A cult classic road movie from the 70s.

Two-Lane Black­top.

Two-Lane Black­top is exact­ly the sort of film every­one expect­ed there to be hun­dreds of after the glob­al suc­cess that Easy Rid­er enjoyed in 1969.

Easy Rid­er starred and was writ­ten by Den­nis Hop­per and Peter Fon­da, togeth­er with Ter­ry South­ern, who’d pre­vi­ous­ly worked on the script for Dr. Strangelove and was cred­it­ed by Tom Wolfe as hav­ing pio­neered New Jour­nal­ism. It cost just $400,000, but went on to gross over 60 mil­lion dollars. 

Both a com­mer­cial and a crit­i­cal sen­sa­tion, it ush­ered in the New Hol­ly­wood era that blos­somed through­out the 70s with the likes of Robert Alt­man, Hal Ash­by, Mar­tin Scors­ese, Fran­cis (ex of Ford) Cop­po­la and Paul Schrad­er.

Peter Fon­da and Den­nis Hop­per in Easy Rid­er.

Sur­pris­ing­ly, Easy Rid­er has aged remark­ably well and is def­i­nite­ly worth a look if you haven’t already seen it. As is this, its spir­i­tu­al sequel.

Two-Lane Black­top, the black­top being the open road on which our lat­ter day cow­boys face up to one anoth­er on, came out in 1971 and was direct­ed by Monte Hell­man

A dri­ver and a mechan­ic prowl the open road look­ing for like­mind­ed loan­ers to race, liv­ing off of the pro­ceeds. Inevitably, they pick up a girl look­ing for a, ahem, ride, and what plot there is revolves around their pur­suit of her, and their con­fronta­tion with the old­er out­rid­er they square off against on their respec­tive steel steeds.

But nei­ther the film nor its prin­ci­ple char­ac­ters seem ter­ri­bly inter­est­ed in pur­su­ing their objects of desire. Instead, it’s the spir­it of Anto­nioni that reigns supreme. His regal Zabriskie Pointe (reviewed by me ear­li­er here) had come out the pre­vi­ous year, and, as there, the pre­dom­i­nant mood is one of exis­ten­tial ennui. 

Anto­nion­i’s Zabriskie Point.

This is fur­ther accen­tu­at­ed by the cast­ing. The two male leads are played by James Tay­lor and Den­nis Wil­son. The for­mer went on to estab­lish him­self as the arche­typ­al 70s singer song­writer, while Wil­son was the least nat­u­ral­ly gift­ed of the three Beach Boy broth­ers, musi­cal­ly speak­ing. And was so insane­ly young when the whole Beach Boys thing hap­pened – he was 23 when Pet Sounds came out at the endof their hey­day – that inevitably, he spent most of his thir­ties in a drug-addled haze, before drown­ing trag­i­cal­ly at just 39.

Har­ry Dean Stan­ton, in a brief cameo in Two-Lane Black­top.

So instead of the sort of per­for­mances with a cap­i­tal P that you would have expect­ed from a Den­nis Hop­per or a Jack Nichol­son, they amble they way through the film in exact­ly the right state of dis­in­ter­est, not so much by design as by default. Pleas­ing­ly, you sus­pect that their cast­ing was sim­i­lar­ly hap­pen­stance. They just hap­pened to be there when that par­tic­u­lar joint got passed around.

It doesn’t quite give the heady hit that Easy Rid­er pro­duces. But it is a curio well worth inves­ti­gat­ing and is a pleas­ing anti­dote to all that green screen nonsense. 

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