Rich Hall takes a personal journey through the road movie, exploring what makes one and how the American social, economic and political landscape has defined the genre.
Browse content similar to Rich Hall's Continental Drifters. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
This programme contains some strong language
Know why there's never been a decent British road film? I'll tell you.
Cos there's nothing exhilarating
about having to eat a rancid chicken salad sandwich
from a BP station at the Bolton West services on the M61, that's why.
There's nothing romantic about having an Eddie Stobart truck
with the name of some mail-order bride stencilled on the grille
trying to ram itself up your ass at 80mph. Nothing!
Have you ever been to a Happy Eater? No-one's happy!
In America, the automobile invokes individualism.
It's a manifestation of the pioneer spirit.
In Britain, it's a source of frustration and defeat.
What's the point of owning a fast, expensive car
when there's nowhere to drive it?
There's a reason Top Gear is so disgustingly popular in Britain.
It's grown men watching other grown men do
what they'll never get to do themselves. You know, road porn.
They should make a British road film.
It'd be two guys in an eight-mile tailback
waiting for roadworks to end.
You won't even need dialogue. It'll just sound like this.
HORN STILL BLARING
# The open road, where the hopeless come
# To see if hope still runs
# One by one they bring their broke-down loads
# And leave 'em where the hobo dreams are stowed
# Out on the open road
# Out on the open road... #
Badlands. Sugarland Express.
Thelma & Louise. The Straight Story.
Bonnie and Clyde. Five Easy Pieces.
As a rule, road movies end badly.
The main characters either die or they go home.
The happy parts are in the middle.
But the one defining feature of every road movie
is that moment where the road opens up
and we see endless possibilities on the horizon.
We get that sense of space that America has to offer,
and with that sense of space comes hope.
In a road movie, this is the money shot.
This is what makes road movies seductive -
the sense of privilege.
In a road movie, at some point,
sheer movement becomes the characters' primary force of existence.
Problems, anxieties, constriction, economics,
ennui, the Middle East, the Dow Jones industrial average,
inflation, Third World creep, nuclear extinction,
the whole past, the whole stinking past
and the whole lousy future converge into one endless horizon.
In art, there's a term for this. It's called the vanishing point.
Now, is a road movie
about characters getting from point A to point B?
Because if it is, then technically
everything from It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World to Apocalypse Now
is a road movie.
But a true road movie - and I'm being somewhat arbitrary here -
is about escape from oppression.
It's a literal portrayal of rebellion.
If we identify with that rebellion, it's a good road movie,
which is why Thelma & Louise is a good road movie
but the film called Road Trip is a celluloid turd.
Some good films have been made about two guys driving in a car.
Sideways. Paris, Texas.
And, uh... Yeah, what about Dumb & Dumber?
Yeah, what about it?
Hey, want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?
Guys! Guys! Guys!
If they each had half a brain...
they'd still only have...
..half a brain.
The general rule of thumb is,
as soon as you add a third guy it turns to shit.
The film Coupe de Ville puts a third guy in the back seat of the car
and wit of the most sublime order ensues.
-I'm going to throw up.
-No! That is a negative!
-Swallow! Gulp in the air!
You're swallowing your own throw-up. You know that, don't you?
A true road film begins with a character or set of characters
who have become disenfranchised from society.
It might be on racial or sexual grounds,
it might be because of economics. Maybe a crime has been committed.
Or maybe it's just a need for self-discovery and self-preservation.
It could be that simple.
Welfare's come and taken baby Langston forever!
He's in that foster home!
I want my baby back!
Are you going to help me or not?
-Well, where is he now?
-Over in Sugarland.
In essence, of course, the road movie has always been there.
And in cinema, it's existed since some Technicolor midgets
shouted out directions to it to Dorothy.
An estranged character wanders away from home
and accumulates a makeshift family of drifters,
all of them intent on finding some godhead.
It's pretty much the same plot as Apocalypse Now.
The central conceit of The Wizard of Oz is, of course,
-clearly delineated in the ending.
-There's no place like home.
The central conceit of all modern road movies since underscores this.
In essence, that message is "go home or die".
The highway was invented by a Scotsman, John Macadam.
It was mythologised by John Steinbeck,
indulged by Jack Kerouac
and modernised by President Dwight David Eisenhower.
It was cinematically imprinted on filmgoers in the early '70s,
first by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper
and later by fledgling directors
like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg.
In fact, every celebrated US film director
has at least one road movie in his CV.
The natural tendency of the film camera is to want to capture motion.
The film camera was invented at nearly the same time as the automobile
and, curiously enough, psychoanalysis.
When people are moving, they're not trying to be interesting.
They are trying to get somewhere or away from something.
And in fact, they seldom get what they thought they were after.
Every film scene that you've ever watched that takes place
at a diner or a run-down motel or an old-timey service station
exists because, miraculously, in the early part of last century,
the individual US states and the federal government
realised they were going to have to work together
to keep up with the big chrome giants spilling out of Detroit.
Roads ran through states, but they connected the nation.
So who was supposed to shell out to build and maintain them?
What towns should they pass through? What businesses should they benefit?
Yep, it was a bureaucratic shit fight,
replete with graft, payoffs, back-scratching,
muckraking and pork-barrel politicking.
In 1912, primarily through the efforts
of a geologist and engineer named Logan Waller Page,
the federal and state governments
formed a partnership to expand America's highways.
That partnership levied taxes
on transport, bridges, gasoline, tyres,
oil, windshield wipers,
even driver's licences.
It was a bureaucratic nightmare organisation
called the American Association of State Highway Officials,
or, more colloquially, AASHO.
Logan Waller Page believed that scientific expertise
should supersede bullshit politics when it came to road making.
And so began an expansive decade of very aggressive road engineering.
They experimented with all kinds of surfaces -
limestone, brick, granite, asphalt,
even clam shells.
They covered the surfaces in clay or sand or oil
in an attempt to waterproof them. They bought the right of way both sides of the road.
And by the beginning of the Great Depression,
an amazing network of American roads existed
for the disenfranchised to venture upon.
# I'm a rollin' stone All alone... '
By the early 1930s, the American government
had categorised over 60% of Americans as poor.
Over one million families had lost their farms,
and that in turn caused millions of homeless to migrate around America.
The highway became incredibly significant to these people,
who sought transience and escape as the only option.
It was captured in all its essence by one character.
Henry Fonda's Tom Joad was the first film character
to see the highway as a revelation.
Based on John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes Of Wrath,
it's a visual representation of the Great Depression
and all its psychological devastation.
-Where's my folks, Muley?
-Why, they gone!
I know they're gone, but where?
Everybody's leaving, going out to California.
Your folks, my folks, everybody's folks.
Everybody except me. I ain't getting off.
Who done it?
Released in 1940, it was a film about the recent past
the soil erosion and windstorms of the Dust Bowl,
a period in the American prairie that lasted through the '30s
up to the film's release.
The topsoil of the Midwest had been overtilled and had blown away.
Stock prices were in freefall. Banks were faltering.
Four million people were unemployed.
# Tom Joad got out of the old McAllister Pen
# There he got his parole... #
Nowadays, this seems like a quaint era in US history.
Why, you can even buy CDs of songs about it at Starbucks.
There are photographs from that era that young urban couples use
to decorate the walls of their condos.
But if every eighth-grader in the US had had to read The Grapes Of Wrath
instead of Of Mice And Men, which is what I had to read in eighth grade,
probably because it's less text-heavy,
America might be a very different country now.
-The Grapes Of Wrath, please.
-I'll have to put you on the waiting list.
We've never had such a demand for a book.
-Do you have a copy of Grapes Of Wrath?
-Sorry, we're all sold out.
The Grapes Of Wrath, I think, is one of the most significant books
of the 20th century.
To have a book where there's a national dialogue,
you have the First Lady weighing in and Congressmen talking about it
and lines in libraries
and it's selling hundreds of thousands of copies,
the movie comes out and it all begins again.
