Two Lane Blacktop

Film director Monte Hellman has now passed on to the great beyond, but if you are one of the growing number of people without a dvd player, there’s no way for you to enjoy his greatest achievement, Two Lane Blacktop, which only exists as a Criterion Collection DVD. Until now.

Two Lane Blacktop is quintessential American 70’s filmmaking, low on plot and high on character study, pacing, and mood. It stars a couple of rock stars- James Taylor and Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson- as they cross the country via route 66 drag racing for sport and profit (at least, enough profit to pay their meager expenses.) Along the way, they meet a variety of characters and do a variety of things that may or may not carry any significance- the film is as much about the randomness of life as anything else.

But it’s also a wonderful snapshot of a lifestyle that has long disappeared from our capitalist, money-driven country- a time when you could just drift, not worrying about how you’ll pay your rent or where your career is going. It’s telling that Hellman doesn’t bother giving his characters names- Taylor and Wilson are the Driver and the Mechanic, respectively. This isn’t about individuals, it’s about an entire ecosystem called America and the wide, open spaces that make it a unique environment for the life roaming around its interior.

Time will only continue to improve Two Lane Blacktop‘s value as it reminds us more and more of what we’ve lost as a society. Full of cameos with iconic staples of our culture- Harry Dean Stanton, Laurie Bird- it should be essential viewing for high school and college students, both as art and as cultural history. Unlike other more famous road movies like Easy Rider, this one uses music sparingly, allowing the natural sounds of America’s roads to fill the soundscape. Taylor and Wilson don’t contribute songs; this isn’t about selling product or capitalizing on the counterculture. Instead, Two Lane Blacktop paints a quiet, solid portrait of life, unconcerned about anything other than being true to itself.

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