Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) Poster

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A poetic description of a world without possibilities
howard.schumann22 August 2005
Long out of circulation because of disputes over music rights, Two-Lane Blacktop, now available on DVD, is one of the most original and compelling American movies of the twentieth century. It is a road movie, a film about cars, and a search for meaning in American life that could easily be called "Zen and the Art of Drag Racing". Shot from the inside of a car, it is an authentic vision of what it is like to be driving across America at a specific historical moment. Promoted by Universal Studios in 1971 as an answer to Columbia's Easy Rider, the film was originally released to less than enthusiastic audiences but has since taken on the status of cult classic and it is richly deserved. Unlike Easy Rider, it is a film that simply observes and what it sees is pure Americana: its people, gas stations, diners, and drag strips. We feel the claustrophobia, the spaces, the speed, and the loneliness.

The film stars singers James Taylor (Fire and Rain) and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys as taciturn drag races who drive their souped-up 1955 Chevy across the country challenging locals to a drag race. The main characters are drifters. They come from nowhere and are headed east, toward a destination that is murky at best. They are people whose reality begins and ends with their machines. Everyone talks about how good life can be -- somewhere else -- in New York, Chicago, the beaches of Florida, and the coast of Mexico, somewhere up the road apiece. Warren Oates, a Monte Hellman regular, turns in a truly outstanding performance as the driver of a Pontiac GTO who challenges Taylor and Wilson to a cross-country race, the prize being the ownership of the cars. GTO is a talkative fellow who concocts tall tales about his background to impress every hitchhiker he picks up (one is a gay cowboy played by Harry Dean Stanton). He is a sad and perhaps self-destructive individual but he is human and you can reach out to him and feel his pathos.

First time actors Taylor and Wilson express little emotion and there is scant dialogue but they also seem right for their roles. Their total focus is on their car. Though the Chevy looks old and ugly, it is as powerful as any car on the road and the driver and the mechanic treat it like their own flesh and blood, constantly fine tuning to maintain its impeccable performance. They go from town to town, just trying to survive by racing. In the words of author John Banville, they "have no past, no foreseeable future, only the steady pulse of a changeless present". Along the way they pick up a cherubic young roadie (Laurie Bird) who is willing to go wherever the ride takes her. After each of the boys has sex with her in motel rooms and in the car, she becomes moody and resentful and fears that she is being used but has nowhere else to go. Though the main thrust of the plot is the race to Washington, DC, the focus seems to get lost along the way, and the film becomes more of a character study of the lack of human connection than about racing.

The film looks for the soul of America in the early 1970s and comes up empty. It was released in 1971 at a time when the hopes and dreams of the '60s counter culture had given way to the disillusion of Kent State and Altamonte, the bombing of Cambodia, and the media's cynical preemption of the Hippie movement.

The movie is about everything and nothing. Everyone is biding their time waiting for life to turn out rather than creating the possibility. Though they live for the moment there is no joy, only the gnawing reality of something missing. They are like many of us, skimming along on the surface of life, reminiscing about a goal that once seemed real but is now just out of reach. They look ahead to a blank future, while ignoring the life around them, what is in the present moment. Two-Lane Blacktop is an exceptionally beautiful film, a poetic description of a world without possibilities. It may also be the definitive statement of the anguish of the materialist paradigm that has begun to crumble and fall apart.
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More Than a B-Movie Warning: Spoilers
Two-Lane Blacktop is not the piece of disposable drive-in fare it appears to be - it has a quality that sticks with you, a sense of sadness and disenchantment that approaches hard-scrabble poetry. Monte Hellman has created a movie that succeeds almost entirely via tone. It's not the sort of movie that connects to us in the usual ways, through melodramatic artifice or overt displays of emotion. The key to its success is that it never really connects with us at all - it remains abstract, wrapped up in its own little arcane, ritualistic world. Yet there's something familiar about this place too, the sense of disconnectedness and longing. Despite the movie's fetishistic, self-absorbed quality, there's a universality that is undeniable. We might not be that interested in the arcana of life as itinerant drag-racers, but we can relate to their need for a meaningful experience and the sadness of their ultimate failure to connect.

Hellman stages the action in such a way as to de-emphasize any normal sense of character and to point-up the relationship between the characters and their machines, which is the real theme of the movie. These people have no identity away from their cars - the two main protagonists, played by creepy singer-songwriter James Taylor and lunky Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, spend almost the entire movie talking about cars, driving or working on their jalopy (a souped-up '55 Chevy coupe for those of you keeping score). Taylor, the driver, is a crack drag-racer, his entire existence revolving around racing or setting up races or driving to the next race. The performance Taylor gives can only be described as detached, yet this druggy, cut-off quality is perfect for the character, who strikes one as the kind of fanatic who can only be really alive when he's doing the one thing he loves. He seems barely aware of the movie's female lead, a wandering hippie-chick who provides a moment or two of distraction from the road, the perpetual search for excitement, but can't tear any of the men away from their machines for long (not that she doesn't try). The movie is one big Kenneth Anger-like fetishistic male fantasy about cars, their power and speed, and the sense of identity one derives from possessing and controlling them.