-Grapes Of Wrath!
-Grapes Of Wrath!
As sales skyrocket,
The Grapes Of Wrath becomes the book of the nation.
Everyone everywhere joins in the discussion of its vital problems.
The power of The Grapes Of Wrath is in using an individual character
to illustrate the socialist themes of the time.
Tom Joad is from a family of sharecroppers in Oklahoma.
He's done a little time in prison for murder in self-defence.
He gets paroled early, comes back to the family's farm,
only to discover they've all headed to California,
where supposedly there's lots of farming jobs that still exist.
Tom catches up with his family
just as the authorities are demolishing his house,
and they all head west in a big old crappy truck
that will return years later carrying the Beverly Hillbillies.
And now at last The Grapes Of Wrath is ready for the screen,
as the motion picture captures all the drama,
suspense, action, tears and laughter
of the story that's stirred a nation.
The Grapes Of Wrath was banned in some municipal libraries in the US
as late as the 1990s.
Some people considered it a fictionalised version of the Communist Manifesto,
and its anticapitalism stance or what you people call socialism
is pretty blatant.
Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat,
I'll be there.
Wherever there's a cop beating up a guy, I'll be there.
I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad.
I'll be in the way kids laugh
when they're hungry and they know supper's ready.
The speech is what everybody remembers.
It says if the people are treated this way,
they're going to become angry and something's going to happen.
# I'm a-blowing down this old dusty road, Lord, Lord
# And I ain't a-going to be treated this way... #
They can't keep pushing people down and cutting wages
without them at some point wanting to grab power,
and so that's threatening to Americans' sense of identity,
of the roots of the American self.
The story is about how humans, when faced with natural disaster
and social structures that destroy their ability to earn a living,
press on with dignity and hope.
And as the movie progresses, the road and the notion of mobility
slowly changes from dystopia to something to be admired.
The Grapes Of Wrath ultimately romanticises wandering,
and it treats perpetual rootlessness as a happy ending.
It's also the first film to romanticise automobile travel.
The cinematographer, Gregg Toland, used lots of low-camera angles
to give cars and flowing traffic a kind of mythical quality.
In fact, he's the first cameraman
to mount a camera to the front of a car,
thus making the viewers feel as if they're moving as well.
The Grapes Of Wrath probably reverberates
more than any other John Ford film,
mainly because the world it predicted has come to pass.
Bank foreclosures are pushing families out of their homes.
Whether you like it or not, we're going through a depression
marked by catastrophic climate change.
Disasters like Katrina, both the natural one
and the man-made one that followed have created an army of migrants.
We don't pay as much attention to displaced people nowadays,
mostly because they aren't white like the Joads.
A few years ago, a film called Little Miss Sunshine
won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
It was a road film and its similarities
to The Grapes Of Wrath are somewhat notable.
A family packs itself into a caravan and heads to California.
Along the way, Grandpa kicks the bucket,
so they have to give him a dirt nap.
They break down. They recover. They press on.
And when they arrive in California,
they discover promises built on sand.
The main difference is that what constituted a rotten dream in 1940
was inhumane working conditions.
By 2005, it's the vulgarity of a children's beauty contest.
Which goes to show just how far America's Misery Index
has actually progressed in 70 years.
After The Grapes Of Wrath, the Great American Depression
became nothing more than a backdrop for gangster films
and those gold-digger musicals where lots of female dancers
would spread their legs to make dazzling kaleidoscopic patterns.
# There was a chill that night
# In the hobo jungle... #
To be rootless and to be homeless are two distinctly different things.
Not all those who wander are lost.
Most people think that the era of the hobo ended with the Depression.
As a kid, I became infatuated with Woody Guthrie and his songs
and I just wondered what it was like to actually hop a train.
You're singing songs about it,
let's put down the guitar and see what it's like.
Ever since Dick Dillof was 19, he had a desire to move,
not because of a need to work but because, for 40 years,
it fit in with his desire to be a compulsive wanderer.
# Train on the island Can't they hear it blow?
# Won't you tell my little gal I'm sick and I must go
# Sick and I must go, boy Sick and I must go. #
There's just something about moving in those big heavy metal boxcars
and the rhythm of the cars shaking back and forth and the trucks.
'You see a lot, you see things that people don't see from the road.'
You're seeing a life from a boxcar door. And maybe...
Maybe in some ways, it's something primal that is activated in you,
something set off and you feel like...
..not a dog or a hound, but a coyote,
you feel like a wolf, you feel like you're some feral creature
who is looking in at the world from the outside.
It's almost like there's people who wander and people who hike.
There's people who are whittling and sculpting - different.
And drifting and roaming and rambling
is different than planning a vacation or even a planned adventure.
You can't control the train,
there's no schedule you have in your back pocket.
You don't know where you're going to end up.
Uncertainty is a big word there.
Rich really is inspiring me, just with his general feral presence...
to pull out all kinds of stuff that I normally wouldn't pull out.
I have noticed the difference.
I'm sure many people who've travelled around in the old days
have seen things change quite a bit.
It seems like transient life is on the decline.
I don't think I'd do it now. It's a funny thing,
even hitchhiking is difficult to do at this time.
There's nobody, even old hitchhikers don't pick up new ones.
Highways transformed America's landscape
more than anything else in its past.
More than architecture, more than politics, more than war
and in an incredibly compressed amount of time.
The film Detour, made in 1945,
shows a cynical view of post-World War II America,
one that was already beginning to litter its highway
with psychological wrecks. Much like The Grapes Of Wrath,
it's about trying to get to the Promised Land, California.
In The Grapes Of Wrath, the road unifies its characters.
In Detour, it alienates them.
Let's have something quieter this time, Joe, my head is splitting.
Is that what's wrong with it?
-Done with your coffee?
-No. And don't rush me, will ya?
MUSIC PLAYS ON JUKEBOX
Hey, turn that off! Will ya turn that thing off?
-What's eatin' you now?
-What's eatin' you?
-That music - it stinks.
-You don't like it, huh?
-No. Turn it off!
Wait a minute, pal. That was my nickel, see?
This is a free country and I play whatever I want to.
A pianist named Al Roberts decides to hitchhike across America
to meet up with his girlfriend in California. He accepts a ride
from a pill-popping, conman stranger named Haskell.
Haskell suddenly dies of a heart attack,
leaving Al looking awfully suspicious.
'So, what else was there to do but hide the body
'and get away in the car? I couldn't leave the car there,
'with him in the gully. That would be like erecting a tombstone.'
Al ends up taking Haskell's wallet, clothes and car -
essentially he steals his identity.
This same theme will reappear years later
in Michael Antonioni's The Passenger.
Then comes more trouble,
in the shape of a skirt and two getaway sticks.
-What's your name?
-You can call me Vera, if you like.
-You live in Los Angeles?
-Where you coming from?
-Oh, back there.
Needles isn't a heroin reference.
It's a place in California.
Vera's previously been in Haskell's car,
knows who he is, believes Al killed him
and she's in a position to manipulate him at will.
-You've got all the earmarks of a cheap crook.
-Now, wait a minute!
Shut up! You're a cheap crook and you killed him.
For two cents, I'd change my mind and turn you in. I don't like you!
All right, don't get sore.
I'm not getting sore, but just remember who's boss around here.
If you shut up and don't give me any arguments,
you'll have nothing to worry about. But if you act wise, well,
you'll pop into jail so fast it'll give you the bends.
-I'm not arguing.
-Well, see that you don't!
Edgar G Ulmer shot Detour in only six days.
It was made roughly a quarter of a century
before the spate of low-budget road movies
that dominated the early '70s.
It's also the first psychological road movie.
The Grapes Of Wrath was about enlightenment
but Detour shows the road as a dismal dead end. Why?
I'll tell you why -
because Al is going to end up killing Vera, that's why.
He's going to spend the rest of his life on the run.
That's a detour of his dreams.
In 1945, the general perception
was that a woman's place was in the home.
