Nomads and Racers on Two-Lane Blacktop

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Two-Lane Blacktop

I remember sliding into the passenger side of my good friend Michael Smelser’s 1973 Chevy Nova in Albany, Oregon. The first thing I noticed was there wasn’t much car - at least not much in the way of cupholders or GPS units. Instead I was sitting on a lightly padded bucket seat surrounded by a bare metal frame and unsafe looking glass. To my left was a shift nob, an extremely minimal steering column and what I hoped to be a competent driver.

The Nova roared to life and I suddenly found myself in a world of deafening, explosive sound and a vibration so violent I thought my organs were going to shift places.

The smell of exhaust all of a sudden became overpowering and immediately I understood that I loved the car.

Two-Lane Blacktop is a film that hails from the time of the Nova - the long past days when gas was $0.10 a gallon and cars were made of actual metal. Days before three letter acronyms like EPA and MPG entered the lexicon of the automotive industry or of their star spangled consumers.

But what I mourn the loss of the most is the pre-interstate American landscape. When we traded in our highways for freeways we gained speed and efficiency, but we lost any meaningful interaction with our surroundings while we travel.

Two-Lane Blacktop is good simply as a time capsule of when long distance car travel in America meant driving through towns instead of over them. Many of the locations shot during the film are in towns that nowadays are nothing more than the end of some forgotten freeway exit, dying or gone completely.

The film has more to offer than muscle cars with it’s unusual narrative and interesting cast. The nomadic “Driver”, “Mechanic” and “Other Driver” were all musicians in their time (including Dennis Wilson from the Beach Boys) and “The Girl” is played by the beautiful Laurie Bird, who tragically passed away just a few years later at the age of 25.

The plot starts out simply as a race across the country between two vehicles (Brock Yates, organizer of the Cannonball, cited the film as an inspiration for the race) but quickly morphs into something completely different, with the race itself becoming nothing more than an afterthought by the end. The movie is extremely heavy with metaphor and contains minimal dialogue and a nearly non-existent soundtrack.

Not for everyone, but personally I give this film a 5/5.