This makes the movie seem like a bummer, but trust me when I say that it's not. It's an unconventional movie to be sure, but it still provides some conventional B-movie amusement along the way - primarily in the form of Warren Oates, who gives a vivid, fully-realized performance as a mid-life-crisis sufferer with a rather loose sense of the truth. This pathological liar in a banana-yellow GTO is a marvelous caricature of the classic American jerk. Oates, a brilliant sketcher of masculine bluster, creates one of his most memorable sleazy/sympathetic characters, a pitiful braggart who can't even fix his own carburetor when it springs a leak - the character's impotence being expressed in terms of automotive know-how, which is fitting given the film's gear-head ethic. Yet Hellman doesn't just laugh at Oates - he's broad-minded enough to see what the impotent nit-wit in the muscle-car has in common with his super-ethical heroes, namely this inexpressible yearning. These are not John Cassavettes heroes spraying their masculine angst all over the screen like palsy victims though. They're monosyllabic highway cave-men, half-civilized car-fetishists for whom women are inexplicable, unconquerable creatures, and for whom life is one big escape from something they can't even put into words. This non-verbal, semi-poetic quality of the characters is sometimes a little hard to swallow, but it's often funny too. It's like Kerouac if Kerouac had had a sense of humor.

In Easy Rider the motorcycles were symbolic of rebellion, the spirit of independence supposedly embodied by bikers, but there's nothing especially rebellious about the characters in Two-Lane Blacktop. Hellman's not trying to take an ideological stance like Dennis Hopper, who saw his biker-fantasy as revolutionary - his movie is less '60s than '70s, less hippie-era trip than post-'60s trance-out. It has more in common with Loving and Blume in Love than with Easy Rider, the sense of America as this great disjointed place where no one has anything to believe in except the next experience, the next empty affair or drug-party or drag-race. The car-crazies of Two-Lane Blacktop are not martyrs like the bikers in Hopper's trippy opus, they're lost souls like Nicholson's Robert Dupea from Five Easy Pieces. They're characters of a certain tragic dimension, but the tragedy is rather non-descript. There are no great flaming climaxes in Two-Lane Blacktop, nothing as trumped-up as the finale of Easy Rider, but there is this portentousness, this sense of doom hovering over the characters - and it's this sense of doom that keeps Hellman's movie from floating off into some romantic la-la land. Kerouac seemed totally committed to the idea of irresponsibility as freedom, but Hellman isn't quite so convinced. Taylor and Wilson, as Kerouacian as they are, are not blissful libertines but thoughtful sober people, and Hellman suggests some awareness on their part of what a dead-end their lives really are. As wrapped up in car-culture as the movie may be, it never quite buys into the myths of the open road. There's always this grain of doubt, and it's this lack of certainty, this touch of ambivalence, that makes Two-Lane Blacktop more than just some loud, grease-spattered B-movie highway extravaganza.
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Straighter Story
Krustallos29 August 2003
In my view this is the best road movie ever made. Carping about the slow pace or minimal dialogue is like complaining Scorsese's movies are too violent or the Marx Brothers too zany.

Like the car the two friends drive, this is an exercise in stripping things down to their essentials in search of authenticity. Like a Ramones song or an Edward Hopper painting there is absolutely nothing here that doesn't need to be.

Warren Oates' character on the other hand is a study in inauthenticity. After visiting the US in the 80's and 90's with its malls and fast food chains (and indeed looking at the kind of product Hollywood churns out these days) it's clear that his kind won the race in the end.

