Monday, April 28, 2008

time flies when yr (not) having fun

Wow, blog. It's been a year almost. You're still alive! Me too, barely. There's a section of Rob Sheffield's book "Love Is A Mixtape" where he debunks the Great American Adage of "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and counters it the observation that whatever doesn't kill you will usually leave you crippled. He's got a point. There's not enough whiskey to undo the damage done by this past semester. And what for? I graduate and then I'm like ten grand in debt and still working for Northwest (if I'm lucky and Delta doesn't downsize me) but I've got a piece of paper saying I'm not as dumb as I look. Of course I feel like an asshole saying things like that when there's people who have to worry about whether or not a mortar is going to land on their head while they're out buying groceries but overeducated, underemployed white middle class suburban guys have problems too, as is evidenced by Pavement's back catalog.
Anyway, I haven't written for the pure pleasure of bending words to my will in a long time, and lest writing become a Pavlovian response to the ka-CHUNK of a shotgun round being chambered, I figure I better get back into it. I've been meaning to write about this for awhile and since I'm damn near done with the semester, now is as good a time as any.
So anyway late last year, much to the dismay of those who waited too long to put their copy on eBay, Criterion released one of the holy grails of out-of-print cult cinema Two Lane Blacktop. Up until this point I had only ever seen it on a 2nd gen VHS dub, so seeing it fully restored was a real treat. This should be required viewing for any foreigner (or American citizen for that matter) who laments American cultural imperialism. Sure, it's a drag that McDonalds is making the world fat and all, but this serves as a reminder of why America dominates the global pop-culture market; we're just too fucking cool. Or at least, at one point we were, once upon a time. Two Lane Blacktop is like a time capsule from an era before product placement and major label manipulated soundtracks. Which is surprising, since Dennis Wilson and James Taylor (yep, that James Taylor) star in the film. They're known as The Mechanic and The Driver, respectively ( and existentially). They're a couple of drifters with a custom made, primer grey '55 Chevy making a living on illegal drag races. They get involved in a cross country road race for pink slips with GTO, played by Warren Oates. (Guess what he drives?) It's basically a trip across the country along the country two lane blacktop roads seen through the eyes of a disillusioned post-peace & love counterculture in the grips of an identity crisis and a reaction against the emergence of hyper-consumer society. Case in point, the main "conflict" of the film is the customized '55 Chevy vs. the mass produced Detroit muscle of the GTO. The only product placement is the ubiquitos Coca-Cola, but the film largely takes place in the "old weird America" of mom-and-pop diners and no-name motels along the side of The Road. Even though this film is more pertinent now than ever, it's highly unlikely anything like this would be made today in the studio system. There would have to be at least a car promotion tie-in, as well as gas stations, fast food joints, sunglasses, etc. etc. etc....

Going off on a slightly unrelated tangent. I'm just going to throw it out there that I do rather enjoy Tarantino's work. I don't particularly subscribe to his point of view where he considers himself the next Godard, but his films do strike a certain chord with me as a record/film junkie. That being said, I think he could've learned a thing or two from road movies when he was mining ideas for Death Proof: You don't have to talk so fucking much. That's the beauty of these films, like Two Lane Blacktop or Vanishing Point. The dialogue takes a back seat (no pun intended) to the wind blowing in through the windows and the Zen koan-esque roar of a red lined engine as the landscape unfurls through the windshield.

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