goal and wants to be the best possible version of themselves, there is something extremely refreshing in the time-capsule that is “Two-Lane Blacktop”. People being free (also to make mistakes) on the open road.
Still credits: “Two-Lane Blacktop – The Stakes”, uploaded to YouTube by criterioncollection