I've seen this on TV and in art cinemas a couple of times and I'm glad to hear I can now get the DVD. A true American classic.
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A masterpiece from the criminally underrated Monte Hellman. One of the greatest road movies ever made.
Infofreak25 April 2003
As an admirer of Monte Hellman's superb 1960s westerns 'Ride In The Whirlwind' and 'The Shooting' I had been dying to see 'Two-Lane Blacktop' for many years as most people who have seen it regard it as Hellman's best movie, and one of the greatest road movies ever made. Impossible to find on video, and rarely (if ever) screened on TV here in Australia, I finally managed to get hold of it on DVD, and boy, does this movie REALLY live up to its reputation! I think if it had have been more easy to see over the last thirty years it would be spoken of in the same breath as 'Easy Rider'. Both movies are landmarks. Existential road movies that really capture a lost slice of Americana. Hellman, like so many other talented directors, got his first breaks from b-grade legend Roger Corman. But Hellman's unwillingness to compromise, and a lot of bad luck, sadly meant that he never crossed over into the mainstream like other Corman proteges like Coppola and Demme. Too bad, because 'The Shooting' and 'Two-Lane Blacktop' showed he had talent and originality to burn. Both movies feature the legendary character actor Warren Oates ('The Wild Bunch', 'Dillinger', 'Race With The Devil', 'Drum', 'Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia'), and Oates fans MUST see this movie as his performance is simply superb. Oates plays G.T.O. a drifter and dreamer who challenges two young revheads (played by James Taylor and The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson) to a cross country car race. The winner gets the other drivers pink slip and (possibly) the affections of "The Girl", played by the late Laurie Bird (who only made two movies after this one and who tragically suicided in her mid twenties). Taylor, Wilson and Bird all give low key, almost non-performances. None were actors before they filmed this, but their minimalistic styles suit the material wonderfully. By contrast Oates is just dynamite and dominates every scene he appears in. I'd say this, and Peckinpah's cult classic 'Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia', are his two most impressive performances. It's worth watching this movie just to see Oates, but there's a lot more going for it. It is however an acquired taste, and if you aren't a fan of 1970s movies you may find it hard going. Please persevere, it's really worth it! Also keep an eye out for Harry Dean Stanton's unforgettable cameo as a lonely hitchhiker. Stanton had previously worked with Hellman in 'Ride In The Whirlwind' alongside Jack Nicholson and Cameron Mitchell, and would go on to appear with Oates and Laurie Bird in Hellman's next movie, the controversial 'Cockfighter', another difficult one to get hold of (until now). 'Two-Lane Blactop' is one of the best movies I've ever seen, and I can't recommend it highly enough! An American classic. It's pure magic!
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Example of what makes a movie great...
wytshark28 July 1999
Problems with music rights have kept this film from being seen much since its release, which is a real shame. Recently, the Roan Group released a laserdisc version (not sure if there is a VHS or DVD version), which I rented on a total whim. It turned out to be one of those rare treasures that not only lives up to its hype--it exceeds it. Anyone who wants to know why so many of today's films are sub-par would do themselves a favor by exploring this title. The problem with movies today is that everything is so formulaic, characters (if any are present) are forced to react in completely illogical ways just so the plot can hit prefabricated beats. "Two Lane Blacktop" follows the characters and lets the plot flow from the dynamics between them. Add to that some really unique characters and what you end up with is a movie that's always coming at you from the most unexpected angles, and not one second of it feels false or forced. The writing, directing and acting are dead-on, with Warren Oates a stand-out (his performance should be studied by anyone who wants to act), and James Taylor surprisingly intense and charismatic. It should be noted that this is not an action movie, so don't go into it looking for suspense or great racing scenes. Rather, you should sit back and let this movie work its almost invisible magic on you. And don't be surprised if you're still thinking about it days later.
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A pure slice of Americana
Afracious24 December 1999
Two Lane Blacktop is one of those movies that doesn't offer a lot of narrative and its characters don't have names, but it seduces us with its images of freedom and a seemingly constant nomadic cruise through beautiful landscapes. The four prominent characters consist of three car-enthusiasts and a hitchhiker. The brilliant Warren Oates is the star of the show as 'G.T.O', the driver of a bright yellow 1970 Pontiac G.T.O, who passes a 1955 Chevy driven by 'The Driver', musician James Taylor, who is accompanied by 'The Mechanic', former Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, and a hitchhiker they pick up 'The Girl', Laurie Bird. Later at a gas station they agree to a cross country race to Washington D.C. and we follow them on their way. G.T.O picks up some weird hitchhikers, or creeps as he calls them, including a homosexual who tries it on, played by Harry Dean Stanton. He tells these creeps some very exaggerated tall tales of his life and that is one of the resounding features of the film, with the ultimate statement being the one he tells to two soldiers he picks up near the end, which turns the film around from its outlook at the beginning. Also the other theme seems to be who can win the affection of 'The Girl'?, the old guy or the two young ones? But the film is memorable because of its rarity (it has never been released on video and is still unavailable, but has just been released on DVD) and its bizarre and infamous conclusion. But it is a film that you will want to watch again and again.
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How Good Is This Film?
Darren-1225 March 2004
This is either the best film I've ever seen, or just an interesting exercise in film-making that is ultimately of little value. The problem is that I can't decide which! No film has ever given me as much trouble in terms of my deciding where to place it in my personal Top 250 list. I mean, I know it's difficult to compare the relative merits of movies from different genres (e.g. "Schindler's List" vs "Monty Python And The Holy Grail"), but this movie is so unlike almost any others that I still don't know what to make of it.

I tried listening to the DVD commentary for some help, but Monte Hellman and Gary Kurtz had obviously pre-decided that they wouldn't talk about any aspect of the "meaning" or intent of the movie, preferring to concentrate on technical aspects such as pre-production, casting, locations, logistics, acting, lighting, sound, camera-work etc. I kind of respect them for this - leaving Joe Public to use his/her own brain in order to decide what the movie is all about.

One of the people in a featurette on the DVD said that "people haven't begun to realise how good Two-Lane Blacktop is" and I think that's right - the more I think about it, the better this film becomes in my estimation.

My take on the movie is that it's basically a contrast of the two extremes of human behaviour, as characterised by the brash, noisy "GTO" played by Warren Oates and the quiet, understated-to-the-point-of-lifelessness "Driver" and "Mechanic" - their personalities perfectly mirrored in their choice of cars. Most people's personalities lie somewhere in between, but by juxtaposing the extremes it forces one to think about one's place in that spectrum. "The Girl" is mainly a plot device to create a little bit of dramatic tension, as blokes left to themselves tend to go with the status quo. But we only want a little bit of drama, because that's not really the point, and too much drama would distract from the underlying theme.

I really love the "space" in this movie: the long takes, the long silences, the wide-open scenery, the fact that nobody SAYS anything (Warren Oates talks a lot, but never SAYS much). In modern life in general, I think people talk too much - try sitting still and shutting up for 103 minutes while watching this movie.

Not that I suppose anyone is interested, but I eventually rated this at about #70 in my Top 250, but next time I watch it I may move it up to #1 or drop it out of the 250 entirely...
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Route 666
Lechuguilla8 April 2008
Nostalgic of late 60s and early 70s American culture, this film is hard to come to grips with. At face value it's nothing more than a poorly plotted road trip across the U.S. Southwest, as two guys and a girl, in a 1950's hotrod, race a guy named G.T.O (Warren Oates) in his yellow muscle car.

The film's concept is a little like that of the early 1960's TV series "Route 66". But the approach here is totally different. Director Monte Hellman designed "Two-Lane Blacktop" as if it were a docudrama. Dialogue is minimal and not canned, camera work is unobtrusive with very long camera "takes", none of the actors wear makeup, non-actors play bit parts, there are minimal plot contrivances, and so far as I could determine there are no indoor movie sets. As such, the film reminds me of "Woodstock" (1970).

That's both good and bad. Lack of acting experience renders James Taylor and Dennis Wilson more natural than what could be expected with trained actors. It's bad because neither Dennis Wilson nor James Taylor could act, and their entertainment quotient is zilch. In performances, the film thus bears a striking resemblance to "Zabriskie Point" (1970).

For the above reasons, a lot of viewers will not like this film. The plot, such as it is, is super slow and the performances are drab. And there are no special effects to function as distractions. So ...

