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"Vanishing Point" is the counter culture movie to end all counter
culture movies. It's got it all -- the grizzled, moody anti-hero; the
rebellion against authority; the naked hippies; the criticism of racial
oppression; the bleak, "what's the point of it all?" existential angst.
But first and foremost, "Vanishing Point" is one hell of a kick-ass
It's clear why Quentin Tarantino, an obvious cinephile, fell in love with this movie and decided to pay homage to it with his car chase film "Death Proof." Because "Vanishing Point" above all else is supremely cinematic. It's a film about movement -- our protagonist is never content to stand still, lest the demons chasing him catch up to him. And like him, the film never stands still either. It's kinetic and full of an angry and restless energy, and it's always compelling even if it doesn't always make sense.
Barry Newman plays the tortured hero, Kowalski, looking like a cross between Mike Brady and Tim Roth. Cleavon Little is the blind d.j. who becomes a sort of guardian angel to Kowalski. And old-time character actor Dean Jagger has an unsettling cameo as a hermit living out in the desert wilds.
My impression going into Vanishing Point was that of a
road-exploitation picture of the period. And thanks to movie-geek
Tarantino Death Proof hyped up by having a kind of image-placement (ala
yellow jump-suit in Kill Bill) that superimposed for those who hadn't
seen it a sort of expectation. While I didn't quite get the mother of
all car-crash pictures- there are a few, don't get it wrong- it is a
pretty interesting work of its times. It doesn't get nearly deep enough
with its main character as some symbolic point of a fall from grace
from authority or of disillusionment with the period, but it's somehow
still a cool little movie. There's a feeling that something is going on
underneath, the subtext to the whole facet of speed that a person takes
(uppers) going along with a kind of car ride that Dr. Gonzo would
probably not attempt. At the same time Barry Newman fills in the role
as enigmatically as possible; we're never totally sure what this guy's
motive is to go for broke in delivering a car across states to a little
s***-hole town at 100 miles an hour, which makes it part of the fun.
It's a high-stakes story of daring cop-chases, detour through a desert, help from strangers, and a fatalistic ending that seems more bizarre and shocking than that of an Easy Rider. Not to say much for plot, though the writers do inject a strange co-plot (not quite sub-plot exactly) with a blind disc jockey, played by a spot-on Cleavon Little, who keeps tabs with Kowalsky as if he were an angel on his shoulder. The director also fashions out with a superb DP (who also worked on Chinatown) a good way making things not ever go too lighting paced or frenetic, but giving some level of breathing room of the open spaces, the long stretches of road, the desert, the rural towns, even Kowalski's face. And the sort of straightforward-but-not attitude to Kowalski's mission, in light of his history, adds to the thrills.
If it's only a little disappointing it's that it hasn't aged as well as it should've. Maybe it's not exactly a fault- it's proud to be in the 70s, with moments of grass and that naked woman on the bicycle as indicators of a 'far-out' period- but, for example, should the rock and roll not always be a consistent point with the scenes? Some songs do stand out, and at times it's toe-tapping even, but not many. And the suddenness of the ending marks as almost a cop-out; it's just too easy a way to end the flick when it feels like a bigger climax awaits. Vanishing Point doesn't have dynamite storytelling, but it does have a dynamite attitude, positioning itself in the frame of a B-movie to make its mark with a terrific car and a bad-ass behind the wheel.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
this is a groundbreaking chase movie in my opinion. movies that followed, most starring Burt Reynolds and directed by Hal Needham, were comedies and this was a very good drama and came out years before the latter, more popular films. there is a scene where a song playing sounds so much like the theme for CANNONBALL RUN i was almost in shock. but enough comparisons... on it's own, VANISHING POINT is very good; at least the first 50 minutes. we get a chase, chase, chase, with camera angles unequaled in this genre. it's quite relaxing to watch even though it's pure action. but then after the driver pulls off the road and ventures into the center of the desert, and meets an old prospector and then visits a religious gathering and the picks up two gun-toting homosexuals and then meets a very nice motorcycle rider who has a shack and a very good looking, shirtless girlfriend, the movie begins to run out of gas - pun intended. but it's still a fun flick to watch - that is, to enjoy and relax to. most reviews i read center on Cleavon Little's role as a soul DJ who helps the driver along with his "plight" but personally, Cleavon, whom I loved in BLAZING SADDLES, over-acts to the hilt and is pretty darn annoying. but it's the first 50 minutes that really, really knocks my socks off - they should have kept the chase going because there were flashbacks during that chase and it worked wonderfully and didn't tire the eyes, or nerves, one bit. but, the characters that the driver meets after going into the center of the desert DO get tiring - and the story, tired. they should have stuck with the chase: chase, chase, chase... which does continue towards the end, and lasts for another ten minutes until the abrupt climax that will leave the viewer reminiscing EASY RIDER, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, and even THELMA AND LOUISE.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I finally got around to this after six months of being reminded that it
was a primary influence on Tarantino when he was making "Death Proof".
