Sunday, August 17, 2014

Vanishing Point (1971)

Vanishing PointThe story begins at the end, where we are shown a roadblock of monstrous proportions, and a white 1970 Dodge Challenger rocketing toward it. From there the tale begins, backing up two days to give the rest of the story. An interstate chase is on for the driver of the Challenger, whom we know nothing at all about. As the story unfolds, the identity of the driver is rationed out in flashbacks and news reports, slowly bringing into focus the nature of the character. At first, we naturally assume the driver to be a simple car thief, as does law enforcement. Gradually, we learn that the driver is not a thief at all, he is simply delivering the car. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran who joined the police department after his honorable discharge, married a beautiful girl, and then lost her in a surfing accident. Not long after, he stopped a senior officer from beating and raping a young hippie girl, and was dishonorably discharged from the force. We also learn that his high-octane burn across the desert is to satisfy a simple wager: if he makes it from Denver to San Francisco in less than 15 hours, he doesn't have to pay for the amphetamines he bought to keep him awake for the trip. He is guided along the way by blind disc jockey "Supersoul" (Cleavon Little), who speaks to the driver (whose name is we learn is Kowalski (no last name given, via the AM radio in the Challenger. Supersoul is Kowalski's invisible guardian angel, advising him of the cop's attempts to stop him, at least until some local rednecks bust into the radio station with a storm of rocks and racial epithets and beat Super Soul and his engineer into submission. As Kowalski rockets across the blasted desert landscape, he encounters numerous crackpots and visionaries, all of whom seem to offer another piece to the puzzle that Kowalski's life has become. From prospectors to faith healers, outlaws to newlywed hijackers, we are given a glimpse into a world that exists far from the beaten track we all travel each day. As Kowalski hurtles toward his date with the destiny that was mapped out for us at the very beginning of the film, each rumor and news report seems to contradict the image of him that is being played out by the police of several states, elevating him to something of a folk hero among a growing legion of fans and supporters.

This movie knocked me out from the very beginning. For those die-hards, yes, there are plenty of car chases and stunts to satisfy most fans of car/action films. But that's not the whole story, by any measure. For this is the story of one man, not a mythic legend, or even a regional folk hero. Why does he do what he does? He simply has nothing left to lose or gain. How many men returned from Vietnam at least a little disillusioned by the world they came home to? How many have had their lives mapped out neat and pretty, only to have the blind monkey wrench of fate turn their worlds upside down? Here is a man who is perfectly willing to sacrifice his freedom, his safety, and possibly even his life to win what amounts to a ten-dollar bet, at best. When Kowalski finally arrives at the roadblock, the inevitable conclusion to his odyssey, he takes the only road he knows, a path which had been set for him ever since the beginning.

On a cinematic level, the influence of Vanishing Point is far reaching, indeed. The story of a jaded ex-cop who has lost his wife, his hope and, to a degree, his humanity, was taken and nitro-injected in George Miller's Mad Max (1979) and the Road Warrior (1982), as Max Rockatansky (not too far a reach from Kowalski) has his life violently ripped out from under him, and thus turns to the open road. At first for revenge, but then because it is the only world he can exist in, a place where jungle law prevails. By then, Max is nothing more than a shell, a ghost of a human who haunts the blighted landscape propelled by a hunger not even he can understand. One of the most effective plot devices is that of not giving the protagonist a name until well into the film. Joel Schumaker used this technique very well in his good movie Falling Down (1993), not giving Michael Douglas' character a name until the final act of the film's story. By doing this, we are allowed to see the character as a sort of everyman, someone whom we may know, or may even be. We are then free to observe the goings-on at a much more personal level, knowing all too well that the story being played out upon the screen could, given the right circumstances, be any of us, and to that end, possibly even all of us. By the time we learn that the character is someone, it's too late. They are already a part of us, bound by destiny and experience. Also of note is the using of a disc jockey to provide a running commentary on the nature and exploits of the protagonist (as well as provide a reasonable source for the music in the film), a device used, to lesser effect, in Walter Hill's The Warriors (1979). Lastly, although film characters have been bumping into oddballs in the desert for years, Abbe Wool's wonderful Roadside Prophets (1992) stands out as the protagonists wander through the desert, encountering numerous wisdom-dispensing desert dwellers, each contributing their ideas, ideals, and experiences in a way that lends toward a larger collective ideology wherein a greater truth resides.