But Ulmer shows the car as the great equalizer,
because it gives everyone equal mobility.
And when women leave the house, bad shit starts to happen.
-You know, there ought to be a law against dames with claws.
I tossed her out of the car on her ear.
Was I wrong?
You give a lift to a tomato,
-you expect her to be nice, don't you?
After all, what kind of dames thumb rides?
-Sunday school teachers(?)
# See the USA In your Chevrolet
# America's asking you to call
# Drive your Chevrolet Through the USA
# America's the greatest land of all... #
While the European New Wave cinema movement of the '50s
was making noirish, cynical road films
like La Strada and Wages of Fear,
America was comfortably ensconced
in a, uh...bedrock of conformability and consumerism.
The fact that Dinah Shore felt compelled to sing about Chevrolets
was a sure sign that Detroit was entering its Golden Age.
Henry Ford's assembly line approach to making cars
stretched to every facet of consumerism.
Come on now, I want you to meet a great new star.
The new 1953 Chevrolet. Isn't that a sight to take your breath away?
There I go getting carried away again!
I could just talk about it all day!
The '50s saw the rise of mass-produced neighbourhoods
like Levittown, Long Island,
where a family could purchase a custom model home,
replete with built-in appliances and a garage,
available in either Cape Cod or Ranch model.
It's amazing the houses themselves
didn't have tailfins and chrome porches.
# ..And a feeling of spring in the air. #
In 1952, America was good but its roads weren't.
And in a nation grateful to be free of war,
50,000 people a year were dying on its highways.
They were cramped, badly signposted and horribly maintained.
# If you ever plan to motor west... #
America's main highway, Route 66,
had turned into something resembling a human artery
trying to push chunks of butter from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Route 66 had this wonderful history
of taking America into a new direction, into its modern self.
People started piling on this road, mostly in Chicago
and moving down it to the Southwest of the United States.
It was this movement down Route 66 that I think personifies
what America means and what highways mean to America
and what America means to the road culture and the world.
And 66 caught the Americans' romance and desire
to get out and move along this romantic road.
# Get your kicks on Route 66. #
It was romantic in name only.
Despite or perhaps because of Nat King Cole's song,
Route 66 quickly became a clogged, tourist hellhole,
festering with rancid eateries, alligator farms,
malaria pit motor courts, rubber tomahawk stands
and roadside zoos where shrieking hypoglycaemic children
stuffed jelly beans into the nostrils of terrified ungulates.
Something had to change.
What was the point of owning a sleek, automotive marvel
of design and function when there was nowhere to go with it?
The most popular road movie of the '50s, The Long, Long Trailer,
was a sanitized mockery of the real highway system.
It amounted to a two-hour travel infomercial.
All hilarity breaks loose as we hit the road
in a blaze of glorious matrimony.
I didn't tell you to turn right!
You said, "Turn right here," and I turned right!
You didn't let me finish, I was trying to tell you to turn left.
What I was trying to is, "You turn right here, left."
Fortunately, one man had a vision.
It's always the case, isn't it? President Dwight David Eisenhower.
Back when he was Supreme Allied Commander of European Forces
during World War II, Ike had noticed something
while chasing Hitler up and down Germany -
the country seemed to have amazing roads.
The autobahn was an impressive piece of physical propaganda.
It was supposed to convince the world
Germany had an unrivalled transport infrastructure.
It was clean and wide, with streamlined access ramps,
magnificently cantilevered overpasses,
designed for speeds of up to 100 mph.
And it led...nowhere. Most of it lay unfinished
and the stretches that did work were captured by the Allies,
who used it to chase Hitler back to Berlin...at speeds of up to 100 mph.
When Eisenhower became President,
his foremost agenda was to improve America's roads.
While AASHO was still trying to figure out
how to improve the existing roads,
Eisenhower just bypassed the whole shebang
and instituted the Federal Aid Highway Act,
which called for 40,000 miles of autobahn-grade road
to be built over the next 12 years.
This was the beginning of the American interstate system.
American highway travel was coming out of the stone age,
which is a cheap reference... to the background behind me.
Nothing before or since has had a more profound impact
on how Americans transport themselves.
It connected farms to cities. It connected cities to other cities.
It was directly responsible for the explosion
of megalopolises like Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas.
It homogenized America. A nation that up to then
had been more or less growing vertically, went horizontal.
He had a mission and it was to modernise America,
improve the quality of life,
and he pursued that down the American highway.
It was his goal to build what he called wider ribbons across the land.
He knew that we had poor roads.
He knew what good roads that he'd seen in Germany could do
and he wanted that for America.
Over the next ten years,
the amount of dirt removed to build America's interstate systems
was 42 billion cubic yards.
That's the equivalent of digging both the Suez
and the Panama Canal 33 times over.
Even as the interstates were being built,
men like Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds,
and Kemmons Wilson, founder of Holiday Inn,
were flying the length and breadth of it in their planes,
making note of every access ramp
and plotting the death of variety, individualism
and small business practices here in the good old US of A.
# How can you keep on movin'
# Unless you migrate too?
# They tell you to keep on movin'
# But migrate you must not do
# The only reason for moving
# And the reason that I roam
# Is to go a new location
# And find myself a home... #
Modern Road films - that is, films about restlessness -
began to gestate in the '50s.
Poets like Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti
turned drift and disaffection into a literary movement.
They were the beaten down generation.
Or "beats" as they were called.
Maybe it was a lot of self-indulgent tripe, who knows?
But even rich white kids need some kind of an outlet.
I saw the best minds of my generation
destroyed by madness,
starving, hysterical, naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn,
looking for an angry fix.
Purists and literary scholars called beat poetry trash.
To younger people, no higher commendation could be awarded.
Beat was a movement that challenged everything
the bland, insipid Eisenhower generation represented.
The Beatnik scene celebrated spontaneity over craftsmanship
and Jack Kerouac's novel On The Road was its manifesto.
People were afraid of it. They were afraid of
the subject matter and the drugs.
I mean, in 1947 or 8, when he wrote it...
It wasn't published until '57,
so the drug use was really not something that people wrote about.
On the road is a story about two young men -
Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty -
who travel frantically back and forth across America
seeking vicarious thrills.
The novel is actually a thinly-veiled account
of Keroauc's own life in the late 1940s -
a breathless, almost celestial celebration of
the bohemian lifestyle.
Having read Kerouac, it just seemed so enticing
to stick out my thumb at the other side of the Holland Tunnel
and head for California.
And so there, you know, a week later,
having travelled Route 66 from Chicago to LA,
just like the song, you know,
and having met incredible, weird people along the way.
People that I didn't know existed.
I thought all the nuts were in the city of New York
but, my God, Oklahoma had its fair share.
Kerouac's writing fostered a raft of legends.
Kerouac doesn't slow down for punctuation.
Kerouac can write a novel in a week,
cranked up on Benzedrine, cigarettes and gin.
A single draft is all Kerouac ever needs.
His spontaneous hep-cat style inspired literature
and the film-making of French New Wave directors like Jean Luc Godard
and Francois Truffaut.
Its overriding ideal was this -
the first thought is the most important thought.
Rewriting kills instinctual purity.
The manuscript for On The Road
was written on a single 200-yard teletype roll,
to save Kerouac the effort of changing typing paper.
Its existence acquired mythical proportions,
like a Dead Sea Scroll.
But it was all a bit pre-calculated.
Jack Kerouac did not write On The Road in six days or two weeks.
It took him ten years.
Scores of drafts of the book have been uncovered.
One of them is in French.
The Beat writers wanted people to believe
that they were artistically exalted, spontaneous,
off the cuff, non-revisionists.
What Allan Ginsberg described as "angel-headed hipsters
"burning for the ancient heavenly connection."
They were high. They wanted to kick the ladder out from underneath them.
Kerouac never made much money off of his books,
which preserved his literary status.
He also drank himself to death.
That's good for pickling your reputation.