Well, I hated the Tarantino film, but I did like the car chase
sequences in it; heck, I've always liked car chases, who doesn't like
car chases? So it was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that
I popped this baby in the DVD player.
I needn't have bothered, actually. Sure, the white Charger is cool and there are several good sequences of the "hero", Kowalski (Barry Newman) evading cops, off-roading through the desert, etc, but the film's would-be mysticism and self-conscious attempts to hit the hippie/druggie audience wear thin pretty quickly, and there just isn't enough reality to any of the characters to take the thing straight even if we were intended to.
Cleavon Little's turn as blind (and apparently visionary) disk jockey Super Soul, broadcasting black music in the middle of nowhere in the Southwest (THAT calls for a suspension of disbelief for sure) is nice, but the scene where he and his engineer (John Amos in a thankless role) are beaten up by a mob seems completely pointless and geared towards a political agenda that is otherwise resolutely unclear in this weird mess of a film. Dean Jagger is his usual reliable self as the desert-dwelling prospector who helps Kowalski on his way towards his destiny with.....who cares. Nice double-sided DVD transfer; I watched the shorter American cut first, but the 2nd side British version wasn't viewable. And it didn't much bug me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is kind of an odd little movie, featuring the relatively obscure
Barry Newman as the driver of a 1970 Dodge Challenger, who has made a
bet that he can deliver this vehicle from Denver to San Francisco in 15
hours. Naturally, the various local highway patrols take exception to
him accomplishing this feat, and ... the chase is on! We have a little
bit of Easy Rider and a little bit of Sugarland Express mixed here with
a sprinkle of Bullit and 'Bandit' for seasoning.
Flashbacks that are way too short are inserted to give us some insight into the character of Kowalski (Newman), and they serve to explain little. Newman displays the acting skill of a stick, and encounters characters who are all stereotypes: 'Cranky Old Wilderness Guy' (see Jeremiah Johnson), sexually liberated naked flower child, white racist country music types, sympathetic blind black guy, bumbling cops, etc. Particularly annoying is the usually enjoyable Cleavon Little as the blind DJ trying to help Kowalski.
In the end, in the UK version, Charlotte Rampling is employed to play a cadaverous hitch hiker (Death?), who Kowalski makes love to and then, of course, must race to a blazing suicidal crash.
Is this movie harmful? No. It passes its 97 minutes (UK) mildly entertaining. But the let down at the end has you asking, "What was that all about?"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Others have suggested that the only symbolism worth mentioning, in this
movie, is in the title. What is the point beyond which it is pointless
to exist? Our hero, Kowalski, is trying to find out. He makes piecemeal
efforts at existing and only succeeds in self-destructing. Clearly, his
life once had promise and meaning, but the death of his girlfriend
haunts him. Kowalski asks the question of God: "Why?" The response is
like a Samuel Beckett play. Kowalski is just existing, biding his time,
waiting for life to give him one more thing to which he can react. He
has lost his will to be pro-active. He has lost his will to live.
Each time I watch this movie I am stunned with the degree of nihilism and anti-authoritarianism it represents. Freedom is almost described as "doing one's own thing" as opposed to selling out to the establishment. In truth, freedom is a good deal more difficult and a great deal quieter. It isn't the person who goes down in a blaze of glory who is the hero as much as it is the one who has the courage to carry on in life.
The thrill of speed was unparalleled in those days, but that requires some explanation. No one who drove quickly in the 60's and 70's could fail to remember the sound of the big 440 Mopar when the secondaries kicked in. The 440 was such a torque monster that it was difficult to run away from it, even in those big boxy sedan bodies. Cars didn't handle nearly as well as they do now and the tires were considerably worse. If you were traveling 125 mph in a street car, you were traveling very quickly. In fact, most times, it bordered on insanity.
The 440 cop cars, by the way, could top out at around 140. The light bar added a lot of drag on the top end and you could pull away slightly above 100, if your car was so disposed. The Challenger had an advantage, to be sure being smaller, lighter and more aerodynamic, but not nearly as much as one would think. Even the vaunted 426 Hemi wouldn't have made a lot of difference in this case. Despite what one might suspect would be a tremendous speed advantage, on an open and straight road, it's doubtful that a better engine and better car would run away from a cop. The tricks from this movie usually resulted in someone turning his car over. The State Highway Patrol, at very least, knew how to handle those cars pretty well.
I am impressed at how well the movie turns Kowalski into a hero and the law into Nazis. We all like Kowalski: he is a decent guy, even helping the queers when their car broke down. (By the way, at the time, that scene served as great comic relief.) But the larger question is this: who pushed Kowalski into this corner? In reality, how would you like your son or daughter killed because some guy was racing his car on the street just on a bet?
