Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) | This road movie cult classic is Top Gear for petrolheads and indie film freaks
Two-Lane Blacktop (which got its US release on 7 July 1971) is one of the most celebrated road movies ever and a key film of the New American Cinema era that was made during a period when US film-makers were experimenting with a series of counterculture offerings like 1969’s Easy Rider.
Despite being a protégé of Roger Corman (the King of the B’s would also ride the coattails of Easy Rider‘s success), director Monte Hellman (above left) ended up fashioning an existential drama about lonely souls lost in transit on the long road to nowhere.
In their grey-primed 1955 Chevrolet, The Driver (singer-songwriter James Taylor of You’ve Got a Friend fame) and The Mechanic (played by Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson) keep their engine running by entering into illegal car races along Route 66.
Lying in the seatless back of the Chevy hot rod is The Girl (Laurie Bird), a hitchhiker with little to say and nowhere to go. Driving alongside, meanwhile, is Warren Oates’s GTO. Having traded the trappings of suburbia for a bright orange Pontiac, the middle-aged playboy coaxes the boys into racing to Washington.
Not much happens in Two-Lane Blacktop – but that’s the point. It’s a film that’s totally understated. All that counts is speed. It’s the lifeblood of the characters. Unable to connect with the Chevy boys – whose only conversations concern their car – The Girl ends up hitching a ride with GTO, only to find that he too masks his feelings by boasting about his car’s prowess.
And it’s this sense of distance and alienation that dominates the film as the two cars and their occupants cruise through non-descript towns, motels, truck stops and gas stations (all shot in a sad, but beautiful way) towards an inevitable, bleak conclusion.
Virtually impossible to see for years due to music copyright problems and poor distribution, Two-Lane Blacktop got dusted off and remastered in 2012 in the hope of attracting a new audience – one that shares not only a passion for cars (there’s some cool vintage numbers for the car nuts to salivate over), but also a style of independent film-making fuelled on the spirit of adventure. As the film’s taglines proclaimed, ‘Two-Lane Blacktop isn’t a Highway, It’s an Attitude’.
Eureka! Entertainment released a Regio B Blu-ray and limited edition Steelbook in 2012 as part of their The Masters of Cinema Series; while The Criterion Collection released a Region 1 Blu-ray edition in January 2013. Eureka’s special features include commentary by director Monte Hellman and associate producer Gary Kurtz; revisiting the film locations video with Hellman; Kris Kristofferson interview; screen-test footage; trailer; and booklet.