What you have in "Two-Lane Blacktop" is a 1970's art-house film. What it lacks in entertainment value the film makes up for with its heavy-duty philosophical and existential themes. An economy of language wherein nothing in the film is "explained", the tacit praise of the prosaic, and the almost stifling trust in the present moment, all speak to the human heart, as the voice of nihilistic romanticism. There is no freedom here, no escape, no change, nor redemption. The landscape horizon never gets closer. It's the myth of freedom and the embrace of alienation. No matter how far you travel, you never actually arrive. It's the journey that matters, on the devil's highway. But that's life.
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Road to nowhere
TheFerryman13 March 2003
Two Lane Blacktop is, together with Red Line 7000, perhaps the best film about car racing ever made.

The absence of plot and the minimal characterization reminds of another american film of the 70's, Walter Hill's `The Driver. What that film was for the noir genre this one is for the road-movie, a type of picture that was reaching its height around the time.

Monte Hellman, a crafted director that got his apprentice under the wings of Roger Corman, presents an empty world of wasted landscapes, forgotten towns and sleepy gas stations populated by ghostly and vanishing archetypes. They appear whenever they are needed, perform their actions and disappear immediately, as those hitchhikers picked up by G.T.O. that work as samples of possibilities of America.

Car racing is reputed to be a passion, but the people over here is deprived of feelings. They drive continually, there where the wind blows or whenever there's a chance to make money to keep-on going. They hardly talk with each other, and when they do it seems that they are not listening. The impressive cast is led by two rock stars (James Taylor and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys) and the icon Warren Oates. Despite their apparent differences they all constitute a single and exchangeable character, shown by a number of movements taking place throughout the film -driving each other's cars, behind the wheel or at the front seat, competing against each other or together performing a task.

This is an exercise of form, a raw vision of a country falling into pieces with nowhere to go, lost in cyclical repetition and in the eve of self-destruction, as the outstanding last frame of the film burning the screen poetically concludes.
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last great film of the sixties even though filmed in 1971
gooseboy13 February 2001
First off Monte Hellman is a genius. Secondly Two Lane Blacktop is one of the greatest "road" films of all time. In the film, like most road movies, the land becomes a character within itself, and Hellman creates that here. Like that of Rio Bravo with Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson, Hellman chooses two individuals out of there element in selecting Dennis Wilson and James Taylor. One might say that the two men don't say much, but when they do it is to the point, and in fact it is what they don't say that matters. Not to leave out Warren Oates, quite possibly the real lead in the film. Oates gives a top notch performance in all the films he graces, but here as GTO he really out does himself. Those who love films such as Easy Rider, and later Vanishing Point, will chalk this up, not only as one of the greatest "road" movies of all time, but as one of the lasts attempts at true"American" freedom.
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Pure and unforgettable expression of the 1960s.
EThompsonUMD24 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"Two-Lane Blacktop" [1971] is a cult road film starring James Taylor in his only film appearance, Dennis Wilson of Beach Boys fame, Warren Oates fresh from his career making appearance in Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch," Harry Dean Stanton in a memorable cameo as a homosexual hitchhiker, and Laurie Bird, whose short life and career would be capped tragically by suicide in her boyfriend Art Garfunkel's apartment.

In many respects "Two-Lane Blacktop" holds up better than the much more celebrated "Easy Rider" released a year or two earlier. Whereas "Easy Rider" is seriously dated by drug glorification, psychedelic imagery, hair styles, clothing fashions, and heavy-handed anti-establishment politics, "Two Lane" ties more deeply and less topically into the American Romantic tradition begun by Walt Whitman and re-invented in the 1950s by Jack Kerouac and the Beats. As in Kerouac's "On the Road," the journey across America that structures "Two Lane" is both a quest to grasp the huge American landscape and a thrust at freedom from the restraints of modern civilization as expressed through the car culture and youthful rebellion born in the 1950s and burgeoning in the 1960s. As director Monte Hellman suggests on the Criterion DVD release, "Two Lane Blacktop," despite its official release date, is the last movie of the 1960s.

The souped up 1955 Chevy driven by Taylor and tended to by his mechanic sidekick Wilson is the film's central symbol for the Romantic notion of burning with a white hot flame. ("You can never go fast enough.") Similarly, travel on mythic Route 66 back from West to East is a reversal/renewal of the path followed in the founding of the country. Yet none of the principal characters actually make it back to Washington D. C., New York, or Florida - the three east coast locations variously mentioned as geographical goals. Their journey and ours leads into the rural, back-roads heart of the country, leaving us there and making the next step in the journey open and unknown.

In spirit and vision "Two Lane" has much in common with "Breathless," the defining work of the French New Wave. Like Godard's Bogie-inspired Michel, "Two Lane"'s main characters adopt arbitrary identities - in their case, racing hustlers and wandering free spirits. Like Michel too, they impose an arbitrary meaning on their world. While his takes the form of petty thievery and sexual adventure, theirs is a cross country race for pink slips. Yet the race is abandoned and even forgotten by film's end. Only life in the moment has any meaning; once an "end" is glimpsed, the quest is abandoned in favor of some new impulse.

The film shares much else with the French New Wave as well, especially its rejection of big budget studio formulas for structuring stories. The film was shot on location in sequence as the actors were actually making the cross country journey that the film was fictionalizing. There was a deliberate use of spontaneous and accidental event (e.g. a rainstorm that wasn't scripted). To keep the actors in the "present," only the most experienced one of them, Warren Oates, was allowed to see the script. No use was made of make-up, set design, special effects or other accoutrements of the Hollywood system. The actors were youthful and inexperienced (other than Oates) and the plot, such as it is, is riddled with deliberate aimlessness and disproportion, ending anti-climactically and with little or nothing resolved.