He is a likable character for whom life has gone very wrong. Kowalski doesn't like that life is as hard and apparently nasty as it is. I hope we all share that with him. However, Benzedrine isn't a way of seeing clearly: it's a way of obscuring the reality with a rush. It really does give one the feeling of invincibility and superiority. It exacts a terrible price on the body and mind. The "Vanishing Point" is that point at which life ceases to be of value to oneself. One might argue that Kowalski had already reached that point before the chase began. Suicide isn't the lack of options in one's life as much as it is the failure to recognize that there are viable options.
God might have had something else in mind for the Kowalskis in this life, but they may choose not to listen, or, worse, no longer be able to listen. The Christian symbolism throughout the movie seems anti-climactic in some ways. In several ways, it is man's involvement with God's word that gets in the way of God's own message. The humans who call themselves Christians in this movie don't seem much better of than Kowalski is and maybe even a bit worse. It looks like Christianity is in opposition to what people find pleasing in this world. Mark Twain made roughly the same point in Letters from the Earth. When God does not make life the way we want it, then we aren't going to play by His rules. Each of has this choice, as Camus said in the opening lines of The Stranger. Kowalski gives up because he is hurt. Each of us has been there. Dealing with things our own way usually leads us to ruin. Kowalski is hurting too much to see any other options. The pain is too great for him to stand. Giving in to God seems like giving in to everything else, like giving up. He sees that going out in the blaze of glory as the only honest thing left to do. Frankly, I hope viewers see that as a drug-infused (excuse the pun) cop out. It's a lot harder to live than it is to die.
Sarafian's CV does not boast a lot of familiar names until you hit Vanishing
Point, and with this memorable film he has justified his existence. You can
practically feel the heat and dust and there is an amazing shot filmed from
the air of Kowalski going in circles around the desert. The writer of a book
I read on cult movies was uncomfortable with the adoration afforded this
film's lead character. An exponent of flower power and free love risking the
lives of innocent people, maybe even children, with reckless driving was
distasteful to him and quite rightly. But I think the point was that
Kowalski was not a part of the hippy, tune-in, drop-out scene around him. He
only took one type of drug to keep himself awake while driving rather than
to expand his conciousness and he was offered women TWICE, the latter being
stark naked and more or less saying, "Please take me! Take me! You're my
hero!" and he declined. What sort of free love guru is that? I mean, is he
some kind of goddamn fag or something? Apparently not, as he met two such
gentlemen in question and made it abundantly clear that although he had
nothing against them, he was not part of their scene either.
No, Kowalski is his own man, a wild eyed loner on a one way ticket to oblivion and his counter-culture friend is uneasy, sensing something and requesting him not to do "any heavy sh*t out there, man!" Kowalski, now rejected by the establishment, has no home and his personal statement of nihilism turns out to be tragically out of step with the temper of the times, which is to let it all hang out man, but not in pieces all over the dashboard. It is a timeless reminder about not making heroes out of people for your own reasons, and living vicariously through their actions as personified by the character of super-soul who unjustly elevates K to cult status through his radio show. His suggested psychic contact with K fits in with the mystical interests of the day but seems naff and dated now. In any case, his mental exhortations go unheeded and he is left a disillusioned man.
Some have suggested Kowalski is another Christ figure beloved of hippy films of the day but one is not left comforted and inspired by Vanishing Point's ending. It suggests that the end is really the end and man may not have a souped up super-soul at all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The plot. Simple. A man who tried to fit in (Kowalski played
enigmatically by underrated actor Barry Newman) finally has it and
decides to just point a social finger at "the man" and race his car
cross country for some speed. (Talk about your obvious metaphors, but
hey, the point is made.) This can be viewed as a chase movie but then
you would most likely be as unsatisfied as some of the people who
thought this movie sucked. Well, I have said countless times, "it
sucks" can never be construed as "constructive criticism." Anyway, add
a blind D.J. named Super Soul (another underrated actor, Cleavon
Little) making a point to the consternation of some redneck yahoos, a
naked blonde in the desert, assorted counterculture types (I always
hated that term, but I use it here just for the sake of clarity and not
having to type too much) and you have a quirky movie that works on many
levels IF YOU LIVED THROUGH THE SIXTIES or at the very least, have a
"guide" of sorts who did.
Okay. Time for a brief history lesson.
The Nixon metaphor. If you know about the 1960s, you know that there were many student protests against the war and against forms of corporate racism, sexism and just about anything that the Nixon "Silent Majority" detested. Most of us did not have the power of the vote because then, you had to be 21 to use that power then. (In my own case, having a December birthday, it wouldn't have mattered anyway since I would not be 18 until AFTER the presidential election. But I digress) We young folkies had no real say, and Nixon beat us into the ground, which culminated, albeit indirectly, with the Kent State killings, the death of some Black Panthers and basically shutting us the hell up to disco our butts into the ground. What a waste! But we had movies like this to make us think, or, at the very least, to have discussions and write our own damn movies in our heads, or just in our b.s. We had an outlet, small though it may have been. But, film is forever, and this one, with its trappings of sex, drugs and rock and roll, gave us a good time all around.
