Monte Hellman’s stunning 1971 film Two-Lane Blacktop is a loving ode to the practitioners of an art. “The driver” and “the mechanic” (James Taylor and Dennis Wilson) are misanthropic street racers who tinker their way across the country in a ’55 Chevy, which has been souped up and stripped down of anything that could get in the way of speed, like glass windows and heat. They challenge and defeat every amateur and wannabe they encounter, and they win enough money to keep on driving.
They gain a companion, “the girl” (Laurie Bird), who wanders into the backseat of the Chevy at a diner parking lot near Needles: “Which way we going?” “East.” “That’s cool. I never been East.” The film functions as a belated homage to the real and imagined cultural moment in which this freewheeling exchange would have been typical, already speeding past. Throughout the film we hear diegetic snatches of song suggesting the counterculture that was being corporatized by 1971: “Me and Bobby McGee” sung by Kris Kristofferson, “Moonlight Drive” by The Doors and Arlo Guthrie singing “Stealin’.” The girl, forced to sit in the back seat and listen exclusively to talk of spark plugs, valves and fan belts, wonders, “What is this? Some kind of masculine power trip?” Read more >