List 16

Beneath an attractive veneer of iconoclastic radicalism, especially as the American road movie genre peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, these motion-obsessed films are often, paradoxically it seems, dead set against the forward march of culture, clinging nostalgically to a past that really only ever existed cinematically. Mining the cinematic history of these mobile obsessions straight through to their current manifestations, we still find that the films themselves repeatedly focus on the consequences of a culture moving, often quite rapidly, away from the stabilizing structures of community and communication. Road movies, I argue, extend a longstanding cinematic tradition that posits a hopeless and lamentable mobility in an effort to eulogize or find stability.

Devin Orgeron, Road Movies: From Muybridge and Méliès to Lynch and Kiarostami (2008)

Greetings All,

These are the last glittering days of an unspent summer, and since August is a time when many folks would customarily be returning from their vacations to settle in for autumn and a brand new school year, we figured we would whet our unsatisfied appetites for travel with five films that are all about the open road. 

We were initially tempted to structure everything around peak New Hollywood road movies of the sort alluded to in the epigraph to this week’s list. Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Vanishing Point (1971), Badlands (1973), Electra Glide in Blue (1973), and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) immediately came to mind. 

Likewise, we could have focused exclusively on the road movies of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby or foreign road movies in the vein of Il sorpasso (1962), Week-End (1967), Going Places (1974), The Passenger (1975), and The Hit (1984), but in the end we figured that the films we chose should display a wide array of trips being taken, none of them solely to do with the physical road as much as the wandering spirit. 

We thus begin with The Sisters Brothers, the first English-language film of French auteur Jacques Audiard. This ruthless western is more concerned with where you are coming from than where you are going, and the final shot will surprise you. Next up, we putt-putt-putt through the Great Depression in a jalopy with a pair of squabblers too damn hard-headed to admit they are meant for one another in Peter Bogdanovich’s ever-charming Paper Moon. From there we head straight into the stunning black-and-white canvas of Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, a film that effortlessly weaves between the lanes of past and present. This leads us into the sweaty back seats and sticky palms of Alfonso Cuarón’s teenage sexscapade, Y tu mamá también, a film that is less about getting off and more about the last gasps of youthful naiveté in the face of looming adulthood responsibilities. And finally, we get to peek through the windows of Andrea Arnold‘s modern vision of Peter Pan set against the backdrop of American desperation. American Honey is long and harsh, jarring and stark, damn beautiful and stubbornly hopeful; in short, the best American road movie of the past five years. 

Here we go down the road of daydreams in the rearview mirror, furious wheels spinning us nowhere as we roll down the window to let in some fresh air just as our thoughts and companions have suddenly started to go stale on us. 

Let’s get to it!