Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Two-Lane Blacktop zooms into Spirit Square

Posted By on Tue, Mar 2, 2010 at 4:06 PM

Two Lane Blacktop 01

By Matt Brunson

It was supposed to be the next Easy Rider, and Esquire declared it "the movie of the year" before it had even been released. Instead, 1971’s Two-Lane Blacktop divided critics and was skipped by audiences, resulting in a hasty retreat from the moviegoing consciousness. Today, it's regarded as a minor classic by many and a cult flick by all, and now local audiences have the opportunity to lap up what's long been regarded as one of the quintessential American road movies.

Working from a screenplay by Rudy Wurlitzer and Will Corry, director Monte Hellman cast acting novices in three of the four central roles, a move that insured the only true thespian in the group would easily dominate the picture. That would be Warren Oates, delivering an excellent performance as G.T.O. (we never learn any of the characters' real names), a lonely soul who drives his 1970 Pontiac GTO aimlessly across the nation's highways. G.T.O.'s adversaries/allies on the road are The Driver and The Mechanic (played by two musicians, James Taylor and The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson), whose one-dimensional lives revolve around the '55 Chevy which they enter in drag races from coast to coast. A hitchhiker known only as The Girl (17-year-old Laurie Bird, who would commit suicide eight years later) sleeps with both The Driver and The Mechanic, and G.T.O. enters into a cross-country race against them, but the two boys barely seem functional when their focus isn't on their prized automobile.

An existential take on alienation, as well as a study of the American road as a way of life, Hellman's distancing but distinctive picture is a meditative piece that saves its best trick (the famous "burning film") for last.

(Two-Lane Blacktop will be screened at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 6, in Knight Gallery at Spirit Square. Admission is free. For more info, go to www.lightfactory.org.)

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