Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

R | 101-102 mins | Drama | July 1971

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HISTORY

Two-Lane Blacktop features a loose, taciturn filmmaking style, using minimal dialogue and mixing unscripted footage with pre-planned scenes. Contemporary sources pointed out that the film was shot in continuity over the course of a real cross-country road trip, and that the principal actors were not allowed to read the script in advance but instead were provided their lines each day. Of the four leads, only Warren Oates had previous acting experience. The final shot of the picture depicts the film itself burning up as “The Driver” participates in yet another race. Director Monte Hellman stated in a modern interview that the image represented the characters, who must keep moving or they will burn out. Each car is credited in the cast list; one as "1955 Chevrolet" and the other as "1970 Pontiac." Throughout the film, "the Driver," "The Mechanic," "The girl" and "GTO" are never addressed by personal names.
       Hellman had had previous success with The Filmgroup’s 1959 Beast from Haunted Cave (see above), and in 1965 shot two low-budget independent pictures back-to-back in Utah, Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting . The latter films starred Jack Nicholson and were financed by Roger Corman. The Shooting , which also starred Oates, was shown at the 1966 Montreal Film Festival and both films subsequently earned a release in France, winning Hellman an enthusiastic European following. In 1971 Filmfacts reported that at that time plans were “reportedly underway” for an American theatrical release for the two 1965 pictures. Neither obtained distribution in the United States until receiving a limited run in Los Angeles in Jan 1972, and were ... More Less