The purported "holy scroll" for On The Road
was eventually purchased at auction
by the owner of the Indianapolis Colts Pro Football Team
for 2.2 million.
That's about 500 times more than he was ever paid in advance royalties.
Incidentally, the scroll was perfectly punctuated.
Kerouac went home to mama. He was always a bit of a mama's boy
and he went home to mama and boozed it up in Florida, voted Republican,
was sort of a big, fat drunk with his liver giving out.
And he sort of put down all of his former comrades at the end.
So it's hard to live that outlaw life forever, you know?
# Well, God said to Abraham, Kill me a son
# Abe said, man, You must be putting me on
# God said, no
# Abe said, what?
# God said you can do what you want, Abe, but
# The next time you see me coming You better run... #
# ..Well, Abe said, all right, where do you want this killing done?
# God said on Highway 61... #
The influence of New Wave directors
like Godard and Truffaut on American Cinema in 1967
explains why they were both offered Bonnie And Clyde to direct.
They both turned it down. Arthur Penn accepted the offer.
He made a film that would change American cinema forever.
Bonnie and Clyde takes place in the '30s
but it speaks for the stultifying tedium of youth
trapped in nowhere places anywhere in the world.
In the opening scene, when Bonnie first meets Clyde,
he is stealing a car.
Rather than be repelled by this, she is attracted.
It creates a new cinematic reason for leaving -
boredom - the great oppression of the modern age.
It's this desire to escape,
from what for all the world looks like comfort, that propels the film.
There's a car visible in almost every scene of Bonnie And Clyde.
It's there at the beginning, when he tries to steal one,
and it's there in the final frame.
Bonnie And Clyde is a film where driving is central to the plot,
where character and car become more or less inseparable
because their forward momentum depends on it.
Bonnie And Clyde elevated vehicles to star status.
Throughout the film, the story fills up with characters
all wanting to join the Barrow Gang -
a kind of placebo family unit,
not unlike the one that comes together in The Wizard Of Oz.
Every one of them seduced by the notion of mobility.
A gas station attendant named CJ Moss joins the gang
while he's filling up their car with gas.
He's followed by Clyde's brother and sister-in-law, Buck and Blanche.
Even when the Barrow Gang takes hostages,
it doesn't take long for mobility to transform them
from prisoners into travelling companions.
'Their paths crossed like two hot wires.
'They roared off on what might easily have been a wild, romantic lark.'
'But almost before they knew it, with giggles still in their ears,
'they had bloodied up four states.'
Even though it's set in the past, Bonnie And Clyde captured perfectly
the counter-culture mindset of 1967.
It tried to show that physical movement
was preferable to the comfort and stability of staying at home.
It was a radical movie but, like most radical movies,
it ends with a conservative point of view - The Wizard Of Oz motto -
there's no place like home
and to leave will result in tragedy.
You know, you could get shot... repeatedly.
HAIL OF BULLETS
Bonnie And Clyde was followed a year and a half later by Easy Rider.
And Easy Rider was directed by a man so high on drugs
he actually thought he was a French New Wave film director.
Dennis Hopper's film - God rest his soul -
moves way beyond Bonnie And Clyde as an expression of rebellion.
Billy and Wyatt are both as mobile as other Americans
but because they're bikers, they're outsiders.
This was a cinematic trope that was first developed
by the Roger Corman AIP-type biker films of the '50s.
Not coincidentally, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda
and Dennis Hopper had all previously starred in low-budget biker films.
Hey, you got a room?
Easy Rider is probably the greatest example ever of a bad film
being made at just the right time.
American culture in 1969 was having a hard time
figuring out just what it was supposed to be.
Young audiences embraced Easy Rider
because in its muddled way it made sense.
Also it had a cool soundtrack -
a last-minute decision - that cost eight times as much as the film.
But for budding directors,
many from the first crop of film school matriculation
at NYU and UCLA,
Easy Rider made film-making look DIY possible.
I never really thought of myself as a freak, you know?
But I love to freak.
In Easy Rider, the two main characters
and their Harleys are completely fused.
Dennis Hopper's bike is full of cocaine.
So was Dennis Hopper at the time.
I've got to get out of here, man. We've got things we want to do, man.
Like, I... I got to get out of here, man.
# The river flows... #
It's a fairly well-known fact that Dennis Hopper was a little amped up
during the filming of Easy Rider
and smashed a guitar over the cameraman's head.
Laszlo Kovacs was brought on board
and that's probably the best thing that could have happened to the film
because his expansive style set the standard for future road movies.
Like Bonnie and Clyde, the heroes of Easy Rider
make sure that they get themselves killed at the end.
Well, I don't think they'll make the parish line.
Hey, look at them goons!
Pull alongside. We'll scare the hell out of them.
This will be the action of choice
for the majority of road films that followed.
It's seminally important, when portraying a rebel,
to make sure you're martyred at the end of the film.
Bonnie And Clyde and Easy Rider
brought road movies to a kind of fork in the road.
Bonnie And Clyde was an outlaw road movie.
Easy Rider was kind of a quest road movie.
From here on in, most road movies had to choose one fork or the other.
That's probably enough with the fork in the road metaphors.
But more importantly, both movies represent a kind of malaise
that was beginning to grip America at the time.
In both movies, the main characters die in the end. You see there?
That's kind of a representation of the dying human spirit,
the rebellious zeitgeist, the hippie ideal.
This is 1969 we're talking about
and 1969 was a year in America
where you could look at a lot of things
and clearly delineate that they were turning to shit.
MUSIC: "Ohio" by Neil Young
By 1970, the '60s zeitgeist that had spurned hippy culture
seemed to be on the wane.
Events at Altamont shocked many Americans,
as did the Sharon Tate murders committed by Chucky Manson
and his family of followers.
For many Americans, the '70s became a decade of transition
marked by confusion.
The Vietnam war and Watergate
damaged America's faith in their government and their leaders.
There were anti-war demonstrations and marches,
which saw students massacred at Kent State University.
The feeling was that America had lost its direction
and the American dream was becoming a nightmare.
America seemed befogged. Is that a word?
You know, pulled in too many different directions.
The low-budget indie films of the time
worked as an antidote to President Nixon's conformist silent majority.
They were cynical films.
Vanishing Point and Two-Lane Blacktop
were two films that kind of marry
man and vehicle into a single character.
And although the films are about movement,
the movement is just for the sake of movement.
What are you trying to do? Blow my mind?
Two-Lane Blacktop is a movie
that seems to embrace the hippy mindset of the late '60s
and refute it at the same time.
Directed by Monte Hellman,
it's basically a race between a souped-up, rebuilt 55 Chevy
and a brand-new factory-fresh Pontiac GTO.
Or, more specifically, about the guys who drive them.
Thus it's possible to read into this some kind of showdown
between individual versus automation.
-Sure we'll race? You're damn right we'll race.
Pink slips? You mean for cars?
-You name it.
Two-Lane Blacktop is full of revving motors and grinding gears,
as if that's more important than anything the characters have to say.
In fact, the characters are frustratingly inarticulate.
There's these long, quasi-European lapses of silence.
We keep wanting these characters to explain their backgrounds,
what they want, even tell us their names,
but a car isn't a psychiatrist's couch.
Besides, it's realistic
because if someone did rattle on incessantly
for more than a couple of hours on a road trip,
you'd throw them out the door and into a ditch.
So we get James Taylor in the lead role.
That's right, James Taylor -
the guy who's witnessed both fire and rain
and felt the need to sing about it.
James Taylor. Remember, if you need a friend,
you've got a friend with James Taylor.
And the sky is dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind begins to blow, yeah, call James Taylor.
He's standing by the phone, you big pussy. It's weather - deal with it.
Anyway, you get James Taylor giving us a masterclass
in how not to act at all.
-Well, don't get any splinters.
-You bore me.
Monte Hellman is interested in projecting aimlessness and drift,
and the emptiness of the hippy ethic.
After all, this was a time when a hippy chick,
apropos of any introduction whatsoever, would just park herself
in the back seat of any vehicle that would move her along.
