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Wow what a ride! Kowalski is the man with the iron car and iron will.
The enormous motor that resides under the hood is a in a way a metaphor
for the antagonist raw-powered will to make it, no matter what. You
also get hints of his past which is filled with "living on the edge"
And the scenery is haunting... makes you wanna jump into a car and just ride for as long as you endure.
A great social study also which shines light on the madness of people trying to uphold laws, when it clearly brings more violence then it does create peace. Also a good look into the culture of that time.
A notice on the black and white car that passes each other in the beginning, Kowalski riding both cars...maybe a hint to mans splintered mind, the dark versus light within us all, which we like to ignore... but is still there haunting us every day. Still it's a choice in which car we decide to ride.
The Movie Makes a Number of Points that were Often Made in Essential,
Thinking Person's Movies of the Late Sixties into the Early Seventies.
Thoughts about the Counter Culture, the Vietnam War, Drugs, Nudity, and
the Difficult Existence of an Anti Establishment Entity Trying to
Survive in a Conservative Society.
This is a Muscle Car Movie for the Cerebral Type. The Cross Country Chase and the Driving are Intercut with the Anti-Hero's Encounters with Various Characters on the Edge. This does Nothing to Take Away from the Hook of the Movie that is the Car, the Driver, and the Pursuit.
The Weakest Part is the Overly Obnoxious African-American DJ who is Placed in a Country and Western Town with His Radio Rap of Soul Fired Frenzy. Like the Driver, He is a Fish Out of Water. But the Connection, both Psychic and on the Radio with Barry Newman's Kowalski is just too Obvious and Contrived for it to Amount to Much and there is Quite a bit of it.
Overall, this Cult Movie Deserves its Reputation. A Great Looking and Edited, Movie with an Appropriate and Sometimes Very Effective Soundtrack make this Low-Budget Winner an Artifact of its Time that Comfortably can be Placed with the Other Iconic Films from the Counter Culture of the Era Displaying the Zeitgeist with some Intelligence, Creativity, and Style.
A few years before "Smokey and the Bandit" would present a confusing
mixture of messages about the joys of traveling the road, came
"Vanishing Point", a superb film about which so much could be written.
I saw this film when it first came out--a nineteen year old who could
really identify with the film's point of view.
Yes, this film owes a debt to "Easy Rider" (1969) and "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967), but the anti-heroes of "Easy Rider" were looking for truth. Kowalski, the anti-hero of "Vanishing Point" is looking for freedom.
This film should be classified under "fantasy". It is a libertarian fantasy, a dream of escaping the control and corruption of the establishment (as it was then called). In the early 70s, a great turmoil enveloped this country. Those who fought for peace (in the shadow of the Vietnam conflict), racial equality, a redefining of gender roles, and the freedom of the individual to do or become whatever he desires (as long as it does not violate the freedom of others) became the counterculture, a massive challenge to the status quo and those who wished to maintain traditional values.
Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a man who's background and history is revealed throughout the film. From a man who merely drives for a living, he becomes a man who is trying to cope with the tragedies and inequalities of his past. Eventually, he becomes a hero to the people on the fringe of society who recognize his fight as their own. He battles the "blue meanies" (a reference to The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine").
There are various clues that this is a fantasy. No one gets hurt despite some dangerous activities. This is important because Kowalski is not out to hurt others. There are also some scenes that, though "real", seem almost to be dreams.
As he drives his Challenger (of course) down western highways that disappear in the infinite at that vanishing point on the horizon, we begin to see that this is one man's rebellion, as assertion that he will no longer be controlled. This man of few words has nothing left to lose, perhaps.
Accompanied by some great tunes and the encouragement of a blind DJ, Kowalski meets some interesting characters. Watch for Dean Jagger in a small, choice role as a snake hunter. "Vanishing Point" has a great cast of credited and uncredited actors and musicians.
Will Kowalski (like Moses) lose his way in the desert, but eventually emerge to find a promised land? Will he become invincible and larger than life? Will he become a martyr, either by intention or by accident?
