Movie Diary: Two Lane Blacktop.

So last night I saw "Two Lane Blacktop," which came out in 1970 and had pretty much the exact vibe of "Easy Rider" only with two drag racers instead of motorcycle guys. The drag racer guys were played by James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, both of whom looked like rugged hot dudes that would hang out in my social circle (so, like stoner rock dudes). The basic plot of the movie, such that it has one (see previous "Easy Rider" comparison) was that they had a run in with Warren Oates, driving a brand new GTO, and challenged him to a cross-country race, with the winner getting the titles to both cars. For the record, the young drag racers are driving a souped-up 55 Chevy. A drifting teenage girl, played by Laurie Bird (none of the characters had names--in the credits they were identified as "Driver", "Mechanic", "GTO", and "Girl"), starts out riding along in Taylor and Wilson's car, but eventually becomes just as much of a driving emotional force in the film as the race itself, as all three of the men compete for her affections. After a little while, I started to think that the film wasn't really about a race at all, that nothing I was seeing was as it seemed, and eventually some deeper point would be revealed. Well, I won't spoil the ending or anything, and I'm not even all that sure that I know what the deeper point actually was, but things definitely mutated as the movie proceeded, and by the latter half of it, GTO and the drag racers were collaborating to keep each other's cars moving. The movie seemed less like a race and more like a collaborative cross-country trip. Again, similar to "Easy Rider," in that the drug deal that movie is ostensibly about never really seems like the point.

I really liked this movie. I'm a sucker for those New Hollywood-era barely-plotted slow-moving slices of life, and "Two Lane Blacktop" is a quintessential example of such a thing. There's almost no real dialogue, and a lot of it seems improvised (watching the commentary afterwards, I learned that a lot of it was). James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, being musicians rather than actors, could have been lame pretty faces, but their quiet, stone-faced performances actually fit the characters and the mood of the movie completely, and I think they probably did better in it than real actors would have. Warren Oates is awesome as always, and Laurie Bird... well, she's got a little bit of that annoying chirpiness of Susan George's character in "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry," but at heart her character is probably the toughest one in the movie. She definitely seems the most in control of her destiny, and the question of which of the men she'll end up with is answered only by her, and never by the men competing with each other. In her own quiet way, she's a far more feminist-positive female lead than you'd expect in a film like this, especially one made 40 years ago.

This movie isn't quite as metaphysical as "Vanishing Point," and it's not as weird as "Easy Rider" gets at points, but I'd say it's very similar to both, and fans of either one would probably really dig it. I sure did.



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