In most ways "Two Lane Blacktop" is really an anti-road movie and those who watch it thinking they will be rewarded by exciting car races and sexual adventure are in for a big disappointment. Ultimately the film isn't about car racing at all, but about defining one's self in an existential void. It's about living absolutely in the present, in the here and now - with the past irrelevant and the future unknown. More than anything, this extreme and unapologetic romantic bent is what makes "Two Lane Blacktop" such a pure and unforgettable expression of the 1960s.
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A superb road movie - and more than a road movie.
chaos-rampant4 August 2008
Warren Oates plays a GTO driver who, on his road East, challenges two car nuts for "pink slips". The first to get to Washington D.C. wins the other's car. The two young guys have also picked up a girl on their way, or more accurately, she just got in their car, no questions asked; who she is, where she's going, nada. She's just tagging along for the ride. All four major characters are drifters, men (and woman) with no names, and their credit titles reflect that: G.T.O., The Driver, The Mechanic, The Girl. They're parts of a long tradition of genre anti-heroes, drifters and outcasts, that includes the likes of Sanjuro (Yojimbo) and The Man with No Name.

However they face the same paradox every cinematic anti-hero faces: by separating themselves from society, by refusing to sit still and conform, they're free; it's just them, the engine revving and the road. The problem is that even though they are free, they don't seem to realize it. They keep trying to define themselves through society values. As Warren Oates muses about settling down: "If I'm not grounded pretty soon, I'm gonna go into orbit". The only thing that still permits these people identity and a place in society is through their cars. If the end is a symbolic representation of this moral double-bind that pushes them into two opposite directions, only Monte Hellman knows.

The reason I'm musing about characters in a car movie however is simple. Two-Lane Blacktop is not just about the race between a 1955 Chevy and a 1970 Pontiac. And that's probably why the movie meanders seemingly aimlessly in places, as if in a trance. It's not a racing movie. It doesn't try to be a tight, gripping thriller. In that light, the sometimes slow pacing becomes part of what defines the movie. It feels more like some sort of existential journey through 70's America. But the beauty (and Hellman's talent) is that he refuses the easy way out of obvious allegories (the kind of which Jarmusch used in Dead Man). Things are pretty much open and left for interpretation. But as the two cars cross country on their way to Washington D.C., Hellman captures the zeitgeist of the times in a unique way. I don't know how this slice of Americana looks in the eyes of Americans, but for a European like me, it paints the country in the same mythic colours Sergio Leone's movies did. The difference being this is not a reconstruction of a time and era seen through the eyes of a fascinated European director, but real locations and people.

In any way, Two-Lane Blacktop is closer to Vanishing Point than Gone in 60 Seconds. A superb road movie on all counts and more than a road movie.
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Not just for gearheads
Druff8 May 2001
Warning: Spoilers
A good friend of mine is an insanely obsessed car-freak. One day he turned on his TV and popped a DVD into the player, and we watched Two Lane Blacktop. I'm not into cars at all, but I was transfixed by this movie. When it was all over, I didn't find it overly existential or pretentious or confusing or boring in the slightest. I saw it as a very simple yet compelling story; Two men live for only one thing: racing their car, which has been stripped down to its barest essentials in order to give it maximum speed. Things like heaters and rear seats have been removed... steel has been replaced with fiberglass. And as they have done with their car, they have stripped away all "extraneous" elements from their lives, and from their very selves. They have no need for conversation or music, or for love or anger or any other emotion for that matter. They're cold and dehumanized. As they make their way across the landscape, they meet an older man who has lost his life and identity, and is desperately searching for new ones. Most important, they are joined by a girl who wants only one thing: human contact. As I saw it, the central point of the story is how she affects the men, one of them more than the others. I believe this explains the notoriously "ambiguous" ending. It isn't a perfect film by any means. Laurie Bird's neophyte status is painfully obvious in some of her scenes. At times this film may be too subtle and understated for its own good. It seems that some of the most important and basic plot elements are left to the viewer to infer. Then again, this may again be part of the "stripped down" theme that is so prevalent throughout. Whatever the case, it's an incredibly unique and very haunting film. I can certainly understand that it isn't for everyone. Two Lane Blacktop is actually much like 2001: A Space Odyssey in that respect; some will inevitably regard it as boring and pointless. Others will, for lack of a less elitist and arrogant term, "get it." I heartily recommend that everyone sees it for themselves at least once, and find out which group you belong to.
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Easy Rider for Car Freaks
krorie16 February 2006
In "Easy Rider" two bikers are in search of American as they travel from coast to coast. The lead biker even calls himself Captain America. In "Two-Lane Blacktop" two car freaks, one a mechanic the other a driver, speed across the nation in search of what? Cars to race? Their trip turns into a cross-country race between their 55 Chevy and a GTO. How the driver of the GTO (played by Warren Oates) got the car depends on which of his stories the viewer believes. The revelation at the end of the film may possibly be the truth.

This film by existentialist director Monte Hellman who later helped produce Quentin Tarantino's seminal "Reservoir Dogs" is an important one. The dialog and acting are minimal, only one of the leads is a professional actor, Warren Oates. The others are two recording artists, James Taylor of "Fire and Rain" fame, and Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys and a flower child Laurie Bird who tragically committed suicide in Art Garfunkel's apartment a few years later (ironically Garfunkel had helped Paul Simon sing the hit "I've gone to look for America"). The only other professional actor in the movie that this viewer recognized was Harry Dean Stanton who played the homosexual Oklahoma hitchhiker. This gives the film a more realistic feel and adds to the minimalism of the script and direction. The abrupt ending is a bit disconcerting but after a few viewings it makes more sense.