You know what? That never happened.
Not even at the pinpoint apex of the age of free love,
"Hey, hey, you, you, get off of my cloud", age of Aquarius,
"If you're going to San Francisco wear some flowers in your hair",
"New York State Freeway is closed", free love, acid movement pinpoint
did a hippy chick, with all her belongings,
climb into the back seat of a car and just wait to see who owned it
and what would happen next.
This is Hollywood's myopic version of the hippy movement.
Ultimately Two-Lane Blacktop is about characters who can't relate to each other.
It's a pretty accurate reading of America at the time.
Lots of self-expression but no-one listening.
Fortunately the '80s were just over the horizon.
No more of that sappy music.
Music rocked in the '80s.
MUSIC: "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas
# Everybody was kung-fu fighting
# Those kicks were fast as lightning
# In fact it was little bit frightening... #
Many of the early '70s road movies focused on speed,
and the perfect car to use was the muscle car.
ANNOUNCER: Mustang, the original.
America's favourite sports car, with three new models.
A muscle car is exactly what the name implies.
It's a small car with a big engine.
It's designed for straight-away highway speeds,
blowing the doors off of other cars
and inviting their drivers to dine on your dust.
ANNOUNCER: Take the Mustang pledge. No telling where it will lead.
You're ahead in a Ford, all the way.
# I'm going to get up in the morning
# I'm going to hit Highway 49
# I'm going to get up in the morning
# I'm going to hit Highway 49... #
This is a 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass.
It's called a muscle car.
Now, Jeremy Clarkson,
your ill-informed and over-hyped God of all things automotive and British,
will tell you that muscle cars are gutless,
that they can't handle the curves,
that they have no finesse and no style.
He'll tell you that a GTO or a Cutlass can't compare
to a Ferrari or a Lamborghini.
What he doesn't bother to tell you is that muscle cars were made
for young working American men who put in a bit of overtime
so they could have one decent thing in their life.
A Ferrari is for a guy with too much money, a mid-life crisis
and a comb-over.
Comparing a muscle car to a Ferrari
is like comparing Jeremy Clarkson to a real television host.
If this car was a woman it'd be Elizabeth Taylor.
If Jeremy Clarkson were a woman,
I wouldn't be a God-damn bit surprised.
ROAR OF MOTOR ENGINES
'Name - Kowalski.
'Occupation - driver, transporting a super-charged Dodge Challenger
'from Denver to San Francisco.
'Background - Medal of Honour in Vietnam.
'Former stock and fight racer.
'Former cop, dishonourably discharged.
'Now he uses speed to get himself up, to get himself gone.'
Vanishing Point is about a car-delivery driver
known only as Kowalski who bets his Benzedrine dealer
he can drive from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours.
The trip serves as an exploration of terrain and psyche.
Despite his occasional lapses of tolerance,
Kowalski's a kind of counterculture hold-out, trying to outrun the police.
Maybe killed somebody.
Maybe stole that big dude of his. Maybe both.
He's abetted by a mystical small-town DJ named Supersoul
who turns the ensuing police chase into a folk hero drama.
'There goes the Challenger,
'being chased by the blue, blue meanies on wheels.
'The vicious swag cars are after ours own driver.
'The super driver of the Golden West!
'The police numbers are getting closer, closer,
'closer to our soul hero.
'It is so real. They're going to kill him, smash him,
'rip the last American hero.'
Vanishing Point is a vision of post-hippy anxiety.
It was made in 1972.
That's five years after the Summer of Love.
Ronald Reagan had been installed as the Governor of California.
There were DEA planes circling the skies,
looking for the kind of drug dealers the heroes of Easy Rider portrayed.
Vanishing Point puts to rest the idea that racial tension,
class struggles and ideological conflicts can be solved
with simple, hippy wishful thinking.
'Everybody's after Kowalski...'
-Because they think we're queers.
-'..for one reason or another.'
Is there something I can do for you?
-Like anything you want.
'Everybody wants a piece of his hide.'
# I got to getcha
# I got to getcha... #
The early '70s brought a flood of road movies,
most of them bearing the uneasy mark of recalcitrance.
They weren't about character development,
they were about the journey itself. Motion, not emotion.
Vanishing Point, Two-Lane Blacktop, Easy Rider.
These were films that young people embraced.
They were screened repeatedly at university campuses and drive-in movies.
They had a certain diffidence about them.
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold doesn't really work
after ingesting a big chunk of Lebanese hash,
but Vanishing Point does.
You could get high at a Midnight Madness movie-screening with your buddies,
and watch Easy Rider the way a dog watches an executive desk toy.
They reflected Hollywood's understanding of the counterculture.
But in truth, they were somewhat conservative
Now, the 70's wasn't all about drug-fuelled road journeys and V8 engine muscle cars.
We also started to see road movies with intelligent narrative
and powerful performances.
Long before Bono started bleating incessantly
about not being able to find what he was looking for,
Jack Nicholson portrayed a character with a similar plight.
The character's name was Bobby Dupea,
the film was called Five Easy Pieces.
# Stand by your man... #
ANNOUNCER: The triple-award winner is back.
Five Easy Pieces,
Best Picture of the Year.
Five Easy Pieces invokes images of dehumanisation by machinery
in its very opening scene.
Bobby works on an oil rig,
and much like the bulldozers in The Grapes Of Wrath that destroys the Joads' home,
the oil rigs may represent progress but they are actually destroying the human spirit.
Keep tellin' me about the good life, Elton, cos it makes me puke.
Bobby leads a nowhere life.
He isn't a hippy. He's actually from a family of classically-trained musicians whom he's rejected.
They wanted to hire a detective and I talked them out of it
cos I felt whatever you were doing, you had a perfect right to do,
no matter how nonsensical your ventures might be.
Now he's hanging out with a trailer-park girlfriend named Rayette,
played by Karen Black, a fantastic actress from an era
when actresses were cast because they were striking and interesting.
I'll do anything that you like for me to do
if you would tell me that you love me.
Bobby's life consists primarily of bowling, drinking
and screwing around on his shrill girlfriend.
He's like an automobile trapped in traffic.
Inside is a man desperate to escape,
who doesn't know how to channel his frustration.
When he finds out his father is gravely ill
he has to return to Washington State.
He's just found out Rayette is pregnant.
This seems like a golden opportunity to dump her.
But he feels too guilty about it,
and again, we see the automobile serving as a physical manifestation
of the emotional cage that he's trapped in.
HE SHOUTS IN FRUSTRATION
I move around a lot.
Not because I'm looking for anything really but...
..cos I'm getting away from things that get bad...if I stay.
Five Easy Pieces spends a lot of time stacking the tension
that will convince Bobby to split.
The road journey takes place about halfway through the film.
It only lasts for about ten minutes
but it contains one of the most memorable scenes in modern cinema.
A Number Two, chicken salad san.
Hold the butter, the lettuce and the mayonnaise.
And a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast,
give me a cheque for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.
You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
I want you to hold it between your knees.
You see that sign, sir?
Yes, y'all have to leave. I'm not taking any more of your smartness and sarcasm.
You see this sign?
In 1970, most Americans weren't up for robbing banks
or riding Harleys across America to express their rebellion.
But that gesture is something they could identify with,
even articulate if they wanted to.
It paved the way for the cool sarcasm of so many '70s films that followed,
the satire of disillusionment. In fact, it did more than that.
That diner scene marks the point
where the revolutionary ideals of the '60s figuratively die,
cos from here on in, there won't be any more rebels,
just dissatisfied customers.
At the end of Five Easy Pieces,
Bobby Dupea pulls into a gas station with Rayette.
He has a moment of reflection and decides to change his life forever.
He goes back outside and takes a ride with a passing truck driver.
He leaves Rayette at the service station and his whole past behind him.
Psychologically, emotionally and physically,
he drops off the planet.
Now, whether this represents a death or a rebirth
is open to interpretation.
