As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Watching Movies with my dad pt. 4

Posted by Hedwig on June 27, 2008

The movie: Vanishing Point (Richard C. Serafian, 1971) (UK version)

The pitchable element: my dad liked Death Proof quite a bit. Death Proof references this movie twice.

The length: 105 minutes (though it felt like more)

The verdict: well, they can’t all be winners, can they? Granted, it got slightly more interesting after we looked at each other one hour in and said “this is bad, huh?”, but not by that much. I knew this movie was about one guy driving a long way in a white Dodge Challenger. What I didn’t know was that there would be so little else, and that any possible subtext you might be able to find is voiced aloud, in the most corny way possible, several times.

I mean, the dialogue is just bad. Bad bad. And the acting? Charlotte Rampling shows up for about five minutes, and I know she can act, but she’s saddled with such terrible dialogue that you can hardly blame her for not sounding convinced, herself. The other actors don’t even seem to try. And the movie commits the worst sin a bad movie can commit: it’s boring. And just in case that doesn’t make an impression: know that I’m not easily bored. I was fascinated, mesmerized by Gerry, in which far less happened. But the movie’s too scattershot to be hypnotic, and rarely bad in an entertaining way.

Was there nothing at all I liked? Well… some of the chase scenes were, admittedly, pretty cool, and felt marvelously grounded and real compared to today’s CGI-riddled action. Though he’s kind of a poor man’s Elliott Gould, Barry Newman’s face is all kinds of fascinating. And while it’s incredibly dated by now, there’s no doubt that Vanishing Point influenced quite a few (better) movies: Death Proof is the obvious example, but the DJ-conceit from Reservoir Dogs seems cribbed from the diegetic use of radio here as well, and Thelma and Louise has clear echoes of it.

Luckily, my mom’s coming over tomorrow, and because I’ve been introducing her to Tarantino, Death Proof is on the menu. The chase involving that particular Dodge Challenger is one I could watch over and over again.

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3 Responses to “Watching Movies with my dad pt. 4”

  1. Kaj said

    I re-watched Vanishing Point the other week. The first time I saw it was actually in a movie theater, from 2 and 4 AM one night sandwiched between two other movies, and I didn’t have enough to eat that night, so I couldn’t keep my eyes open for half of the movie, no matter how hard I tried. (the third, an Italian zombie movie by the name of Nightmare City, a big inspiration for Planet Terror, fared even worse). Anyway, I felt I had watched something special, but missed a lot of it, and lated decided to buy the DVD and re-watch it. When I finally did, I kinda loved it. I’m a bit of a car chase nut, so that helps a lot in this mother of car movies. Carsploitation, some call it, but I feel that would sell this movie short. I really love the driving scenes, especially the way they sound, and there’s no comparing this kind of driving and chase scenes compared to the CGI glibness of today. But that’s not the only thing I loved. For instance, the soulful soundtrack could take up the challenge with most Tarantino soundtrack any day of the week. And the blind all-seeing DJ (a pre-Blazing Saddles Cleavon Little, that did more to inspire, say, Do The Right Thing, than Reservoir Dogs) does lay it on thick, spelling out the theme of the movie, but there’s also something… ethereal about him and the way he communicates with Kowalski. What I perhaps liked the best, though, was the great cinematography, making all the dialogue about the themes and the flashbacks unnecessary: it’s all there in the the landscape, the car and the driver. Yes, those flashbacks are a bit awkward in the sense that they don’t add much depth or character motivation, but I don’t think that’s really the point, since they do more to put up smokescreens than to illuminate. To me, these scenes, together with the naked biker chick and the snake collector, give this movie an appropriate sense of very bleak (existential) surrealism. Which is completed by the opening and closing scene, which depict the same event but end completely different from one another. And the dialogue, well, compared to Death Proof, it’s not that bad.

    I do need to mention that I watched the seven minute shorter US version, without that awful scene with Charlotte Rampling and it’s aftermath that was rightly cut from the US version, not only for it’s own badness but for the sake of the flow of the movie.

    I also like what Keith Phipps said about the flick, although I don’t really agree with the second part: “A huge drive-in hit, the film turns its modest budget to its advantage, making a virtue out of its plot’s simplicity, and in the process becoming a beautiful example of the now-vanished B-movie avant garde. As Barry Newman’s benzedrine-powered drive from Denver to San Francisco progresses, it becomes less about getting a job done than an almost allegorical journey toward death, a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress for a time of post-Woodstock disillusionment.”

  2. Kaj said

    Whoa, that’s longer than I thought. Wish I could edit to divide it up into paragraphs. Anyway, I’d just like to add that I really like the apparent lack of motivation, even though it sorta gets revealed later on in the movie (in contradictary scenes, by the way, wich muddle as much as clear up). He just needs to drive on. You wouldn’t even be able to make that sorta film anymore, as is evident from the TV-remake in which Kowalski has to save babies or something lame like that.

  3. Ahhhh…the existentialist car chase movie. Not an easy watch, but not without its charms if your mind is open to them, as Kaj attests.

    Still, I have to admit I was a little disappointed the first time I saw it. I was expecting something less cerebrial and more action packed. Sometimes expectations are a bitch.

    Like it or not, you have to admit Barry Newman is f’ing cool. (He was great in The Limey)

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