Road Movies for the Thinking Photographer: Part I


Sometimes when I dream of the desert, I dream of a dusty, bearded Harry Dean Stanton in a suit and red baseball cap, wandering, in the opening scene of Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas.

Over the weekend, last Summer's Vanishing Point vs. Two Lane Blacktop post was revisited, and I started thinking again about the influence of road movies on photography, and vice versa. Upon Troy's recommendation I watched an IFC documentary called Wanderlust that features clips from tons of road movies. There's also a list of road movies in the Jeff Brouws photography book Highway: America's Endless Dream, which is well worth the 20 bucks it usually costs used. I made a big long list of films, many that I've seen, and a few that are now in my Netflix queue. I'm not going to be comprehensive here, just listing a few of my favorites. What are your favorite road movies?

  • Kings of the Road (Im Lauf der Zeit), Wim Wenders (1976) -- according to a Wenders interview in Wanderlust, this film was made with Walker Evans in mind. Wenders and cinematographer Robbie Müller had a book of Walker Evans photography, and a lot of the framing came straight out of that book. A brilliant film that requires some work and patience. Many of you will find this film to be long, boring, and intellectual, but I love it. Not currently available on DVD in the USA, but worth seeking out. Unfortunately Wenders' photography book Written in the West is out of print and expensive.
  • Paris, Texas, Wim Wenders (1984) -- on my top 10 desert island movie list. A phenomenal performance by Harry Dean Stanton. Written by Sam Shepard, with superb cinematography by Robbie Müller. Another classic car themed movie that came out in 1984 was Repo Man, directed by Alex Cox, and also starring Harry Dean Stanton with cinematography by Robbie Müller.
  • Weekend, Jean-Luc Godard (1968) -- While many people's reference point for Godard is Breathless (1961), the later and more difficult Weekend has one of the all-time classic car scenes ever -- an almost 10 minute long panning shot of a traffic jam. I was absolutely floored this first time I saw this film. It's out there. Watching a film like Weekend takes work and thinking to get the most out of it. If you're ready for art instead of entertainment, maybe you're ready for Weekend. Godard's films between 1960-1968 are some of the most important films ever made.
  • Five Easy Pieces, Bob Rafelson (1970) -- My favorite Jack Nicholson movie. A contender for the top ten desert island movie list as well. Chicken salad sandwich sold separately.
  • Bagdad Cafe, Percy Adlon (1988) -- If you've spent some time in the deserts of Southern California, this film will strike a chord. Out there yet hypnotizing in a mysterious yet simple way -- that's the conundrum of the Mojave.