In "Easy Rider" the rock music was an integral part of the story. The soundtrack is one of the best ever. The music in "Two-Lane Blacktop" serves as mere background, kept so low that at times it's difficult to hear. There's a wild version of "Hit the Road Jack" by Jerry Lee Lewis who pumps the keyboard so fast that at times it sounds as if the keys are leaving the piano. The first rock song about racing, Chuck Berry's "Maybelline," is also heard at one point. It's hard for the listener to discern if Berry wrote the song about a woman or about a car. Otherwise the music corresponds with the simplicity of the rest of the flick.

The existential humor is easy to miss on the first viewing. GTO confesses to Mechanic and Driver that he is tired of picking up fantasies. Another part of the film has Driver asking Mechanic a question. Mechanic tells Driver to pull over and stop because it will take him a while to explain. When Driver stops it takes Mechanic only one sentence to give him his answer.

The viewer needs to watch "Two-Lane Blacktop" several times to get its full impact. The time is not wasted for the true believer.
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2001, a road odyssey.
Elvoid8 September 2004
"Two Lane Blacktop" is plain and simple, the "2001" of both road movies and car movies. A film experience like none other that will transcend you further than anything considering you have the slightest sensitivity for driving... or for cars... or for any of the actors involved in it... which is not anyone, sure. Even though, it remains an amazing film beautifully written and shot. And when you know it started as a Disney project surfing on the "Beetle" series' success, it turns out to be a piece of history. But hell, it's so strong it doesn't even need the anecdote. What it deserves is his freaking place in cinematic heaven, and it's a shame it's not there yet and remains hard to see in a theater ! Monte Hellman never made one as strong. Rudy Wurlitzer holding the pen probably helps. Still, Hellman is a fine director to be rediscovered too. One thing is to remember : if you have never seen it and see it plays around your block, cancel any previous plan and just GO FOR IT !
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Waiting for GTO
gut-620 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Some of the last century's most celebrated works of art explored existentialist themes, featuring characters who waste their entire lives on repetitive, futile trivia, waiting in vain for some external redemption, even as they throw away opportunities to escape their rut. Dino Buzzati's novel "Desert of the Tartars", the most affecting novel I have read, was the standout in the literary field, and was made into a superb film. "Waiting for Godot" was the most celebrated theatrical example. But for me, the standout film in the genre is "Two Lane Blacktop". While the "Desert of the Tartars" film and Antonioni's Blacktop ripoff "The Passenger" were excellent, they, like the above-mentioned novel and play, were self-consciously artsy, the characters and situations artificial and fantastic. "Two Lane Blacktop" by contrast is believable & unpretentious, yet still an intelligent masterpiece. You can imagine such characters really could exist. Some people seem to think it's all about cars and drag racing, or is plot less. But as Hellman pointed out, the plot is entirely in the subtext. The Tennessee hitchhiker summed up the movie's true theme when belittling GTO's fantasies: "It's not important. What we got: 30…40 years?" Cars bore me, but I watched this 3 times in a row.

Like their cars, the nomadic main characters have stripped their lives of anything that might slow them down - relationships, non-automotive possessions, permanent homes, even names and identities beyond their automotive roles. Unconcerned with external appearances, they travel hundreds of miles slowly to drive a quarter-mile quickly, to make just enough money to continue the cycle. "How much bread we got?" from Driver elicits the reply "300 racing bread, 20 to spend" from Mechanic, which sums up their priorities. Their talk is similarly minimal, and what little they say concerns cars and racing. When Mechanic needs to communicate a single, complete sentence, he asks Driver to stop the car because "it's gonna take a long time". The only variance in their conversation topics (when Driver tells Girl of the even more minimal lifestyle of cicadas) is revealed by Hellman in his commentary to be an improvisation, prompted by excessive cicada noise during filming. No future, no past, on a road to nowhere, going nowhere fast - all clichés, but the boys live them out literally.

The immaculately groomed GTO (both man and car) picks up hitchhikers to inflict on them his self-aggrandizing life story, a different one each time. "Image and performance, that's what it's all about" he says, but that's another lie, and everyone see through and tires of him immediately. His lies invariably fail to win the respect he craves, so he tells more. The immaculate presentation conceals a leaky carburetor, personal failure and alcoholism. The one time GTO tries to tell the truth about himself, Driver stops him with "I don't wanna hear about it. It's not my problem." to maintain the context-free eternal present. Life on the road is about always leaving and never arriving. Similarly the Girl jumps wordlessly into their lives, jumps from man to man, then ends the movie by yet again leaving wordlessly with yet another nomad, symbolically dropping her baggage as she does so.

The cross-country race promises a break in the Sisyphean lives of the characters, with a large prize to the winner. They all tell the Girl insincere fantasies of going to Florida and beyond after winning to keep her around. But no sooner does the race start than both sides lose interest in achieving any real goal. "It doesn't interest me to be 500 miles ahead" says Driver, and Mechanic fixes their rival's carburetor trouble. When GTO races ahead with the Girl overnight while the boys are distracted earning cash, he slows to a crawl by next morning, and the boys easily catch up. Yet they turn back after going past him, and talk to him & Girl of picking up spares in Ohio instead of racing to Washington. Both parties stop when they see each other's cars parked at cafés. The only important thing to the boys is to impress upon others their automotive superiority, not earning money that might change their lifestyles.

