I don’t like the air inside them, the claustrophobia, the seats, the leg room, the sounds of the road, traffic, either empty roads or packed. But does that mean I can’t appreciate a good car movie? It might. Sometimes you don’t know how your personal prejudices get in the way of watching movies. I know I can’t sit through anything that takes place on a (large) boat, so I will never see Master and Commander. Couldn’t get through U-571. Das Boot is well made, but I felt nothing (all boat movies look to me like they were shot with plastic toys in a mid-size bathtub). But I knew that, and summarily have avoided them since I came to that realization.
Cars, however, are different. I enjoy The Vanishing and Breakdown (which are the basic difference between European and American films, one is about psychological torture and emotional depravity, one is about Kurt Russell hanging off a semi going 80 MPH), and road movies are rarely an issue with me if they are well made. But I started to notice how uninteresting car chases are, even the ones that are “noted” like The French Connection and Bullitt.
Last night I was watching Vanishing Point, and it occurred to me. Who gives a shit about a man’s relationship with his vehicle? I’m not sure my objection to Vanishing Point was its spare focus on a man driving for 100 minutes, with scattered, cheesy, hazy flashbacks to his past, or whether the dated counterculture message (this relatively anonymous guy driving represents the last man fighting against the system) was undermined by a really dumb scene where two gay men, ridiculously playing up their sexuality, try to rob him at gunpoint, but he throws them out of the car, as they mince. It works against the message because what could be counterculture than two effeminate men in 1971, flamboyantly dressed and openly gay, trying to rob people in the middle of the Nevada desert? The main character is a criminal and so are these guys, but he is somehow better than them, because of his mythic status. Maybe it was the fact that director Richard C. Sarafian had only one shot in mind to show us that Barry Newman is actually driving the car from time to time, as opposed to a stunt driver. The camera zooms into the right side of the car on Newman’s face until it gets too close and goes out of focus, and then it cuts to exterior of the car. This is repeated some 20 times. We see lots of car chases accompanied by Dukes of Hazard style music (I kept expecting cops to slam down their hats in disgust), and many shots of the “open road” and how this man seems almost fused with his car, a notion that came to its logical conclusion in the recent movie Highwaymen where the villain has literally constructed himself into his car, though the film is not thorough enough to follow up on anything that it presents.
I don’t think my objection is to this movie alone, though. Anytime characters focus their lives on their automobiles, I tune out. Two-Lane Blacktop? Dull and pointless. Easy Rider? I don’t care. Rendevous, the short where the camera is right on the road for 9 minutes, and all we hear are the noises of a Ferrari and all we see is the twisting and turning of the streets. Have some fucking imagination. I’m not sorry to say that I have no need for speed.