Vanishing Point vs. Two-Lane Blacktop

Mopar 999 -- by Joe Reifer

Mopar 999 — by Joe Reifer

You can beat the police, you can beat the road, and you can even beat the clock. But you can’t beat the desert. Nobody can. You just cannot. — Super Soul in Vanishing Point

I’ve been a big fan of Monte Hellman’s film Two-Lane Blacktop for a long time, but somehow never saw Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point until last night. A great desert driving movie. Really fun to see Goldfield Nevada featured prominently, as I just rolled through that town a few months back. But in the battle of classic 1971 muscle car movies, Two-Lane Blacktop is still my favorite. And you?

9 thoughts on “Vanishing Point vs. Two-Lane Blacktop”

  1. Oh my god are YOU wrong!

    2LBT had absolutely no humor or irony. The acting is beyond bad, with 2 non actors in the 2 lead roles. Wooden, mumbling and impossible to read, they had virtually no arc. The cinematography is documentarian at best with no sense of style or flare. For a racing/road flick the driving scenes are strangely infrequent and poorly shot. There’s no excitement is scenes that should be exciting. The movie had only the barest framework of a story. There is no ending (and don’t give me that crap that the film melting in the projector–yes, that’s how it ends–signifies that “their story never ends” bullshit). It was TOO existential, too willfully arty-farty.

    Vanishing Point, OTOH, was loaded with surreal humor, epic cinematography, bizarre secondary characters, spectacular driving sequences and sex and drugs and rock and roll. (well, ok, the music was lame) The story’s pace is brisk, it’s filled with surprises and just the right amount of existential angst. Kowalski has a real character arc and by the end of the film you are really rooting for him. I’ll take the telepathic Super Soul and the crazy old sourdough who trades rattlesnakes for beans (lotsa beans!) over “Driver” and “Mechanic” (yes, the actual character names) dourly driving across America like a forced march in 2LBT. VP is still one of my all-time favorite moves, in any genre, so back off man!

    You really missed the boat on this one, but then again, you thought “Trona” was a much better movie than I did. the parallels between Trona and 2LBT are obvious.

    You gotta see Wall•E. The abandoned city in the first half is the sexiest, most aesthetically pleasing post-apocalyptic vision that has ever been put on film. It will move the urban explorer in you, deeply.

  2. Both movies are great. 2 Lane has Warren Oates, VP has a naked girl on a motorcycle – they’re very different movies. I’m not going to post a long rebuttal about VP’s weaknesses, but I’ll just say the flashback sequences were awkward and the ending is not fitting with Kowalski’s character. You can’t beat Super Soul and the snake catcher guy though.

  3. No question the flashbacks were cheesy, especially the beach sequence, but the archival race footage of Kowalski’s former on track career is a gas. The whole gay hitchhiker sequence is outrageously politically incorrect by today’s standards too, but the whole movie is definitely “of a time” and that’s also become a bigger attraction for me as both the movie AND me age. It just screams “1971!”

  4. It’s weird to contrast the gay hitchhiker sequence in Vanishing Point with the Harry Dean Stanton bit from Two-Lane Blacktop. Much has been made of TLB being related to westerns or samurai movies, or “existential,” and some of that talk rings true and works for me.

    I’ll check Netflix for Wall E. Thanks for the tip!

  5. +1 for VP, but then again I first saw it in a theatre when it came out and yes, that dates me. I hadn’t made the connection to Goldfield until later in my life.

    A humorous back-story to the naked girl scene was related to me by a member of the film I set by on a flight to New Orleans. It seems they left the scooter, something like a Tote-Gote, out in the sun for most of the day and when she sit on for the first take, she burned some very tender parts. They had to ice her down and after a day and a half she was able to do a retake, although with a wet towel between her and the seat. I can’t vouch for the real truth to the story, but it still makes me chuckle even though it may be just a story.

    I haven’t seen 2LBT, but will look for it.

  6. It’s been a long time – something like 35 years – since I first saw 2LBT in London, when it couldn’t be seen in the US (before video – does this date me?). What I recall is that the script was much better than the film. I think Troy’s pretty much defined the problems.

    For some reason it was only a couple of months ago that I finally watched VP, after hearing about it for years. As cheesey as it now seems, almost 40 years later, it’s got way more going on than 2LBT, not the least of which is cinematography by John Alonzo who a couple of years later did Chinatown.

    Maybe 2LBT is more fondly revered now by the intelligensia because it was made by a bunch of “mavericks,” with iconic casting. VP was obviously made by a bunch of young Hollywood guys who were closer to the center of what was going on in the commercial cinema world.

  7. Steve – that story is funny. Oh, the hazards of naked motorcycling.

    Kent – I love Vanishing Point, and love 2LBT even more. I totally understand that the slower style with little dialog doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve been a big fan of early Wim Wenders movies and most people hate this stuff. If you think 2LBT is slow and existential try Kings of the Road. Thanks for coming back to this post — I’m going to do a follow up on more road movies soon!

  8. Joe, I’ve been a big fan of Wenders since seeing Kings of the Road a number of years ago. I don’t think much attention was paid to his most recent Don’t Come Knocking, which is the best Wenders I’ve seen in years. It’s got Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange, Eva Marie Saint, and Tim Roth and was largely filmed in Montana. Fabulous photography, which makes me long for my days of working with moving images. But I understand by now that stills work the best for my personal vision.

    Probably I should watch 2LBT again, since it has been nearly 40 years.

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