The Myth Of The Road Trip
I've always seen road trips as an escape, something other than a perfunctory drive from A to B. Most serious truck drivers I know log hundreds of thousands of miles across country without giving much thought about the romance and mystique of what a road trip may or may not be. Hitchhiking was a way of life for me in my early teens- something I wouldn't consider today-and trips could be 200 to 500 miles. I had a lot of downtime between rides and all the visual aspects of what one misses at 70 mph are what I recall today. Unique roadside architecture, strange cars in states of distress, personalities you don't find in a mall today or on Interstate 10.
If Jack Kerouac got a generation to hit the road in the '50s, it took Easy Rider to do the same for a later generation. Independent and road movies became the rage for a few years in the quest for the youth buck. This soon proved to be a bust and Hollywood retreated. However, there were some rough diamonds and none has cleaned up or looked better today than Two-Lane Blacktop.
The film is now the subject of rave reviews, tributes and the usual boxed set release. However, after its release in 1971, failure at the box office nearly ended director Monte Hellman's career. I saw it the week of its release in Southern California; the house was packed and anxious. By the time the credits rolled, the place was almost empty. Few films I've ever seen have provoked such a negative response. I loved it. It's easy to understand the crowd's disappointment and Universal's publicity department deserve a lot of the blame. TLB was billed with such clichs as: 'No beginning... no end... no speed limit.' With a tag like that, you're obviously aiming at the car culture crowd, street racers, etc.
Much has been made of TLB's minimalism and existentialist aura. I often wonder if the people who spout that stuff have ever taken a real road trip. The screenplay was by Rudy Wurlitzer who is a true western author in the manner of Thomas Pyhchon, Burroughs and especially Sam Shepard. The eastern philosophy may be prevalent in a manner of, say, Alan Watts, but there's no doubt the view is closer to the badlands of the west. A recent conversation I had with Rudy Wurlitzer brought back memories of a road trip I made in 1984, one covered in european car's predecessor, written by the great Len Frank-an existentialist character if ever there was one.