Monday, June 4, 2012

Vanishing Point (1971)

Seen: On dvd on my friend Sam's projector set-up.

The main thing I took away from Death Proof besides the kickin' soundtrack was a nice dosage of recommendations. Zoe and Kim talk about awesome car movies they watched as kids and I wanted to be cool like them. The car they drive is from Vanishing Point, a minimalist chase movie that pits quiet driver Kowalski (Barry Newman) against a lot of cops trying to stop his one-man road race from Colorado to San Francisco. An enthusiastic blind radio dj (Cleavon Little) tries to aid the driver's quest with helpful hints over the air. There's not much more to it than that.

With sparse but strong characterization and a lot of awesome stunt driving, Vanishing Point is a pretty solid road movie. I think Kowalski is a little bit too "cool" to be a compelling lead, but Cleavon Little as Super Soul manages to steal the show in a supporting role. His ebullience and chatty character fills in the blanks for Kowalski's stone-faced silence, and it's a good contrast. Besides his performance, my favorite element of the film is the driving, man! There are some very cool, crazy moments with this white Dodge Challenger as well as some nail-biting ones. Well-shot, too. But nobody rides on its roof like in Death Proof. And there aren't any cool ladies to speak of. Oh well. I guess Tarantino can improve on some things.

Like many films of its ilk, the narrative is pretty light and everything settles into a sort of masculine quietude as shots of Western America are punctuated with the roar of an engine. This is all well and good, but not especially my thing as I've said in the past. There are attempts to flesh out Kowalski's backstory but his motivations remain unclear, and eventually he's just driving out of stubbornness while those following at home lift him up on a pedestal of admirable manly rebellion. Eh. I could see how his act could resonate strongly with certain people, especially when the film was made, but it didn't have a particularly strong effect on me. I liked to watch him drive around, but could have done with more of an actual narrative. The ending is fantastic, though.


Pair This Movie With: Aw man well obviously a dude in a car being chased by cops makes me think of Smokey and the Bandit!


  1. I've been meaning to watch this, also because of Death Proof!

    I have no idea why having little to no motivation for their actions is seen as such a great, masculine-rebellious trait. It seems so lackluster after it happens in so many films.

  2. Allison: Oh man I'm really glad you agree with that observation. I always thought it was weird.

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  4. Alex did you watch the US or UK version of Vanishing Point?

    The UK version contains an extra scene where Kowaski spends the night with a hitchhiker played by Charlotte Rampling and it does give a definite insight into his movitations.

  5. I love your blog!!! You should post about Parker Posey's new movie coming out this month "The Love Guide!"

  6. Paul: I guess I watched the UK version because there was a scene with Charlotte Rampling, but I don't remember it giving particular insight. I know there are flashbacks to his wife or whatever but that's about it. Maybe I just forgot something?

  7. The abrupt ending is the films finest hour. I feel that this is necessary viewing simply for all the allusions that have been drawn to it by filmmakers since. The picture looks quite nice on Blu-ray considering the time period and budget. I would like to see a release with some better retrospective special features, though.

  8. VANISHING POINT was also Barry's hope-to-go counter-culture attempt, like the Hoppers, Nicholsons and Fondas were doing. The film financiers hoped Barry would be their ticket to that glory as well.

    I think SAVE THE TIGER (1973) would be a more appropriate telling of the financiers' lives, however! (This is a powerful study of that older generation's sideswipe into hippiedom as if any path is an escape from who you really are.)

    There's also ZABRIESKI POINT and THEN CAME BRONSON to see, both of which are on-the-run '60s-Dislliusionment films. Which means "pointless". But looking at them as exercises in young-filmmakers' art, they're interesting ingredients into that era of pre-indie independent work. THEN was a TV-pilot for a 2-season show which, in those years, was another word for "flop".

    And finally, 1968's WILD IN THE STREETS as the older generation's view of the hippie movement's "Don't trust anyone over 30" slogan. I should warn you - this film is pretty awful. There's probably a reason this director was relegated to TV series.