Two-Lane Blacktop features a loose, taciturn filmmaking style, using minimal dialogue and mixing unscripted footage with pre-planned scenes. Contemporary sources pointed out that the film was shot in continuity over the course of a real cross-country road trip, and that the principal actors were not allowed to read the script in advance but instead were provided their lines each day. Of the four leads, only Warren Oates had previous acting experience. The final shot of the picture depicts the film itself burning up as “The Driver” participates in yet another race. Director Monte Hellman stated in a modern interview that the image represented the characters, who must keep moving or they will burn out. Each car is credited in the cast list; one as "1955 Chevrolet" and the other as "1970 Pontiac." Throughout the film, "the Driver," "The Mechanic," "The girl" and "GTO" are never addressed by personal names.
       Hellman had had previous success with The Filmgroup’s 1959 Beast from Haunted Cave (see above), and in 1965 shot two low-budget independent pictures back-to-back in Utah, Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting . The latter films starred Jack Nicholson and were financed by Roger Corman. The Shooting , which also starred Oates, was shown at the 1966 Montreal Film Festival and both films subsequently earned a release in France, winning Hellman an enthusiastic European following. In 1971 Filmfacts reported that at that time plans were “reportedly underway” for an American theatrical release for the two 1965 pictures. Neither obtained distribution in the United States until receiving a limited run in Los Angeles in Jan 1972, and were bought subsequently by Walter Reade, Jr. for television release.
       Var announced in Apr 1969 that producer Michael S. Laughlin had signed a deal with Cinema Center Films to produce Will Corry’s original screenplay for Two-Lane Blacktop . In May 1970, Var noted that Laughlin had hired Hellman to direct. However, as noted in a feature on the film published in Show magazine in Mar 1970, Cinema Center canceled the project shortly before shooting was scheduled to begin, and after being rejected by several other studios, Two-Lane Blacktop finally received financing from Universal Pictures' Ned Tanen. The Show article noted that a substantial percentage of the budget of less than $1 million went to Cinema Center to buy back the property.
       Hellman stated in a 1989 Los Angeles Reader interview that he maintained nothing from Corry’s original screenplay, which he described as a slapstick comedy, except “the title and the idea of a race.” However, Corry received onscreen credit both as story writer and co-screenplay writer. Hellman also declared that his decision to cast untrained actors was necessitated by the budget, and “If I could have found [real] actors to play those characters, I would have picked them.” In a modern source, Hellman stated that although Jack Deerson is credited as director of photography, in reality Gregory Sandor (who is listed as “photographic advisor”) shot the whole film, but could not be credited due to union issues. Only Sandor is included in the opening credit sequence, while only Deerson is included in the end credits. Although shots from a scene featuring the girl bathing nude are included in the Show feature, that scene was not in the final film.
       The film was shot on location in various towns throughout California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, and marked the feature film debut of 17-year-old model Laurie Bird, who appeared in only two more films before committing suicide in 1979. The film also marked the first and last film acting jobs for famed musicians James Taylor and The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson (1944--1983). Modern sources noted that Hellman considered Jack Nicholson for the role of “GTO” and Bruce Dern for the role of “The Driver.” According to the Show article, Bird developed a fever during filming that halted production briefly. The Show article also stated that Taylor disliked Hellman’s directing style and resented not being able to see the script in advance. In a modern interview, Taylor affirmed that Hellman’s technique of requiring multiple takes of each scene drained the actors and resulted in “weary” performances; he noted in a 1993 TV Guide interview that he had never seen the finished film. Dial coach Jaclyn Hellman was the wife of the director.
              Before its release, Two-Lane Blacktop was hailed as a groundbreaking film. In Jun 1971, Esquire named the film Movie of the Year and Rolling Stone named it an instant classic. Such hyperbole may have contributed to the film’s lukewarm critical and popular reception; in addition, according to Hellman in a modern biography, Universal head Lew Wasserman disliked the film and withheld advertising. In Oct 2003, Esquire denounced its prediction in an article entitled “Our Most Embarrassing Predictions on a Cover.”
       While some critics considered Two-Lane Blacktop to represent the finest in a new genre of filmmaking centering on young protagonists and their culture, others lamented the amateur acting and the film’s meandering style and pace. Although Time magazine called it “one of the most ambitious and interesting American films of the year” and many comparisons were drawn to Easy Rider (1969, see above), Two-Lane Blacktop was pulled from theaters within weeks of its release. For his work in this film and The Hired Hand (1971, see above), Warren Oates (“GTO”) was listed as one of 1971's best supporting actors by both The New York Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics.
       Despite its tepid reception, Two-Lane Blacktop earned a cult following. It was re-released in Jul 1996, but did not become available on video or DVD until Nov 1999, partly because of its box-office performance and partly because of music rights entanglements. As noted in a 1999 LAT feature, in 1994 Seattle’s Scarecrow Video store gathered 2,000 signatures, including filmmaker Werner Herzog’s, on a petition for Two-Lane Blacktop to be released on video. The petition gained publicity that inspired Anchor Bay Entertainment to license the film from Universal and convince the surviving members of the rock band The Doors to allow their song “Moonlight Drive” to remain on the soundtrack, clearing the way for video release. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
28 Jun 1971.
---
Esquire
Jun 1971
pp. 104-14, 142-22.
Esquire
Oct 2003.
---
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 343-46.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jul 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jun 1971.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
14 Jul 1971.
---
Los Angeles Reader
22 Sep 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
14 Jul 1971
p. 1, 17.
Los Angeles Times
3 Nov 1999.
---
Motion Picture Herald
11 Aug 1971.
---
New York
12 Jul 1971.
---
New York Times
8 Jul 1971
p. 30.
New York Times
10 Oct 1971.
---
Newsweek
5 Jul 1971.
---
Rolling Stone
15 Oct 1970.
---
Show
Mar 1971
pp. 16-23.
Time
12 Jul 1971.
---
TV Guide
20 Mar 1993.
---
Variety
16 Apr 1969.
---
Variety
6 May 1970.
---
Variety
23 Jun 1971
p. 46.
Village Voice
9 Jul 1996.
---
Village Voice
3 Oct 2000.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Michael S. Laughlin Production; A Universal/Michael S. Laughlin Picture
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photographic adv
Dir of photog
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus supv
SOUND
Prod sd
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
Titles & optical eff
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Tech adv
Dial coach
Asst to the prod
Casting
Casting
Custom auto des & const
Custom auto des & const
Custom auto des & const
SOURCES
SONGS
"Moonlight Drive," words and music by Jim Morrison
"Maybellene," words and music by Chuck Berry, Russel D. Fratto and Alan Freed
"Me and Bobby McGee," words and music by Kris Kristofferson and Fred L. Foster
+
SONGS
"Moonlight Drive," words and music by Jim Morrison
"Maybellene," words and music by Chuck Berry, Russel D. Fratto and Alan Freed
"Me and Bobby McGee," words and music by Kris Kristofferson and Fred L. Foster
"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," words and music by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard
"Blood on the Tracks," words and music by Bob Dylan
"Blue," words and music by Joni Mitchell.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
July 1971
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 7 July 1971
Los Angeles opening: 14 July 1971
Production Date:
October 1970
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures and Michael Laughlin Enterprises, Inc.
Copyright Date:
7 July 1971
Copyright Number:
LP41092
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Techniscope
Duration(in mins):
101-102
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Two rootless youths roam the country in their souped-up 1955 Chevy competing in drag races to make money. Along the way, their car is admired by various gas station attendants and envied by men who long for the freedom of the road. At one roadside diner, a teenaged hippie girl hops into the backseat with her gear, and when the Driver and the Mechanic return to the car, they wordlessly accept her presence and drive on. As she chatters about the last man she stayed with and her aimless existence, they remain quiet but polite. Soon, a middle-aged man in a fancy Pontiac GTO passes them aggressively, apparently considering the Chevy a threat to his power and masculinity. Short of cash with which to gamble, the boys drop the girl in a New Mexico town so she can panhandle money from strangers. That night, the trio checks out the other racing cars that congregate at a local roadside, and soon challenge another driver to a contest. After they win, the Mechanic takes the Girl to a motel while the Driver explores the bars. The next day, GTO, who wears a cravat and racing gloves despite his poverty and inexperience with racing, picks up a hitchhiker and spins one of his habitual tales, this time claiming to be a retired jet pilot. When he passes the Chevy again, he assumes the boys are following him and boasts that his car could easily beat theirs. Soon after, the Chevy and the GTO pull up to the same gas station, prompting GTO to confront the Driver and demand that they stop harassing him. Unruffled, the Driver ignores the challenge and approaches the ... +