The move was cut down from 3½ hours and it shows, in that there's not a single redundant scene in the 102 minutes of this ostensibly slow and plot less movie. The acting is flawless, apart from Laurie Bird, which is surprising given how few professional actors were used. Taylor especially is utterly convincing with his brooding, charismatic man-on-a-mission intensity. Bird (who suicided at 25) is suitably sulky and aloof, but her delivery is unconvincingly wooden.

Much as Joseph Conrad said of sailors, through their perpetual motion and dynamic impermanence the characters lives never change. Every road, drag strip, motel, conversation, gas station and roadside café is essentially the same. The film's final dialogue ends with GTO's biggest lie, closing with: "Those satisfactions are permanent". Nothing, least of all satisfaction, is permanent for these characters. The film's celebrated finale is perfect - burnout is the only possible exit from their locked-groove lifestyles.
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Over looked gem.
Peach-216 May 2000
Two-Lane Blacktop is an overlooked film and if there are any fans of Easy Rider out there who have not seen this film, go check it out. James Taylor and Dennis Wilson portray two car fanatics on the roads of America racing their custom '55 Chevy. Warren Oates plays GTO, the object of their passion for a race from the west to Washington D.C. The film is full of style and wit, basically a comment on the culture of the time when men judged each other very much the way they judged their cars. I had heard of Monte Hellman from a friend and I'm glad I decided to rent this film. Hellman shoots for style while keeping his screen compositions simple. The film is very subversive and sneaks around like a prowling cat. I fell for the characters, especially GTO, but I never really understood the drifter played by Laurie Bird. She comes into the film unexpected and tries every way to get away and just when you think she's gone from the picture, she reappears. I felt she was in the way. There is also a small performance from Harry Dean Stanton that is endearing. This is a treasure for independant film makers as the film was made for very low cost. If you can rent the DVD of Two-Lane Blacktop do so, the transfer is very nice and the film really is a standout on disc.
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gtc836 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is about a pair of twenty-somethings driving aimlessly across America in a souped up Chevy. Combined, they have enough personality to fill a shot glass halfway. They get in drag races and win money to finance...more drag races. Along the way they meet a girl, but they seem incapable of talking about anything but cars, which leaves her interminably bored. They also meet a guy in a Pontiac GTO. He's a typical used car salesman type of guy, everything he says is cocky BS.

Anyhow, they decide to race this guy across the country to Washington D.C. Not much racing is really involved, they spend most of their time sitting in diners. Eventually the girl takes off with some guy on a motorcycle. The guys are slightly bummed. The race to D.C. just sort of fizzles out, the movie gets so bored with itself that it can't possibly continue, so it ends.
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Slow-code25 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
An almost slow motion, blow by blow account of three men in two muscle cars racing from the southwest to D.C. for pink slips.

Sparse, tacit, stark and entirely denouement - a perfect depiction of America at that time in history.

Brilliant depiction of early post-industrial America; its ennui and dull disillusionment: Two hugely powerful cars in a half-hearted race to an ambiguous finish line. Going nowhere fast.

The action is sparse, dialog very spare, and rural pre-interstate America drifts past in dull, desolate splendor.

Three of the characters almost never speak, and the fourth almost entirely tells lies.

There is no resolution. No goals are accomplished. The film even abandons the race. No one changes or gains insight. It's a perfect film.

Only technically a "car movie" because it takes place in cars. The characters could be walking, or on bicycles, or sitting in a bar playing cards.

I'm a wicked car nut, and this had been on my list for forty years. And now that I've seen it, the fact that it isn't a rip-snortin' action thriller, but a quiet character study is all good. Actually glad I didn't see it when I was nine years-old (when it came out...) this film deserves to be viewed with insight I didn't possess until my 20s or 30s.

Funny - when I heard the Doors song playing, I mused - "Probably why the film was in the can for so long. In my thoughts blamed Manzerak. But it was Morrison's estate that kept it unavailable until 2007. Figures...
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"Performance and image, that's what it's all about."
bensonmum212 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I watched Two-Lane Blacktop last night for the first time and all I can say is "Wow". While I may not be one of those who proclaims it to be the greatest movie ever filmed, it is certainly a fine piece of American cinema. I'm not sure I've ever seen a film quite like it. That's because there aren't many directors out there like Monte Hellman with the guts or patience to make something like Two-Lane Blacktop. For starters, the cast includes non-actors in three of the four main roles. I think all do a wonderful job and their lack of experience (James Taylor being the best example) actually worked in the movie's favor. The fourth actor, Warren Oates, gives another amazing performance.

Next, Hellman made a 102 minute movie that has about 15 minutes of dialogue. But you know what, it doesn't need any more. Taylor as The Driver and Dennis Wilson as The Mechanic don't need to talk. Their car does all the talking for them. And when they do talk (except for a rare, poignant moment near the end of the film when The Driver shows a hint of humanity), their conversations revolve around carburetors and such. Anyway, Oates' character, GTO, does enough talking for everyone.

Hellman also made a movie with so little action (other than a few race scenes) that some people look at it and see nothing. I don't know how many comments I've read that call Two-Lane Blacktop "boring" or "dull". I see a lot going on in the movie but I think it's either too subtle for some people or they don't have the patience to just go along with it. The movie can most likely be interpreted a number of ways, but to me Two-Lane Blacktop is the story of four people on a journey. For The Driver and The Mechanic, they may have found what they're looking for in their car. The thrill of the next race and the challenge of the next tune-up are all that matters to them. As for GTO, he's looking for his life. He spins wild tales hoping one will stick. And The Girl is looking for someone to take care of her. The Driver, The Mechanic, and GTO are nice enough, but all are so into their own reality that they are incapable of giving The Girl what she needs.

