The Drop Box

January 22, 2008

Vanishing Point (1971)

Filed under: Movies — Tags: , , , , — Toshi Yano @ 9:32 pm

Vanishing Point poster 

Vanishing Point opens with a wonderfully slow 180-degree pan, beginning at an empty Shell station, passing over rural landscape and ending on an empty road. From the distance a police motorcycle speeds towards us, siren blaring, but we don’t follow it – the camera stays on the road. Two bulldozers creep across the screen; another police vehicle whips by, but again the camera refuses to budge – it’s focused intently on the bulldozers’ deliberate advance. A broken window with a tattered screen, the bulldozers reflected in a shard of glass – an old man mumbling to himself, watching the bulldozers pass – a handful of townsfolk eyeing the strange procession, vaguely curious… Finally the bulldozers stop and drop their blades to the blacktop, blocking both lanes of the two-lane highway. This title sequence is a near-perfect example of a certain kind of Seventies filmmaking – it’s contemplative, has a real pastoral quality and induces a strange longing – and it’s a shame because it’s the best part of the movie. It’s a shame, too, because the absurdity that follows does not feel nearly as enjoyable as it could have, coming on the heels of such a fine introduction.

 In 1971, it seems Americans with counter-cultural tendencies were still equating speed – both the abstract concept and the drug – with freedom (pace Neil Cassady, I suppose), and the bulldozers in question, moving with such reactionary torpor, are being used by the police to stop a real revolutionary, “the last American hero”, a speed-freak known only as Kowalski (Barry Newman). Attempting to win a bet to get from Denver to San Francisco in under 16 hours, Kowalski has been attracting and repelling the attention of authorities in Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California, along the way making common cause with hippies, bikers, nudists, Pentecostalists and other fellow travelers (but not, let it be clear, gay men). Helping Kowalski, too, is a blind radio DJ called Super Soul (Cleavon Little), an over-the-top caricature of a militant black man, shucking and jiving as he passes information he gleans from police radio over the air to Kowalski; Super Soul is also, of course, magical: he can “see” Kowalski from hundreds of miles away and read his mind. 

Vanishing Point 

In a strange concession to what passes for character in Vanishing Point, the filmmakers provide Kowalski’s backstory by way of flashback (stopping the revolutionary momentum cold – they must have been short on running time): motocross racer, race car driver, war hero, lover, defender of feminine virtue and cop who got railroaded for a drug-related crime he didn’t commit (though I’m not entirely convinced, given the frequency with which he swallows fistfuls of amphetamines) – Kowalski was a Good Man who, pushed to the brink, has little to live for and little to fear.

Packed with such potentially amusing characters and plot points, one would be forgiven for thinking Vanishing Point might be fun; unfortunately, it’s surprisingly joyless – tedious even. But maybe I’m prejudiced: after the title sequence, I was hoping for something along the lines of Two-Lane BlacktopFive Easy Pieces or Badlands, thoughtful Seventies road movies steeped in quiet melancholy; instead, I watched a poorly drawn cartoon version of the Sixties as they gasped their dying breath, choking on the fumes of Harley-DavidsonsAltamont and the kind self-righteous nihilism Vanishing Point celebrates. 

 

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2 Comments »

  1. The Drop Box is looking fine, Toshi! I look forward to reviewing ‘The Brood’ or ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ or something else with thematic depth and also, um, monsters. Hideous, murderous monsters.

    Until then check out my blog at:

    Comment by Dan Redding — January 24, 2008 @ 6:19 pm

  2. I like the concept of the movie ..this is really an awesome movie

    Comment by accident compensation claim — February 3, 2008 @ 10:51 pm


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