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"Make It Three Yards, Motherfucker, and We'll Have Us An Automobile Race"

By Oh Mars, 12/30/2012 - 11:35am
Monte Hellman is a true American original with really great hair. During his 40 year career as a filmmaker he's tackled topics ranging from cockfighting to disfigured harpooners on whaling ships in the 19th century. No matter what the story's about, Monte has something to say about the state of the world. His greatest film is 1971's Two-Lane Blacktop - a meditative road movie about loneliness, male obsession, and the inability to connect with others despite these shared obsessions. On January 8 the mighty Criterion Collection is releasing Monte's masterpiece in stunning HD. And the open road never looked so good. Two-Lane Blacktop follows two men only known as Driver and the Mechanic. They're played by James Taylor and the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson - in their only acting roles ever. They're racing cross country in their souped up '55 Chevy from California to D.C. against one of the greatest actors to ever walk the earth: Warren Fucking Oates. Warren plays a charismatic wanderer driving a stock GTO. So he's known only as GTO. Along the way a young girl (known only as Girl but played by Laurie Bird) tags along. It's pointless trying to explain what happens in Two-Lane Blacktop. It's unlike any road movie you've ever seen. The race never matters. It's all the moments in between the speeding that Monte focuses on. Like when they stop to eat or get gas.  We get really intimate with these longing men who are all driven by some vague fantasy of "a better life" they probably read about in a magazine. They exist only in the present without a past or a future. And this road goes nowhere. In more popular road movies (most notably Easy Rider) the road represents freedom. In Two-Lane Blacktop it's nothing but the dream of freedom. Despite putting up their pink slips, the men don't even really care about the race. They're just hoping to find some meaning in it all. You'd think sharing the same obsessions with cars would allow them to connect, but they all seem uncomfortable talking to one another. Even though you'd think they;re best friends, Driver seems to hate interacting with the Mechanic. It's like he thinks talking will slow the car down. It's gotta be one of the greatest portrayals of masculine alienation of all time. It's also a really weird movie. There are characters who walk off screen never to be seen again. Warren Oates' wounded wanderer changes sweaters about two dozen times. And there's an almost goofy running gag about men having to use the women's bathroom. It's great stuff. The film is part of that incredible period of American cinema between 1967 and 1972 when major studios bankrolled anything they thought the "counterculture" would dig. After The Graduate made bank, directors were pretty much allowed to do anything and approach whatever subject they wanted in an experimental manner. Then The Godfather came out in 1972 and bloated Hollywood blockbusters took over again. The Criterion Collection presents Two-Lane Blacktop in a newly restored HD transfer, supervised by Monte Hellman. It looks terrific. The dark around James Taylor's eyes contrasts beautifully with Dennis Wilson's teeth. Honestly, it looks fantastic. The disc includes a grip of special features, including "On the Road Again: Two-Lane Blacktop Revisited." This is the best bonus and it features Monte driving around with a bunch of his film students. He talks about the origins of the film, how the studio fucked the film before it was released, and how the film negatively affected his career. There's also a conversation between Monte and James Taylor - who still looks uncomfortable in front of a camera. He explains how he hates seeing himself on screen and also hates hearing himself sing (me too!). In another feature Kris Kristofferson talks about the origins of "Me and Bobby McGee" - the classic country tune he wrote that's featured in the film. There's also screen tests by Laurie Bird and Taylor as well as a ton of behind the scenes photos and stills. Criterion, you done done it again. If you're not, you should be a fan of early '70s "new American" cinema. And Two-Lane Blacktop should be your gateway drug. Also, it's an honest to god shame James Taylor never acted again. He broods with the best of em. In the film he spits one of the most badass lines in all of cinema: "Make it three yards, motherfucker, and we'll have us an automobile race." Get your Blu-ray copy of Two-Lane Blacktop, coming January 8, from the Criterion Collection.
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