Finally, I've read all the charges that Two-Lane Blacktop has no ending. I'll argue that it ends the only way it could. Just because the movie's over, it doesn't mean that any of the four characters have finished their quests. They started the movie looking for something and they end it the same way.

I'll stop there. I just hope my ramblings aren't quite as incoherent as they seem. In the end, I can easily see why this movie's not for everyone, but for me, Two-Lane Blacktop works – and works well. It's an amazing experience that I'm glad I finally had . For what it's worth, I'll give it a 8/10. That rating will most likely go up after a repeat viewing now that I know what to expect.
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I waited 35 years for this?
Beaucoul31 August 2008
I've been hearing about this movie for a long time. Since the birth of the counter-culture. Like Brian Wilson's lost masterpiece, this movie has garnered mythic status over the years. Withdrawn from circulation because it uses the Door's "Moonlight Drive"--and you know how picky the Lizard King could be about commercial rights. Just ask his former band mates. His estate has taken Jim's last wishes to the letter. Only recently have they consented to allow the releasing of the film on DVD.

They would have been doing us all a great favor if they had declined consent. Although I was hoping for the best, I had a feeling this would turn out to be a turkey. But I never expected it to be quite such a Butterball.

I think if I were teaching a class on how to make a pretentious movie I would no doubt point to this film. There's something pathetic in its attempt at the mythic, including the names of its characters such as "The Driver," "The Mechanic," and "The Girl." At one point, "The Driver" refers to "The Girl" by her name, "Higgins," and one can't help but wonder how he learned her name, and why, if she had a name, it wasn't used throughout the script. It was another case of being jarred loose from the film, but by that time I had been jarred so many times I was beginning to feel like last season's apricots.

This is not a good example of a road movie. See "Easy Rider," "Vanishing Point," Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Anything but this.

One star for location shooting in Santa Fe, which hasn't changed much since the early seventies. Another star for using "Moonlight Drive," a personal favorite of mine. And a third and final star for some nice cinematography of the open road.

Beware the myth.
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Sometimes Less Really Is Less
dougdoepke31 March 2009
You know you're in the land of Deep Meaning when the characters are defined instead of named in the credit crawl. I recall the hype surrounding the movie's release. Audiences were yearning for a follow-up to the provocatively themed Easy Rider, something equally thoughtful about America's cultural malaise. But whereas the Fonda film manages to both entertain and reveal, Hellman's manages only a strained seriousness that overworks to the point of tedium. The Road has long been a metaphor for exploring life in America. But here we get a series of clichés about emptiness and alienation surrounding and including the ciphers that are the three main characters, and little else.

Now, the film apparently wants to use these existential poses and narrow focus to say something Deep about America or, if not America, at least about something. There are, of course, allusive films that do invite a deeper probing. The trouble here is that Hellman's style is simply too minimalist to reach beyond it's own cramped narrative to a broader social or cultural context that would provide the kind of meaning the movie's apparently reaching for. As a result, the film ends ironically as a kind of character study of three empty characters, and as a Rohrschach test for those intrigued by style over substance. Two Lane may be a cult film to many, especially to the Warren Oates fan club and to those who confuse seriousness with results. But there's a reason Easy Rider still defines the time period, while Two Lane has become grist for a "What Does It Mean" study group. It's best to keep in mind that sometimes less really does add up to not enough.
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Wanted to like it....Tried, but failed
santegeezhe10 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Let me start by saying that I'm a huge Beach Boys fan, so I simply had to see Dennis Wilson in his only dramatic role. That, and this film's cult status were enough to get me pretty excited about seeing it for myself. Unfortunately, there's little or no substance to this film, and its mostly a waste of time.

I suppose it could be compared to Easy Rider, but its only a superficial comparison. Both are road movies that reek of 60s excess, but for a number of reasons, Easy Rider succeeds where Two Lane Blacktop fails.

Firstly, this movie is roughly 90 minutes long. However, there's only about 15 minutes of dialog at most. That means that for most of the film absolutely nothing is happening. Sure, people sit in diners, stand around, fix or drive cars, but that's about it. And unfortunately, the novice acting skills of James Taylor and Dennis Wilson aren't enough to make up for this lack of anything occurring. I can't recall when I've seen a movie more badly in need of a plot.

On the positive side however, there are some lovely visuals in this movie. In fact, if it were simply an American travelogue I'd probably enjoy it a lot more. But as it stands, this movie is pretty much a non-event.

The ending is particularly weak. The first time I saw this movie was at an "art house" kind of theater, and I literally thought the projector had broken, so abrupt was the ending. It wasn't until I saw the credits rolling that I realized, "oh, that's it?".

To sum up, I wanted to like this movie. I tried, but failed.
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Minimalist, Cold, Uninvolving
jacob.rosen14 November 2000
Monte Hellman's minimalist feature is about two drifters (known simply as The Driver and The Mechanic) who race their souped-up '55 Chevy in illegal drag races across the country. After picking up a hitchhiker (known simply as The Girl), they are challenged by an oddball speedster known as G.T.O. to race through the southwest towards Washington D.C. Hellman's lack of plot and dialogue (the script, such as it is, is by Rudy Wurlitzer) is not compensated by anything the actors bring to the project. Though James Taylor as The Driver is suitably sullen and Dennis Wilson, The Mechanic, blithely cheery, the fact that they're non-actors brings no added enigma. (Laurie Bird, as The Girl, is simply awful.) Only Warren Oates, as G.T.O., supplies his usual charisma and mystery to the proceedings but it builds to nothing and accounts for little. There are some interesting moments and minor characters that a David Lynch might appreciate but Hellman refuses to capitalize on them, preferring to meander to an entropic, arbitrary ending. Dated, cold and not very involving.
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