Two rootless youths roam the country in their souped-up 1955 Chevy competing in drag races to make money. Along the way, their car is admired by various gas station attendants and envied by men who long for the freedom of the road. At one roadside diner, a teenaged hippie girl hops into the backseat with her gear, and when the Driver and the Mechanic return to the car, they wordlessly accept her presence and drive on. As she chatters about the last man she stayed with and her aimless existence, they remain quiet but polite. Soon, a middle-aged man in a fancy Pontiac GTO passes them aggressively, apparently considering the Chevy a threat to his power and masculinity. Short of cash with which to gamble, the boys drop the girl in a New Mexico town so she can panhandle money from strangers. That night, the trio checks out the other racing cars that congregate at a local roadside, and soon challenge another driver to a contest. After they win, the Mechanic takes the Girl to a motel while the Driver explores the bars. The next day, GTO, who wears a cravat and racing gloves despite his poverty and inexperience with racing, picks up a hitchhiker and spins one of his habitual tales, this time claiming to be a retired jet pilot. When he passes the Chevy again, he assumes the boys are following him and boasts that his car could easily beat theirs. Soon after, the Chevy and the GTO pull up to the same gas station, prompting GTO to confront the Driver and demand that they stop harassing him. Unruffled, the Driver ignores the challenge and approaches the Girl, who has gotten out of the Driver's car. He discusses the meaningless existence of the cicada; however, she takes offense and hops into the GTO's passenger seat, where GTO tells her he won the car in Las Vegas. Emboldened, GTO offers to race the Chevy, and the Driver accepts, stating that they will race for the cars' pink slips. Although disconcerted, GTO demands that the race end in Washington, D.C., and the two agree on rural routes to drive. The two cars set off, the Driver focused and energized. When the Girl attempts to rub his neck, he shrugs her off. As a rainstorm begins, GTO picks up a cowboy hitchhiker and tells him he is a professional race car tester. Soon, however, the hitchhiker flirts with GTO, who orders him out of the car. Later, GTO is pulled over for speeding, and as a lark, the Driver stops to inform the policemen that GTO is a dangerous driver, then drives off at maximum speed. When GTO catches up to them, demanding that they stop patronizing him, the boys propose a truce and offer him a hard-boiled egg, and the lonely driver eagerly responds with an offer of the drugs or alcohol that he keeps in his trunk. As they share a drink, the Mechanic checks the sports car's engine, while GTO claims to be scouting locations for a movie, and clandestinely invites the Girl to travel with him to Mexico. The Mechanic informs GTO that he must get the car fixed in the next town, and to prove that they will wait for him, the Mechanic offers to drive the GTO with the Girl while GTO joins the Driver in the Chevy. Along the way, the two cars race and the Driver wins easily. GTO tries to tell the Driver his real life story, stating that "everything fell apart on me," but the Driver refuses to listen. In town, the garage is not yet open, so they wait. The Mechanic switches license plates with a car at the garage, hoping to avoid local police suspicious of out-of-towners. As GTO continues to drink, the Driver looks for the Girl, finding her trying to hitch another ride. He picks her up and drives her to a field, where he tries to teach her to drive, then kisses her. They return to the garage, where the mechanic has arrived and notified the police that some hippies are present, forcing the quartet to speed off. They meet at another roadside, where the Mechanic fixes the GTO. Continuing on to a diner in Arkansas, GTO demands to know if they are still racing, but when the boys admit that they are penniless, he helps them set up the next race. As they drive to the race site, the Driver refuses to pull over for a car that wants to pass them, and they are run off the road. Shaken, they are further frightened by the sight of an accident, in which a young man has been killed. Meanwhile, GTO picks up several hitchhikers, including an elderly woman and her grandchild, who ask him to drop them at the cemetery in which the girl's parents, recently killed by what the grandmother calls "a city car," are buried. That night, GTO joins the boys at the local amateur racetrack competition. The Mechanic informs the Girl that they will reach Washington by the next night, but she seems undecided about whether she will remain with them. The Driver states that he has bet all of their tools against the competitor’s car, then promises the Girl that after Washington, they will head to the Florida beaches. Unresponsive, she takes her bags to GTO’s car, but as he welcomes her, she remains silent. The Driver wins the race narrowly, and upon discovering that GTO and the Girl have left, insists that he and the Mechanic follow at top speed, despite the Mechanic’s warning that chasing her is pointless. In his car, GTO talks to the Girl about their future together, stating, “If I’m not grounded soon I’m gonna go into orbit.” GTO and the girl stop at a diner, and soon after the Driver passes them without seeing their car. When the Mechanic finally informs the Driver that they passed the GTO five miles earlier, the Driver wordlessly turns around to join them at the diner. There, the Driver tries to convince the Girl to stay with him, but knowing he cares only about his car, she declines, and the three men watch as she joins a motorcyclist, leaving her meager bag of possessions behind. Outside, the Driver sets up the next race while GTO drives off alone. He soon picks up a hitchhiker, to whom he brags that he once built up a 1955 Chevy into a racing car of which a man could be proud. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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