Interestingly, this is not the original ending to the film.
It's an ending suggested by Jack Nicholson.
The original ending to Five Easy Pieces
had Bobby and Rayette driving their car off a cliff
and freezing the scene in mid-air.
We'd have to wait another 21 years for THAT to crop up.
Badlands is what Bonnie And Clyde would have been
if it'd been made strictly for adults.
It was Terence Malik's first film.
'He was 25 years-old. He combed his hair like James Dean.
'He was very fastidious.
'People who littered bothered him.
'She was 15. She took music lessons and could twirl a baton.'
I'm Kit. I'm not keeping you from anything important, am I?
'She wasn't very popular at school...'
Sissy Spacek plays a small-town girl where boredom prevails over good judgment.
She's distracted by a good-looking psychopath
the way some people were distracted by a shiny car.
I don't want to see you again. Understand?
'They ain't sure not dead, then I'd have been running around behind his back.
'He was madder than I'd ever seen him.'
The film's underpinning of violence is astoundingly ambiguous.
Malik is the kind of director who cuts to a hummingbird when someone is being shot in the eyeball.
Throughout the film Holly narrates
in a very matter-of-fact, dispassionate way,
as if she were reading a What I Did Last Summer essay to classmates.
'He made me take extra music lessons every day after school
'and wait there till he came to pick me up.
'He said if the piano didn't keep me off the streets,
'maybe the clarinet would.'
It's this nonchalance that makes the brutality on screen
seem like some kind of emotional practical joke.
My girl Holly and I decided to kill ourselves.
The same way I did her dad.
'Nobody's coming out of this thing happy. Especially not us.
'I can't deny we've had fun, though.'
Much the same as Bonnie and Clyde,
the cult hero status that Kit and Holly acquire
as they race through the Badlands trying to evade capture,
also dooms them.
The more famous they become,
the less chance of escape.
Admittedly, it's pretty hard to watch
Easy Rider or Vanishing Point nowadays
and understand what all the fuss was about.
Those communications and rhythms are gone.
Those films look brittle, like artefacts.
But Badlands holds up because it's beautifully photographed,
it's amazingly well acted,
and it's about the banality of evil.
And the world is a lot more evil today than it was in 1973.
It's an ironic comment on how the media anoints celebrity status
to just about anybody who asks for it.
And in the end, the Hollywood mindset,
the conservative ethic, wins again.
Listen to your parents and teachers.
They got a line on most things - they ain't enemies.
There's always a chance you can learn something.
Try to keep an open mind.
Try to understand the viewpoints of others.
Think I got 'em?
-I don't know.
-Well, I'm not going down there to look!
Like Hopper and Fonda, Terence Malik had no idea what he was doing
when he made Badlands.
The entire film crew quit on him,
the cameras burned up during a house fire scene.
He had to put up his own money to finish the film. Nobody even wanted to see it!
But today it's considered a masterpiece.
It's a final comment on that time in America between 1966 and 1973
when almost anything seemed possible.
But, on the other hand, as far as filmmaking goes,
it made it seem as if anything was possible.
# In this town television shuts off at two
# What can a lonely rock'n'roller do?
# The bed's so big the sheets are clean
# Your girlfriend said you were 19... #
The highway changed the landscape for ever,
and it also created a vacuum to be filled by anti-social behaviour.
# Come into my motel room
# Treat me nice... #
The car is the facilitator of courtships and criminal getaways,
but the motel is where these situations are resolved.
In real life, motels are for sleeping
but in films, they're for unsavoury assignations, drug deals,
crime planning, dividing up the spoils,
and, of course, illicit sex.
In the old days, motels were called "hot pillows".
The old crow downstairs said there's a fold-out bed behind this door.
Do you know how to work it?
I invented it.
There's something inherently disturbing about motel rooms.
Maybe it's the suggestive history of all the people who've stayed here before us.
You know, a house is about stability.
But a motel room is just associative - it's full of angst -
what are you going to do, watch TV? Drink some bad coffee?
Pick up the complimentary pen and write a letter to Jodie Foster?
Plus, they try to charge you money to make you feel at home!
Consequently, there's in an innate desire to trash a hotel room.
I'm done here, thanks.
# Trailers for sale or rent
# Rooms to let, 50 cents... #
The need for cheap roadside accommodation
grew out of the advancement of the highway network.
By the 1950s, there were over 100,000 motel rooms
along US highways.
People started leaving the cities, and the further they got out,
the more amenities they needed - the more places they needed to stay,
and those people, the farmers along these roads that became popular,
started saying, "We could make money on this - we can rent out cabins,
"we can build cabins, we can rent out our rooms",
and those became the very first motels.
Motels as opposed to hotels, because that was a motor lodge,
or a motor hotel.
As the highways became more sophisticated,
so did the hotels and the establishments.
They grew with the highway system.
# I'm a man of means by no means
# King of the road. #
Early motels were a mixture of kitsch and convenience.
They did whatever they could to attract travellers,
to rise above the mundane, I mean, look at this -
these curtains are genuine towel.
They were mom and pop establishments
requiring low overhead, but long, long hours
because it's very, very hard work keeping things leisurely.
They're an architectural sub-genre,
uniquely American, and infinitely unique,
but I'll tell you this - every scene you've ever seen in a film
where someone tries to crawl out of the bathroom window, doesn't happen.
Right, let's get out of here.
A pudgy man from Memphis, Tennessee, named Kemmons Wilson
killed the mom and pop motel when he developed the idea
of a cookie cutter multi-storey chain
that promised a consistent quality of service and amenities.
Kemmons' aim was to create a sanitized, family-friendly,
no surprises atmosphere.
In other words, he wanted you to believe
you were paying for a motel room no-one had ever fucked in.
Most filmmakers would never consider that kind of a location.
In a film, the motel room is going to be squalid,
with paper-thin walls,
a flickering TV, cigarette burns everywhere.
It's an important piece of casting.
No-one would have given a shit about Psycho
if it was filmed on the 23rd floor of a Marriott.
The motel room is a bad, bad place.
You left home, Dorothy, now you're going to pay for it.
Are you going to leave for fucking ever?
What, did you fucking kill somebody?
You start this shit, I'm outta here.
# I'm so weary and all alone
# Feet are tired like heavy stone
# Travelling, travelling
# All alone. #
Diners as well are important to Road Films -
they generally serve to contrast the alienation of the main character
with the grounded stability of the locals.
Usually a disruption of some kind occurs.
In 1975, Martin Scorsese made a film in which the main character,
instead of disrupting the surroundings, is absorbed by it.
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is generally lauded
as some sort of a feminist epic,
assuming an epic can be made by a director whose primary concern
is Italian Americans shooting other Italian Americans in the head.
But, between Mean Streets and Taxi Driver,
Martin Scorsese took some sort of a testosterone nap,
and directed a softie that won
Ellen Burstyn an Academy Award for Best Actress,
and Diane Ladd a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
The film begins in a Wizard Of Oz setting
with Alice as a little girl dreaming of a future as a singer.
Then we see her grown up,
living in a tract house in New Mexico,
widowed with an 11-year-old son,
and a losing streak in picking suitable admirers.
When her husband suddenly dies in a truck crash,
she grabs her son, in the role originally created by Toto,
and heads to Monterey, California to pick up her dream of being a singer.
Alice doesn't live any of those places any more,
because when they start closing in...
..Alice hits the highway.
We ain't hiring no waitresses.
I'm not a waitress, I'm a singer.
He won't want no singer.
Alice's road isn't paved with yellow bricks.
It's paved with dingy motels and diners.
Her good witch appears in the form of Flo, a waitress at Mel's Diner.
Flo is played by Diane Ladd.
Hey, everybody! Listen!
We got us here a new girl.
Her name is Alice.
And today is her first day on the job.
And Mel here says she was a singer. How about them apples?
Flo and Alice become best friends. They work together.
They weep together. They share sexual fantasies.