One could write pages about this film and its messages. It helps to have seen it in 1971, to experience it as part of the milieu of its time. But this film is a metaphor for principles that are timeless.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'll admit I wasn't sure quite what to make of this one when I first
saw it. I had to view it more than once, and other user reviews
actually gave me some insight (thanks everybody). What drew me to
Vanishing Point in the first place was that it was a road flick
featuring a fast car..and I LOVE movies with fast cars.
The premise at the beginning seems simple enough. Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a speed freak (as in drugs AND driving) who makes his living delivering cars. He's just arrived back in Denver, to the place that employs him, after a delivery, and wants to head right back out on the road again to deliver a Dodge Challenger to San Francisco. His boss pleads with him to get some rest, as does his drug dealer, but Kowalski is determined. He bets his dealer the price of the speed he just bought that he can deliver the car in 15 hours (I figured it up..he would have to average 84.5 MPH with NO stops if he drove in a straight line).
Where the movie gets interesting..and disturbing..is when it gets into WHY Kowalski is so determined to go on this ride. While he's tearing down the roadway in that waaay cool white Challenger, with police hot on his tail, we see flashes of his past, including his time as a war hero in Vietnam, his stint as a police officer who stops his partner from raping a teenage girl they'd picked up; also we see that for a time he raced cars and motorcycles (crashing more than once), and he even spent a period of time as a hippie/counterculture type (where he watched his girlfriend drown in the ocean).
Two dynamics emerge: First, and this was brought up in another review, Kowalski is a guy who couldn't fit in anywhere, be it the "establishment" or the "counterculture." Second, and more important, in the flashbacks we see one bad thing after another happen to him, regardless of what he was doing or who he was with. This is what his life has come down to, and it's as if this pedal-to-the-metal trip to SF, come hell or high water, is all he has left.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the other main player in this, a blind disc jockey who goes by "Super Soul" (Cleavon Little in what may be the finest performance of his career). Super Soul feels an instant connection with Kowalski..calling him "the last American hero" as he races from police on his trek. In between songs he talks to Kowalski over the airwaves as if he can sense what the doomed driver is thinking. In the midst of this a bunch of redneck bullies break into the radio station and give Super Soul a horrific beating, and the movie doesn't really explain why. Maybe it's because they didn't like what Kowalski was doing and Super Soul being sympathetic to him, aggravated by the fact that they already hated Super Soul because he was black.
This movie has been compared, erroneously in my opinion, to Easy Rider. Whereas the latter is clearly a movie centering on the 60s counterculture, Vanishing Point is a character study, both of Kowalski and Super Soul, two misfits..yet both honorable and decent men(perhaps that's what makes them misfits)..who seem doomed to never really belong anywhere. It's also a sort of requiem for the days gone by for fast cars and open roads in America. This is not a pleasant movie..it's dark, depressing and surreal..but interesting. And Kowalski drives one VERY cool..and fast..car.
I saw Vanishing Point when it was first released in the seventies. It is in re-play now on Sundance possibly because of the recent death of it's director. When first released it was an immediate counter-culture hit. Yes, the chase sequences are exciting and well-done, but the context may be difficult for younger viewers to get. It is shown in flashbacks that the anti-hero Kowalski is a decorated but disaffected Vietnam vet and former cop, who prevents another policeman from raping a suspect, a beautiful young girl, and is then discharged from the force. He then becomes a stunt driver and high- speed car delivery driver. He is part of a generation of people who felt betrayed by a corrupt system and were angry, very angry. He is protesting against the system with his 'I don't give a f**k' attitude despite his cool demeanor. That's what resonated with young film-goers in the seventies and why it remains a cult classic. /Frank
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Very, very interesting film, you really can't watch it and not
seriously consider buying a Dodge Challenger and taking off across the
western US afterwards (certainly Top Gear's Richard Hammond does). In
Easy Rider we had the bikers who were still open to the future and all
its' possibilities. Vanishing Point is a much more cynical film, its'
hero is actually an establishment figure, a decorated war veteran
(presumably he must have been an adviser to the South Vietnamese
military in the early 60s as regular US forces weren't deployed until
1965), a cop, a surfer and professional racer. But he seems to have
become disillusioned with it and arguably with the 60s counter-culture
In some ways this is the longest suicide note in history (and arguably one of the failings of the film is it is slightly too long). We never know WHY he makes his epic drive, perhaps he is haunted by his inner demons and cannot simply bare to sit still any more, as long as he keeps moving they cannot catch him. It seems a little trite that he causes all this damage but never actually harms anyone. That the police are chasing him purely for his speeding but they're still right to do so, the law must be enforced for the good of all and perhaps that's what both Kowalksi and Soul Superstar realise at the last.
Some interesting touches, the warning sign saying 'Stop' as he tears out of Denver, the fact that when his drug dealer asks him what he wants he just replies 'Speed'.
An entertaining film which defines its' era.
Vanishing Point is a difficult film to assess in many ways. As a movie,
it is quite flawed. The plot is obvious but ultimately quite shallow -
centering around Kowalski trying to deliver a car across the country in
record time. Kowalski's back story is hinted at, which makes the film a
bit more interesting, but his back story takes up only a few minutes of
The characters and performances are often vacuous, failing to leave an impression. Barry Newman is the chief culprit, turning in a most colourless, emotionless performance where he personally offers little insight into his character. The exception is Cleavon Little as the hyperactive DJ Super-Soul; his interplay with Newman is novel, some of his dialogue is memorable (indeed, his rambling about Kowalski and the 'police Nazis' was quoted by Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses twenty years later) and his input gives the film some badly needed impetus.
Luckily though, Vanishing Point works better on other levels. For instance, it has that early 1970's style that makes the film more compelling than it should be. Newman is chiefly responsible for this; he is certainly emotionless, but that allows him to develop an air of 'cool' that suits the film. The white Dodge Challenger is a very nice touch.
The early 70's style also allows it to work as a period piece; Kowalski encounters counter-culture hippies, religious fanatics in the desert and the police. The fractious state of race relations between blacks and whites at that time is also highlighted. On the downside, it does substantially date the film. It's a cult classic for a reason; as the failed 1997 remake demonstrated, a movie like Vanishing Point would not work nearly as well in another era.
It also works reasonably well as a straight driving film. The film is punctuated with enough car crashes and chases to move the film forward.
However, the film's real saving grace is in its many allegories. The largely empty plot does ironically enable this, because you can read whatever you want into the film. I therefore understand why the plot is so empty, because the many allegories punctuated within the film make it intriguing to watch. For instance, why did Kowalski's face shine towards the end? Why were there so many STOP signs? Was Super-Soul a spiritual guide to Kowalski? You can also have fun inventing allegories that weren't even intended - why was the Dodge Challenger white, for example?
Ultimately, Vanishing Point is not the easiest film to assess. In conventional terms, I would not rank the film particularly highly because the plot, characters, acting and dialogue are often unimpressive. As such, the casual movie viewer may not particularly identify with it. However, Vanishing Point is not a particularly conventional film; like most good films it moves itself forward well, but it is the film's style and allegorical nature that largely keeps the interest and pushes the film above the ruck of many other driving movies. I also admit that the film could not have been as effective as an allegory if the plot wasn't so insubstantial. With this in mind, I have decided to give it:
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Richard C. Sarafian's rampaging road epic "Vanishing Point" qualifies as one of the seminal counterculture melodramas of the early 1970s. This careening car chase between a car delivery driver in a creamy white Dodge Challenger and the authorities in three states constitutes an existential commentary about race relations, morality, and freedom. "Vanishing Point" amounts to "Easy Rider" on four wheels. Basically, Kowalski makes a wager with his African-American speed dealer that he can take a car from Denver, Colorado, to San Francisco, California, in 15 hours. This deceptively simple saga scrutinizes the life of our hero in flashback as he sets out to deliver a car and emerges as a media superstar before he dies in an explosive crash in the middle of nowhere. Between the time that he shows up to take delivery of the Challenger and he dies on the symbolic horns of two earth-moving bulldozers, Kowalski emerges as a patron saint of lost causes. He served in the U.S. Army, fought in Vietnam, and received a Medal of Honor. After the war, he became a cop, witnessed corruption first-hand, and got drummed out of the ranks because he refused to countenance corruption. He channeled his energies into racing motorcycles and automobiles until he took up delivering car and crunching on speed. Barry Newman plays Kowalski