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You can never go fast enough!

June 10, 2010

Tuesday , June 15th 8pm

Arlo & Esme 42 E. 1st street (between 1st & 2nd ave)

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

“Make it three yards, motherfucker, and we’ll have us an automobile race.”

This subtle masterpiece is similar in existential message and wandering pace to Vanishing Point, Easy Rider and Girl on a Motorcycle (though many disagree with me on that last one). Two-Lane Blacktop tells the story of a roving drag race team. The Driver (singer/songwriter James Taylor) and The Mechanic (Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson) live on the road in their 1955 Chevy One-Fifty. They drift from town to town, challenging locals to race whenever they run out of cash. The opening scene is a dark and seedy street race scene where the pair lose the race but don’t seem fazed at all.

Local: “How fast does it go?”

The Driver: “That depends on who’s around”

Stopping at a gas station for lunch, the boys watch through the window as a chick takes her duffle bag out of a parked van and climbs into the back seat of their Chevy. Not saying a word, they pay the check, walk to the car, climb in and drive away. They accept the addition of The Girl (Laura Bird) as a fact of life.

On the road, they keep running into G.T.O (Warren Oates) driving a “Sierra Yellow” 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge) who challenges them repeatedly to a race. G.T.O wants to race cross-country to Washington D.C. The Driver agrees but only “for pinks”.

“I knew you were car nuts, but all that speed’s gonna run over you someday”

G.T.O seems lost and insecure. He picks up hitch-hikers along the way, including a gay hitchhiker, (played by Harry Dean Stanton)who gets feely and ends up getting booted out of the car, each time telling a different story of who he is and why he’s on the road, each story more self-glorifying than the last.

“Why don’t you ride with me, they’re not for you…all they think about is cars

After sleeping with both The Driver and The Mechanic during the winding course of the journey, The Girl leaves with G.T.O while bored at a racetrack where the boys are competing. Realizing she’s gone, The Driver pursues, for the first time seaming to be driven by more than the hunt for the next race, even pissing off The Mechanic by driving recklessly and endangering the car. They find them at a diner where The Girl has just rejected G.T.O’s idea to visit Chicago, among many other amorous, rambling plans. The Driver proposes she go with them to Columbus to pick up some parts for the Chevy, but The Girl just walks away, hopping on the back of a stranger’s motorcycle instead, leaving her only bag behind in the parking lot. It’s clear she’s not looking for anything, and whenever her rides get big ideas, she bails for the open road.

After she leaves, the race seems to evaporate a bit.

G.T.O, stops for two soldiers on leave. The story he tells the hitch-hikers this time is one where he has won the GTO while driving the home-built ’55 Chevy in a race cross country. He tells a story of the satisfaction that comes from building “an American machine from scratch, that can beat a Detroit monster”. The Soldiers as all of his past passengers seem uninterested in the story.

Back at the Chevy, the boys gear up for a race. The Mechanic finishes tuning the beast and The driver straps himself into the front seat. All of a sudden everything gets quiet and lapses into a strange slow motion. As he tears out, we watch the open road through the front window, as the sound drops out entirely and then a small cigarette burn appears on the film frame, the projector cranks and the burn grows, destroying the film itself before a conclusion can be reached.

See all the cars from the film at IMCDb

The screenplay was published in it’s entirety in Esquire Magazine in April 1971, before the film was released. Esquire predicted it would be the film of the year. It wasn’t, but it did prove to be a classic.

Brock Yates, organizer of the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (better known as the Cannonball Run) cites Two-Lane Blacktop as one source of inspiration for the creation of the race, and commented on it in his Car and Driver column announcing the first Cannonball.


Can’t make it to the flicks? Watch the full film right HERE

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