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Friday, December 16, 2011

VANISHING POINT (1970)

After the game-changing commercial success of EASY RIDER/’69, it suddenly became possible to set up a largely plotless film about hitting the road and speeding past a vanishing American Dream. This one, about a car delivery driver with a haunted past and a reckless spirit, has built a substantial cult following that’s not entirely undeserved. Barry Newman is more sullen than charismatic as the laconic driver who races his DodgeCharger ‘muscle car’ from Denver to California on a bet, outrunning the cops on his way thru the Western plains & deserts. He meets a few eccentrics, scores a one-night stand with hitchhiking Charlotte Rampling (at least, in the U.K. cut, this Angel of Death stuff was snipped Stateside) and runs a host of competitive drivers off the road, pausing after every crash to be sure no one got hurt. Lenser John Alonso gets the most out of the well chosen locations, as do the hell-bent stunt drivers, but Richard C. Sarafian consistently megs to the lowest common denominator. Finding ‘manna’ in the desert is a clever piece of business, but do the cops need to rape & act like racists just to keep us on Newman’s side? And those soggy romantic interludes! Some of the film’s cult following comes from the soundtrack, programmed in the film by ‘soul brother’ radio jock Cleavon Little, but its main appeal probably stems from a nihilistic attitude empty enough to accommodate just about any nonconformist idea that comes to mind.

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