By Chaz Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Two-Lane Blacktop - The Criterion Collection on Blogcritics.
The real theme is loneliness, with the open road serving as the
manifestation of its characters’ aimless lives. Director Monte Hellman
cast Taylor, who had never acted previously, based on the
singer-songwriter’s looks alone. Nor had Wilson, best known as The Beach
Boys’ drummer, acted before. The presence of these two rookie actors
(neither of whom sang or contributed any music to the film) would be
enough to ensure on-going cult status for Two-Lane Blacktop.
Taylor's Driver seems to be defiantly running away from anything
resembling a normal life. We don't learn enough about him to know why.
Equally unknowable is the Mechanic, with Wilson underplaying his part as
much as Taylor (just not quite as sullenly). Riding with the pair, at
least on a fleeting basis, is the Girl (Laurie Bird). She’s a bored
tomboy, as difficult to pin down as the male leads. The Driver and
Mechanic seem wholly indifferent to her presence in the back of their
He even accepts the slightly dubious offer of help (and hard-boiled
eggs) from his opponents when they claim he has engine trouble. The Girl
rides with him for a while too, but the sad sack proves to be a poor
match for her. In a movie notable for characters of few words, GTO is
the only one most people are likely to relate to—a man on the run from
his own wrecked life.
Much of the film takes place at night and none of it was really
designed to show off flashy colors or glorious landscapes (despite its
picturesque Southwestern setting). Still, the commonplace was well
captured by the cinematography of Jack Deerson. The transfer seems to
offer an accurate presentation of this deliberately bland, drab vision.
It looks like a well-photographed documentary, with great detail evident
in the actor’s faces in particular. Sharpness is never lacking, the
level of visible grain is befitting for a film of this age, and black
levels (essential for the night driving scenes) are deep.
As for special features, Criterion has ported over a slew of terrific
stuff from a previous 2007 DVD edition. Two commentaries are available,
each featuring two participants—one who was involved in the actual film
and one who wasn’t. The first track pairs director Hellman with
filmmaker Allison Anders, while the other teams up screenwriter Rudy
Wurlitzer and film professor David N. Meyer. “On the Road Again” is not
the usual retrospective piece. It’s an engaging road-based piece that
finds Hellman and some of his film students visiting the old shooting
locations. There’s also a nearly 40-minute interview with James Taylor
and a half hour interview with Kris Kristofferson (whose “Me and Bobby
McGee” was one of the few prominently featured songs on the soundtrack).
Two-Lane Blacktop is certainly not for everyone, but what
cult film is? Those viewers patient enough to adapt to its peculiar
rhythm will be rewarded with a quirky character study.