Friday, April 3, 2009

The Weekly Alternative - Vanishing Point

[There be spoilers, beware.] Something about Fast & Furious smells like Never Say Never Again. The original stars get dragged into a soulless retread of a movie they've already made before. Back up the money truck and put a glossy coat on a franchise in desperate need of a roughening up. So instead, why not take a look at a movie that just got a shiny new coat of its own, has so much soul there's a character called Super Soul and manages to kick all kinds of high octane ass.

Without even looking, I'm positive you can find all manner of lengthy dissertations on Vanishing Point on the web. It's a movie that is open to so many different interpretations I'm wouldn't be surprised if there's a Kowalski based religion somewhere out there looking for tax breaks. Vanishing Point is one of the great, bleak kick to the nuts of the 1960s love-in. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Badlands it shows us a society where flower power has failed and effectively presents us with its bloody carcass. It's like Easy Rider's more focused, economical, less pretentious, more entertining sibling. Rather than two hippies on motorcycles, we follow ex-cop Kowalski (the coolest Jew in cinema, played by Barry Newman) as he attempts to deliver a car from Colorado to San Francisco in under 15 hours.

Like Raul Duke in another fond farewell to the American Dream, Kowalski stocks up on some good speed and hits the road at full throttle and it isn't long before the police are on his tail. As he out runs the cops in his badass Dodge Challenger, it catches the attention of a radio DJ, the aforementioned Super Soul (pre-Blazing Saddles Cleavon Little), who instantly turns Kowalski into a folk hero. But Kowalski is no hero, he's just a troubled ex-cop who's resorted to delivering cars for money. The parts of the movie that aren't focused on Kowalski's attempts to shake the cops are peeks into how he got into this solitary existence. Vanishing Point is often accurately described as "the existential car chase movie". While on his trip west, Kowalski runs into other loners along the way but he never makes any real connections, even with the people who try to help him out. What starts out as a simple act of defiance quickly turn into watching a man play out his own demise on his own terms, more or less. The flashbacks take on the feeling of Kowalski's life flashing before his eyes during his last moments rather than a simple backstory device.

I don't think there will ever be a better time to experience or re-examine this burried treasure from 1971 than now, with the recent Blu-ray release. There's nothing quite like bathing yourself in the sounds of a growling Challenger engine getting a real workout. There are extras going into loving detail about the Dodge beast and the great soundtrack the film has to go along with the standard deleted scenes and director commentary -- which in this case is an actually revealing and informative one (I believe this commentary track was on the 2004 DVD release though). It's rare that movies so steeped in and speaking to the time in which it was made hold up as well as Vanishing Point does. I don't think there's a better movie to watch if you're looking to capture the feeling of the begining of the 70's -- or if you're just looking to see one of the greatest cars ever do it's thing. Whichever.

No comments: