In the pantheon of classic car movies, you'll find Monte Hellman's 1971 magnum opus (shot partially in Tennessee) somewhere between the purpose-driven fatalism of James William Guercio's Electra Glide in Blue and the serrated abstractions of Cronenberg's Crash. Although the nominal plot involves a race between a 55 Chevy and a 70 GTO down Route 66, that holy ribbon from the days before interstates spanned the nation, the movies not about the destination: its characters live just to keep on Moving something that gives Hellmans enigmatic but majestic film the existential undertow of a shark documentary. Stars James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, as musicians, understand the importance of image and letting sound speak for itself; this allows Warren Oates, in one of the best roles in a blazing career, to steal the show as an aging dragster with a yen for cross-country adventure. Hellman has a gift for Cinemascope: the anamorphic frame suits the roads, the nation, the cars, and that inchoate masculine wanderlust that sends men out and through whatever comes forward to meet them. That makes the film simply unmissable on the big screen, especially for an ending that so freaked out distributors that they simply chopped it away. But art, like a finely calibrated manual transmission, endures.
Sat., March 27; Sun., March 28; Mon., March 29, 2010