as a sympathetic but enigmatic character who refuses to take advantage of anybody, especially nubile women who throw themselves at him and offer him the both sex and drugs. He attracts all kinds of folks to his cause. An African-American radio disc jockey named 'Super Soul' at a remote radio station with call letters that could be interpreted as an abbreviation of its last name, free-spirited hippies with ample supplies of narcotics, and elderly adventurers flock to his side in supreme defiance of the law. Kowalski has a polarizing effect on the law. The good authorities realize that they can only cite him for recklessness driver. When they try to persuade two homosexuals who tried to rob him to swear out complaints against him, they refuse. Sarafian has called "Vanishing Point" a western about a lone rider, a champion of justice who refuses to knuckle under to an oppressive regime, literally a man heading west. Sarafian stages the story out in the wide open spaces of the sprawling American southwest and tells the story in flashbacks when our hero isn't barreling down one road or another, evening in the middle of the desert with cops on bikes, prowl cars, and helicopters in fast pursuit. Clearly, "Vanishing Point" provided the inspiration for "Two-Lane Blacktop," "The Sugarland Express," and "Smoky and the Bandit." What it lacks in depth, it makes up for with adrenaline.
Barry Newman played his swan song long before he stumbled into TV
celebrity. At least those of us who met him first on the long road to
California in 1971 are concerned. As TV's Petrocelli, like Gilligan
before him, perhaps hard to shake off the stigma of an over emphasized
character, few were to ever again to remember his honest and steadfast
portrayals of the charismatic characters he played in 49 other films.
If pigeonholed into the iconic role of "Kowalski", Colorado plate,
OA5599" in David Sarafian's timeless and mournful Vanishing Point has
never-less become his legacy, NO ONE could have been Kowalski better.
For lovers of this film he is forever carved into memory as the
enigmatic character that screenwriter Malcom Hart intended him to be...
Through the eyes "Supersoul" (Cleavon Little):
"And there goes the Challenger, being chased by the blue, blue meanies on wheels.
"The vicious traffic squad cars are after our lone driver, the last American hero, the electric Shinta, the demigod, the super driver of the Golden West.
"Two nasty Nazi cars are close behind the beautiful lone driver, the police numbers are getting' closer, closer, closer to our soul hero in his soul-mobile.
"Yeah, baby. They're about to strike. They're gonna get him, smash him, rape the last beautiful, free soul on this planet. But, it is written:
"If the evil spirit arms the tiger with claws, Brahman provided wings for the dove." Thus spake the super guru."
Perhaps there is much to learn by re-examining this 70's Hemi version of Kwai Chang Caine...or perhaps not. Still, for those who were young enough to have seen this film splattered into the flickering light of drive-in theatre ,it will always stick to the memory. A test of one's self. Could any of us ever know the freedom of Kowalski's effortless surrender?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There might have been a point (like back in the early Seventies when
this film came out) when I would have considered a picture like this a
monumental waste of time. I was merely twenty then, and the idea of
racing across the countryside didn't present to me the kind of thing
that would be worth doing, never mind watching it take place on a movie
screen for an hour and a half. But just like a lot of films, this isn't
so much about what's happening on screen as much as it is about what's
happening inside the head of it's protagonist. Barry Newman's Kowalski
wasn't a loser, he had been a part of civil society for about as long
as forging a career made any sense at all. However when events in his
life began to blur the edges of sanity, he decided to reverse course
and turn completely the other way.
Equating speed with freedom of the soul, and with a sense of the blind leading the blind (Cleavon Little as 'Super Soul'), "Vanishing Point" does make IT's point - a life half realized isn't worth living at all. All metaphorical of course, as suicide does have a way of removing any other options, but still, the message is in choosing how one will live. Grittily explored here with stark desert landscapes, red-neck racists and unimaginable delights riding in on a motorcycle, one can't help re-evaluating this message flick from almost forty years ago for what it's worth, a rebellious slap in the face of conformity.
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