The Rural Road: “Two-Lane Blacktop”

Two-Lane Blacktop

Two-Lane Blacktop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Footage of the rural road in America, with plenty of medium-long shots and no score, dominates the screen in the 1971 Two-Lane Blacktop, directed by Monte Hellman.  A flick about two car nuts who routinely race other street drivers for money, it is so low-key it is practically asleep at the wheel.  Neither James Taylor (the singer) nor Dennis Wilson (the Beach Boy) is a good actor as they play the Driver and the Mechanic—no names, please—respectively.  But Warren Oates is, and Rudolph Wurlitzer‘s screenplay is provocative and amusing.

Oates plays a man who, though proud of his car, is no longer young and has problems.  Reduced to mendacious talk, he is a lost soul, while the Driver and the Mechanic are empty souls.  As their girl companion (Laurie Bird) observes, their lives are no “better” than those of the noisy, mating cicadas they hear.

Apropos of Bird’s character, simply called the Girl, everything is a letdown.  The Driver tries to retain his relationship with her, such as it is, by murmuring, “Figured we’d go on up to Columbus, Ohio.  A man got some parts up there he wants to sell cheap.”  But what goes on with these car nuts is cheap, and blandly the Girl replies, “No good.”

Two-Lane Blacktop has nothing new to say, but it can be a strange treat of “white trash” naturalism.  If you haven’t been on the rural roads in a while, and you actually miss them, this is your film.




Young Lovers And Polio In 1949

Cropped screenshot of Ida Lupino from the trai...

Cropped screenshot of Ida Lupino from the trailer for the film The Hard Way Further cropped from Image:Ida Lupino in The Hard Way trailer.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The print I saw (on DVD) of Ida Lupino‘s The Young Lovers (1949) is so technically deficient it seems ready to come apart at the seams.  The audio, for example, is often lousy.  As for the movie, it is a nicely serious love story in which the girl (Sally Forrest), a dancer, contracts polio.  The guy (Keefe Brasselle), also a dancer, doesn’t—but he truly loves the girl.  He has to eat, though, so he leaves for Las Vegas.

Herself afflicted with polio as a child, Lupino was a genuine creative force.  Not only did she direct The Young Lovers, she also produced and, with Collier Young, wrote it.  Likewise with other films.  The movie in question, however, is pretty pedestrian and sometimes overwrought.  But, again, it is nicely serious and thus manages to be watchable.

Also called Never Fear (a crummy title).

“The Clockmaker” Blues

The French film The Clockmaker (1973) tells us that France in the Seventies is a country in which a loutish, abusive security officer is allowed to get away with the garbage he does.  As the picture opens, the somewhat political son of the tale’s main character, a clockmaker (Philippe Noiret), has murdered the security officer and fled.

The film was directed by Bertrand Tavernier and so is not without artistic merit.  Even so, it does not take the murder of the depraved man seriously enough, but more or less excuses it.  At heart it is a politically radical film, consistently distrustful of authority.  Based on a Georges Simenon novel, it was screenwritten by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, who, in their seventies at the time, should have known better.  It is a relatively simply but also foolish work.

Its counterculture attitudes could be appropriated for the sake of present-day people in America who are not exactly bending to the big Ideological Will.  Two or three years ago, Wisconsin police illegally raided the homes of certain conservatives (probably Scott Walker supporters) and confiscated their computers.  In a case involving the refusal to honor a same-sex marriage, any Christian defendant who did not show up in court would have a warrant sent out for his or her arrest.  The current Attorney General wishes to expand the seizure of property, before a trial, of suspected drug traffickers.  See what I mean?


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