Flo spouts lots of potty-mouthed aphorisms
that are supposed to pass for struggling class wisdom.
Every time they drop a plate of food or screw up someone's order,
they sob uncontrollably, then laugh hysterically.
They run the gamut of emotions learnt at the Actors' Studio
because this is, after all, a Scorsese film.
Then Alice meets stoney-faced rancher Quarts Quartstofferson
from the James Taylor school of non-acting.
What about Friday?
No, I can't. I'm sorry. Thank you.
New Year's Eve?
Well, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be here for New Year's Eve.
What am I doing wrong?
Before Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore even came out
it was hyped as a feminist breakthrough film
and Ellen Burstyn as its incipient movement superstar.
In retrospect, it's a fairly sappy Martin Scorsese romantic comedy,
notable mainly for the fact
that Alice doesn't end up in a shallow grave
with Joe Pesci shovelling dirt on to her face while she's alive.
She actually finds her Kansas
right here in the middle of little old nowhere USA.
I want you and Tommy with me. What do you want?
Oh, David, you just don't understand.
You can be happy here.
Oh, sure! Sure!
But I'm not going to let anybody stop me this time.
Who's stopping you?
Ellen Burstyn was pre-ordained to win the Academy Award in 1975,
due in large part to the political agenda pushed by the marketers.
But it's not really a political film at all.
It's a road film with an all together rare happy ending.
Far less attention was paid to Goldie Hawn's superior performance
in The Sugarland Express -
that was Steven Spielberg's film from the same year
about an outlaw couple trying to retrieve
their baby from the state of Texas,
who's taken it and put into foster care.
This true, but incredible event happened in Texas in 1969.
After winning the Academy Award in 1969 for Cactus Flower,
Goldie Hawn was proving to be an incredibly versatile actress,
and, in Sugarland Express, she gave a powerful performance
as Lou Jean Poplin.
Welfare's taken baby Linus, and they're going to keep him
in that foster home.
I want my baby back.
Both of these films are notable because they were female-led.
They prefigured Thelma and Louise.
They showed that, by the mid '70s, the nature of road films had shifted
from drifting marginalised loners to drifting marginalised families,
from political self-consciousness to dystopian fairy-tales.
They marked the end of the genre's most prolific period.
We're in real trouble.
The road film all but disappeared
between the mid '70s until well into the '80s -
probably a victim of its own existential meandering.
A lot of films were made that had cars in them -
most starred Burt Reynolds,
but the idea of rebellion in a film had all but become stifled.
Why? I don't know.
I don't know.
Most influential American film directors at the time
cut their teeth on road films.
Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola,
Steven Spielberg, Terence Malik...
There must be another...
There must be some other director of artistic integrity...
How's the cheesecake, hon?
It's not that, er... Everything else was fine.
-I'll take this. Maybe it's...
I'll tell you why.
Let's say that it really was good cheesecake.
Let's say that it became the most popular thing on the menu,
that the only reason people came here was for the cheesecake.
Right? They don't want the Network Burger or the Taxi Driver Omelette,
or the French Connection Soup - they just want cheesecake.
Then they start telling their friends and neighbours,
"Go to the Livingston Truck Stop! The cheesecake is out of this world!
"It's like something from a planet a long, long time ago
"in a galaxy far, far away."
And then, pretty soon, that's all anybody would want.
They wouldn't care about taste any more, would they, sir?
They just want this stodgy,
lumpy piece of compound passing itself off as cheesecake.
And then, pretty soon,
the diner turns into this big, money-sucking franchise,
selling cheesecake action figures and cheesecake light sabres,
plundering clients for generations to come.
And then, one day,
the diner announces it's coming out with a sequel to the cheesecake.
Huh? And everyone flocks here
to see the new, improved version of the cheesecake.
And then, the waitress walks up with a big bowl of egg yolks
and says, "Here you go, sir, here's some egg yolk.
"Here's some vanilla extract.
"Here's some cream cheese."
These are all the things that made up the cheesecake
before it was cheesecake.
And they do this not once, but three times!
Three times! And people don't care.
They come here for the cheesecake anyway
because they've forgotten there was a time
when there was something on the planet besides cheesecake!
And that is how George Lucas screwed up American cinema.
How about a piece of pecan pie? I bet it's fresher.
MUSIC: "Love Missile F1-11" by Sigue Sigue Sputnik
The '80s came in on a big fat wave of conservatism.
Big was better. Greed was good.
# The US bombs cruising overhead... #
There were boycotts, bombings,
and the man famous for sharing the screen with a chimp
got himself elected president.
# ..my love rocket red. #
He declared war on just about everyone.
He didn't expect them to shoot back.
And when they did, he removed the bullet with his bare hand,
and then, for no reason, invaded Panama.
Independent vision and rebellion all but died in American film
when Ronald Reagan became president.
There was no more cultural criticism,
there was just big daddy paternal action figures.
Rambo and Arnie. Indiana Jones.
The guys are actually Ronald Reagan in disguise.
There was no social or political or historical grounding.
There was just adrenaline-fuelled, action-packed plots.
Just get in a jet plane and just do it!
Do it! Do it! Do it!
# ..stronger than steel You won't feel... #
Helicopter shots, mega lenses,
Steadicams, tracking devices,
Coke-fuelled production budgets
rendered normal highway speed obsolete.
Why show a normal car when you could show a car that goes
back into the future?
Why show a car at all? Show a space station.
Existential angst? Ha!
It was American kick ass time.
You see, in a good road movie, a character's crisis of identity
will mirror the nation's crisis of identity
but America wasn't having a crisis of identity
because America thought it was Rambo.
Normal road films can't encompass that.
So, you get Mad Max, Road Warrior, starring Mel Gibson.
Not angry. That'll come later when he starts
beating up his girlfriend and slagging off the Jews.
Right now, he's just mad.
The crack interceptor on the highways of tomorrow.
Into a world without law.
Americans, of course,
didn't quite get that Mad Max was Australia making fun of them.
They just saw it as an action movie with lots of exploding cars
and a smarmy, punk attitude.
The same is true of Repo Man,
another film that takes a snarly attitude about cars and travel.
British director Alex Cox's 1983 film
was as derogatory about the punk counterculture
as previous road films had been about hippies.
And like Road Warrior, it transplants anti heroes
with ridiculous caricatures of punk burn out.
I had a lobotomy, in the end.
Isn't that for loonies?
Not at all.
These films put so much critical distance
between themselves and the viewer that they come off as comedies.
America had turned into a snarling loud-mouthed
"Let's go back to 'Nam
"and get it right because we were winning when we left" bore.
Somebody was getting their ass kicked every five minutes.
In the news. And in the cinema.
It took an outsider, a foreigner, a German, to remind us
that road films are always a detached form of entertainment.
Wim Wenders had been making German road films since 1972,
Alice In The Cities and Kings Of The Road being prime examples.
Wenders likes to claim that his films
often start off with road maps instead of scripts.
Therefore, there's often no fixed place of origin.
In Paris, Texas,
we first encounter Harry Dean Stanton's character Travis
wandering with no apparent aim
through the desert of southwest Texas.
Travis inhabits a world where surface meanings
seem to have been replaced by representations.
He possesses no recollection of his family
and when he is located by his brother Walt,
he seems to have rejected all forms of communication.
The film is based on a book of short stories by Sam Shepard
called Motel Chronicles.
Wenders seems to be trying to show us someone who was unable
to express his identity and even the act of travel, which usually allows
characters at least to reinvent themselves, has failed here.
Ha! We thought you were dead, boy.
How long have I been gone, do you know?
Is four years a long time?
It is for a little boy.
Travis carries a crumpled photo
of a vacant lot in a place called Paris, Texas,
which he believes to be the place of his conception.
His brother tries to help him piece together his past
but they are both totally reliant on technical reproduction.
Travis comes to believe that he has a wife
and a young son from watching Super 8 holiday footage.
Even when he re-establishes contact with his son,
he can only communicate with him using a walkie-talkie.