So, for those of you who say, "Hey! Leave the analyzing out of this," you can't. If you do that, this movie has nothing. Yes, enjoy it by all means, but see what it says or make your own judgments as to what Kowalski was all about and who represented what.
Now, there are some serious car guys talking about this flick, and I confess that I know nothing about cars except that they have tires and motors and take you from point A to point B. Hell, I didn't even drive until well after I got out of the military, but I did do a helluva lot of hitchhiking, and never tried to hurt a driver like the guys in this flick. Still, I am grateful to the intense info on automotives given by so many of you reviewers here.
And just for the record, don't waste time with the pathetic remake of this one. If you can't even have the decency of a naked blonde on screen (Yeah, I know the other one was a TV flick and they couldn't do that. All the more reason not to remake the thing on the small screen.) "Vanishing Point" is a vital record of a time gone by and we seem to be reliving in some small way now under the current regime...I mean...administration.
*****SPOILER ALERT***** Kowalski, our speeding hero in the cool white car smiles as he "vanishes" but actually crashes and burns into the barricades while several of his new fans look on. I was confused by the vanishing when I first saw this film at age 20, but it's really simple if you use your gray matter. The man wanted to vanish and escape a worthless existence and in his mind, at least, that's what he did. Vanished! Similar endings have been done in films like "Thelma And Louise" and they made just as much sense - or nonsense. I didn't always like such endings, but here it is the only way to go. It worked! Enjoy the movie!
And that's a wrap!
Plot? Ha! There's this guy driving real fast. He's Kowalski and he's a bit
enigmatic. He's basically delivering a car to a customer and is trying to
it in a record time. He starts getting chased by cops and what ensues is a
hectic counter-culture road race/chase movie across the US. Think `Easy
Rider' with one man and a car.
Kowalski is naturally enigmatic. We don't know much about him and why he's taking these insane risks with his life and freedom. Gradually, over the course of the movie, we get to learn more about him through flashbacks and his interactions with the crazy kooky people he meets up. Yup, the country appears dotted with bizarre weirdoes, including naked bicycle chicks and snake capturing old men. Why? No idea, and it doesn't matter too much. This movie is a journey, with a stranger who we come to respect (although never really know), and we're along for the ride..
Acting's not up to much. Barry Newman, as Kowalski, looks the part - moody, and intense. He has very few lines, and that suits the character's obscure nature. The only real character of any other significance is Super Soul, a blind radio DJ mysteriously assisting Kowalski over the airwaves. He too is enigmatic - his motives unclear, etc. As such his acting seems to limit itself to dancing in his seat, flinging his arms about and yelling. Hmmm. In other movies that would earn my ridicule, but for some reason it works here.
The movie looks well. Yes, it's obviously rooted in early '70s counter-culture, but it has a very firm feel to it, a sense of identity (somewhat ironic, considering its meta-themes concerning the lone faceless individual). Director Richard S. Sarafian employs a variety of camera shots in the movie to keep the audience entertained throughout the choice. There's also an excellent soundtrack, which can only be labelled as `cool'. It perfectly matches the mood and temper of Kowalski. It's qualities like these that help disguise the flimsy nature of the movie.
`Vanishing Point' is `different'. It's enjoyable but alas it's also pretty substance less - pretty but with no real padding underneath. You can be driven along and admire the pretty pictures and sheer vibes it emanates, but you'll be left wanting if you seek any real depth. Still it's better than the over-rated `Easy Rider'. 7/10.
With a lot of nice landscape scenery.But the movie is rather poorly put
together,but you can see where Walter hill got his radio idea to the
This is a road movie if I ever seen one.Not sure if it's the first nor the greatest,but a road movie none the less. But cause of the way its put together, it's sadly only mildly entertaining. I dunno if the importance of the backstory on kowalski ended on the cutting room floor, or it was put together this way on purpose.
But The back story comes in minor flashback sequences, and I think they are suppose to be relevant in terms of getting to know the background of our antihero.For me it just doesn't work,cause they have skipped too much on how he got be where he is, when you meet him.
Some of the scenes in the movie are really confusing at times. For instance when he could have avoided a roadblock by simply going around them,he flee from them instead.While other times he simply do just that,drive around them And you never know why it was so important to get the car to Sand Francisco.
There are a lot of hinting or implying that girls he meet have some sort of connection to he's past,but they never really clarify it.Is it just that they remind him of someone he once had a connection with,or are they the girls from the past he sees in he's flashback?
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