"Two-Lane Blacktop" (1971)

Two-Lane Blacktop
Directed by: Monte Hellman
Running time: 102 minutes

To start this review off, let me apologise for my not reviewing something more current or that you would have even heard of. I’ve been so busy with “The Pillowman” (the theatre production I’m currently involved in, here’s the facebook link if you live in Melbourne and wish to attend! http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=153068628084154 ) that I haven’t had the chance to go to the cinema or watch a movie at home to review, so I decided to instead review the film I watched today is my Alternative Film subject at university. I promise I will be back to my normal self next week once the show’s over, don’t you worry!

Now Showing this week is a film called Two-Lane Blacktop which was directed by Monte Hellman in 1971. Now, before I get into the nitty gritty side of things, let me explain to you the context in which I viewed this film. I saw this film in my Alternative Film subject, which for the past few weeks have been constant screenings of obscure short films from the 1960s which include, but certainly haven’t been limited to, a silent film showing only a man’s face while he is receiving a blow job; a forty-five minute camera zoom from one side of an apartment to another while a constant humming is emitting; a thirty minute film that began simply with a man cleaning his motorcycle and then him going on to a party involving lots of men shoving their dicks in each other’s faces for no reason; and a film comprising entirely of random splatters of paint flashing on the screen, each image only lasting a fraction of a second. All these plot-less, boring, incredibly wanky, just downright insults to cinema and film making are all I’ve been seeing in this subject for the last few weeks so I’m sure you can imagine my relief when I saw that this week’s screening would not be a series of short films, but a feature length one. It must therefore have some kind of story and characters to entertain me right? Right?! Wrong. Well, not entirely wrong, it did have a story I guess but a very boring and flawed one. But lord knows it didn’t have any characters, none that had any depth at least.

The film was about two brothers (I assume they were brothers, given none of the characters have names/personalities it made it hard to tell) who own a 1955 Chevrolet and love to race it in underground drag races around the USA. They drive around desolate highways with a woman (also unnamed) who was introduced into the film by, while the two brothers were in a cafe having coffee, sneaking out of somewhere hidden and then just climbing into the back of their Chevrolet. The brothers then leave the cafe, get in the car and don’t even acknowledge the fact that some random highway dwelling floozy is suddenly in their car and just go about business as usual! They soon meet another man (again un-freakin-named!) who drives a GTO sports car who believes that the brothers have been following him around the country trying to get him into a drag race. This is odd, given the fact that every time we saw him prior to this revelation, he was driving past the brothers and beeping and waving so I dunno what the hell he’s on about. Anyway, I haven’t even gotten to the point (a term in this case that is more loose than the anyone who spends time with Charlie Sheen of late) yet and that’s that the two brothers and this GTO man challenge each other to a race to Washington DC, winner gets the loser’s car.

And that’s about it. That’s all the movie is about. Who knows why the hell any of the characters are doing any of the things they do. Most of the dialogue in this film is one of the brothers saying what kind of parts he likes in a car, whoop-de-freakin-doo. And even in those parts, the sound quality is so bad that you can only partially hear anything unless someone is yelling. This may be due to the film’s age and it may have been fine back in the 1970s when people were used to that sort of thing so I guess that one can slide.

Any purpose behind this film is completely unknown. Who knows why the the brothers are travelling around in their ridiculously ugly 1955 Chevrolet and not have any source of income? Do the races they race in pay them? And, why is the girl with them? Who the hell is she? And why is this GTO guy in a fancy sports car full of booze out in the desolate American highways? Do you know? Cause I damn well don’t! There is no explanation for anything that is taking place. The GTO man does at one point start to tell a story about where he used to work, which I assume would have to led to some sort of explanation as to his character, and therefore add some depth, but he gets to about “I used to work at a-” and the other dude says “I don’t want to hear about it.” Well I want to hear about it you clod! We, the audience, would like to hear some sort of explanation as to the events taking place in this crappy piece of “alternative” cinema.

So here’s my main beef with this style of cinema: alternative films have been described to me as “opposed to mainstream cinema” and the way that sounds to me is that they want to be, and are extremely proud of the fact that they are, different from the mainstream popular films. But here’s the kicker “alternative film”: just because you’re different from popular movies does not make you good! Being different isn’t an immediate bump up to “good” status. I’m not saying that because something is popular it is therefore good, that’s definitely not true (I mean, look at The Twilight Saga!) but just being the complete opposite of them does not mean your work is all of a sudden a piece of innovative genius. The music industry has been guilty of this for a long time as well, this whole concept that as soon as something is “popular” then it is bad and only things that are “alternative” and “non-conformist” are good. “Popular” can be good and bad, and so can “alternative” stuff. But you still need to be appealing to your audience, and people like to be told a story, with relate-able or empathetical characters with interesting/thought provoking themes. You can make these films with conventional film making techniques, or you can film it “alternatively” upside-down, completely in inverted colours and with all the camera work being done by a man on too much caffeine so it shakes ridiculously; but you still need to appease these tastes in the ordinary human being. Being “alternative” isn’t enough, without the aforesaid appealing elements you will just end up being labelled as a complete wanker.

In the words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “here endeth the lesson.” See you next time!

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