I can never heal up what happened.
I can't even hardly remember what happened.
It's like a gap.
When he finally meets up with his estranged wife,
he has to talk to her through a peepshow window.
Is there something... I don't know, is there something I can do for you?
Once he has more or less
successfully reunited with his family,
he leaves a message telling them goodbye
and wanders off into the desert.
Despite the fatalistic nature of the film,
the cinematography by Robby Muller contradicts the film's
sense of personal claustrophobia and entrapment.
We see rolling landscapes, desert exile, moving countryside,
exterior shots of vehicles speeding past the camera.
In other words, the same context as other road movies but now,
these images serve merely serve as representations of travel.
And because Travis ends up choosing this life over family,
Wenders shows us a character whose identity
is not influenced by the road, it actually IS the road.
Paris, Texas was instrumental in reviving the road film genre.
And in reminding us that
even though they are a purely American concept,
road films are essentially European in nature.
The characters are always outside the mainstream, marginalised.
The director is always forced
to take the point of view of an outsider.
And nowadays, the road film
is completely at the mercy of the director's vision.
You can no longer count on spectacular scenery
to make a film memorable because we've seen it all before.
60 years of road sceneries absorbed it all.
Mountains, vistas, canyons, rivers, sunsets.
People go through Monument Valley and always say one thing.
Honey, it looks just like a John Ford film.
As if John fucking Ford invented Monument Valley.
Monument Valley was here long before the John Ford
ever put his big fat clod-hoppers onto it.
You can no longer count on ancient geology
or spectacular scenery to make a film worthwhile.
We expect to see ancient geology, but we also expect to see that big,
sexy, sweeping, soaring money shot.
It's both reality and a total simulation of reality.
Film critics and scholars call that hyper-realism. A representation.
You know, is this a real rock?
Or is this a simulation of a rock?
It's a real rock.
What this means is that like Westerns,
we are expected to know what a road movie is supposed to look like.
And when a genre becomes entrenched like this,
it becomes ripe for gimmickry.
Over the course of the '80s, and into the '90s,
we get lots of road movie parodies.
Notably Lost In America.
We get a Canadian version of a road film called Highway 61.
We get a British version called Butterfly Kiss.
And eventually, we get the epic Thelma And Louise.
Thelma and Louise are going fishing.
-How come Darryl let you go?
-Cos I didn't ask him!
-He is going to kill you!
-I left him a note.
Lots of directors have attempted to infuse the road movie
with the characters revolting
against what's expected of their nature.
Thelma And Louise is the best.
Not because it is a feminist reworking of a predominantly male territory.
Sugarland Express and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
had already been there.
It's best because it is a well-made film.
Do you want to step back and get in your car again?
I swear, three days ago, we would never have pulled a stunt like this
-but if you were to meet my husband, you'd understand why.
Thelma And Louise is about two women temporarily escaping
their oppressive relationships by taking a road trip.
They hit a rowdy bar,
a drunk tries to rape Thelma and Louise plugs him.
Their carefree mood evaporates and convinced
that Thelma's self-defence story will never hold up,
the two become fugitives.
Thelma and Louise take to the road for two reasons -
to escape patriarchy, the male dominated work place and home,
but more importantly,
to escape the male dominated legal system that legitimises rape.
The heroines end up martyring themselves, not self-consciously
like Easy Rider or Vanishing Point, these women have no choice.
Thus, the film's epic ending manages to do two things -
to make an astounding pro-feminist statement
and to reinforce certain truisms about women drivers.
Cos, you know, women are bad drivers.
That's what I'm saying.
They drove off a cliff.
They weren't even yapping into cell phones.
You want me to shoot Sailor, in the brains?
With a gun?
Wild At Heart takes the road movie into its post-modern period.
David Lynch recycles and blends generic road images,
all flashy camera work and tilted angles,
it's supremely self-conscious and grandstanding.
It is also totally condescending toward suburban culture
and the American family.
The film lampoons rebellion.
It takes violence to sadistic cartoon levels,
it makes fun of George Lucas-type special effects but in the end,
it follows the same neoconservative thread as most road movies.
Sailor and Lula, the star-crossed killers will end up
realising their dream which is to be a happy, white, suburban family.
So, Wild At Heart is David Lynch trying to kill off every last notion
of what the Wizard Of Oz was trying to say.
The good witch.
Lula loves you.
If David Lynch tried to kill off a film,
leave it to Oliver Stone to try to kill off an entire genre.
In much the same way as he pummelled the rock star pic
into cinematic overkill with The Doors,
he takes a big, steaming grudge dump
on road films with Natural Born Killers.
Oliver Stone threw everything he had at the road movie
in an attempt to kill it and it's still here.
He probably did it a favour by making it so ridiculous
that there was nowhere to go but back to its roots.
At the end of the last century,
David Lynch made a film called The Straight Story.
It is a contrite attempt
to return the road movie to its simplest premise.
It's the story about a 73-year-old man
who is told by his doctor
that he can no longer drive a car. He finds out
his estranged brother Lyle has had a stroke
so he sets out from Wisconsin to Iowa on the only vehicle
he's legally allowed to drive, a John Deere mower.
Mount Zion, Wisconsin? Why don't you just take your car?
-I don't have a driver's license.
-That's 60 more miles of hills.
Along the way, Alvin befriends various people
including a pregnant girl
and a family who lets him live in their backyard
until his mower is repaired.
The film subverts the whole idea of speed and momentum.
Most road films are about going nowhere fast.
The Straight Story is about going somewhere slow.
And in one of the most sublime endings to a road film ever,
when Alvin meets up with his brother Lyle after a two-month journey,
the brother he hasn't talked to in 25 years,
played by Harry Dean Stanton,
a man whose work in road films spanned from a cameo
as a gay hitchhiker in Two Lane Blacktop right through Repo Man
and Paris, Texas and Wild At Heart, a man whose face and world weariness
is the very embodiment of road films themselves,
Lynch gives us one of the best endings to any film ever
and proves that he actually is capable of directing
a film set on the planet Earth.
And most of all, it shows us the one true thing that separates
the road movie from all other genres.
In most movies, it's the actions that speak louder than the words.
In a road movie, the silent moments are the most effective.
Did you ride that thing all the way out here to see me?
I did, Lyle.
It is a construct of most drama
to invent credible reasons for the characters to stay.
Sometimes, we watch a story and we think,
why doesn't this idiot just leave?
And that's where the road movie begins.
The ideas of escape, wanderlust, drift, reinvention
or just falling off the face of the planet
are all universal human conditions.
And America doesn't own the road film,
but it definitely has the best sets.
Even as I speak, that quintessential American novel On The Road
is being filmed by director Walter Salles
with a crew much bigger than this one.
And it's being filmed in Canada.
A travel writer once famously said,
"Thanks to the interstate highway system,
"it's now possible to cross America without seeing anything."
But because of its back roads,
it's also possible to cross America and see everything.
In a road movie, the number on the highway doesn't matter,
it only matters where it goes.
And that's one of two directions.
Or away from it.
So, pick a lane.
The only dangerous part to be is in the middle.
# I pulled out of Pittsburgh rolling down the eastern seaboard
# I've got my diesel wound up and she's running like never before
# There's a speed zone ahead all right
# I ain't seen a cop all night
# Six days on the road and now I'm going to make it home tonight
# Six days on the road
# And I'm going to make it home tonight. #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Comedian Rich Hall hits the road as he takes us on his personal journey through the road movie, which, from the earliest days of American cinema has been synonymous with American culture. With his customary wit and intelligence, Rich takes us through films such as Bonnie and Clyde, The Grapes of Wrath, Thelma and Louise, Vanishing Point, Five Easy Pieces and even The Wizard of Oz. He explores what makes a road movie and how the American social, economic and political landscape has defined the genre.
Filmed on location in South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, the film incorporates interviews, archive footage and clips of some of cinemas best-loved films as it gives us another of Rich Hall's unique insights into American culture.