This is a masterpiece of filmmaking. Do yourself a huge favor and check it out.

After seeing this movie in '71, a year before obtaining my driver's licence, it truly influenced my driving skills and my love for high performance American horse power. Seeing the movie now almost a hundred times over, I know the dialog word for word. This is a cult classic to be shared with those 70's era Mopar fanatics who too have seen this movie in it's various cuts at the local driveins. (And attemped to drive just as fast as Kowalski did after they left the drivein). Having the sound track on LP(vinyl) and the movie on VHS, I can revisit my obsession with this film and sound track when ever I feel the need to reassure myself for need of controlled speed. Remember, they used several Challengers during the filming and you can see some of the different cars throughout the film if you have a sharp eye. For those who can fix the frame of the movie just after Kowalski makes impact and someone is spraying water on the wreckage, they can see the the car is a white Camaro. Look at the vent windows on the door frame. Challengers did not have these! For those with a really sharp eye and a large screen can see the Camaro script on the truck lid also. For those newer viewers, sit back and enjoy a pre Dukes of Hazzards true car chase. It doesn't get any better than this. (Unless we can get it on DVD along with a CD version of the excellant music sound track! Hint, Hint!)

Buy Vanishing Point (1971) Now

This is a classic movie that is as much social commentary as car chase. I remember watching this on a Saturday matinee on my local television station (long before the advent of cable television) and was mesmerized.

I recently purchased the VHS version and it was just as sweet twenty years later.

The premise isn't much: the main character, former member of society now riding on the fringe, has to get a car to San Francisco in 15 hours. Load up on amphetamines and off we go. The 'plot' is merely a vehicle for the ride.

The car chase scenes are great and realistic (none of the special effects laden hocus pocus you see today) and the cinematography of the West is beautiful. The characters, from the DJ who plays mystical guide to the helpers the driver meets in the desert, show life on the fringe. I'm sure on some level this is a mystical, metaphorical journey of sorts but to me it is simply fun to watch.

The soundtrack is absolutely great. It is kind of the O Brother Where Art Thou of the 70s -the one that missed the radar. It isn't music you hear on the radio and it certainly isn't mainstream in any fashion but it sure is good.

I give this five stars quite simply because of the cinematography, the cast of characters and the music. Well worth the visit. They just don't make films like this anymore.

Read Best Reviews of Vanishing Point (1971) Here

What's not mentioned on the cover or in any of these other reviews is that this copy must have been transfered by or remastered from the original negative. I've never seen this film look so good except for when i first saw it on T.V. back in the 70's. Everthing is better, The sound, The picture, The action, And i think even the plot is made better by this upgrade. If you already own one of those other copies of this movie, Buy this one, You wont be disapointed.

Want Vanishing Point (1971) Discount?

Absolutely the best car chase movie ever made! Ex cop, ex race driver Kowalski takes his 440 Dodge Challenger in a mad dash from Denver to San Francico for a reason only he knows! With the aid of blind disc jockey, "Super Soul" he outruns the "Big Blue Meanies" through 4 states, reliving his tortured past and meets an interesting array of people along the way! The movie is fast paced, helped along by one of the best movie soundtracks ever put together, with music from Kim Carnes, Jerry Reed, Mountain, and a whole lot more! The movie begins showing the almost ending and flashes back to Day One! Even when you get to the ending again, it leaves you wondering if there could be a sequal! Barry Newman as Kowalski, Cleavon Little, (Blazing Saddles) as "Super Soul are perfect! I saw this movie 25 times in the theaters in 1971, and still enjoy this movie on video as much today! I give it, 2 Thumbs Up and 2 Big Toes up!

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