“ Genre: Action & Adventure / Theatrical Release: 1971 / Director: Richard C. Sarafian / Actors: Barry Newman, Cleavon Little ... / DVD released 09 September, 2002 at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Dubbed, PAL, Widescreen „
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Richard C. Sarafian's 'Vanishing Point' is recognised by many a film lover as one of the all time great road movies, perhaps even the best. Its simplicity equalled only by the huge amounts of mysticism and symbolism that has been tied to the film over the years. Some just and some maybe not. However, there is more to this film than sirens, tire screeching and cars crashing into things...
When enigmatic car delivery man Kowalski (Barry Newman) makes a bet with a friend that he can drive his next delivery all through the night and get from Denver to San Francisco in fifteen hours, his friend thinks that he has lost his mind. Speeding off into the night, it's not long before the fast driving Kowalski runs afoul with the law, who promptly give chase. They fail.
Kowalski's defiance soon makes its way onto the news of a local radio station hosted by blind and black DJ; Super Soul (Cleavon Little) and as Kowalski continues to outrun the cops, Super Soul turns him into somewhat of a local celebrity dubbing him as "the last American hero", leading to complete strangers wanting to help Kowalski whenever he hits a spot of bother. As the police start to close in on their man, Super Soul starts cryptically giving Kowalski advice over the radio, putting himself in great danger.
For those thinking this is just another dumb car movie would be dead wrong. Just like previous road movie 'Easy Rider' (1969), 'Vanishing Point' is an examination of a society in turmoil and of great dysfunction. This comes into play the most when Kowalski meets the various people he encounters on his cross country chase. The wealthy ignoramus in his sports car, the overzealous preacher in the desert, the gay carjackers and (possible the most famous of them all) the nude girl riding a motorcycle all function as statements of counter cultural alienation and serve the ultimately simple message of; "can't we all just get along?". It also highlights problems that are still in existence today, overbearing religion and racial and disability prejudice; there's one scene where a mob attacks Super Soul for his helping Kowalski via his radio show.
The film is also a character study of sorts. As the film progresses, we get little titbits of information about Kowalski's past and is very much an examination of a man once on the right side of the tracks who has now lost his way. We see that Kowalski used to be in the army then become a cop and then a race car driver. We also see his relationship with a past flame that doesn't have the best of ends reaffirming Kowalski's loner status, this man is very much an island.
So there is plenty to unearth and analyse here for the more discerning of viewers and of course, film students. Unlike its peer, the aforementioned 'Easy Rider', 'Vanishing Point' refuses to dwell solely on the former's pleas for equality and spiritual freedom. 'Vanishing Point' (if you want it to be) is a veritable smorgasbord of messages and symbolism which can (again, if you want) be completely ignored in favour of the sirens, tire screeching and cars crashing into things set up.
The iconic vehicle that Kowalski drives (a 1970 Dodge Challenger) is now the stuff of cult movie legend as reconfirmed in Quentin Tarantino's ode to seventies exploitation cinema that was 'Death Proof'. The raw energy and rugged look of the car harks back to an age when things were simply defined and less corrupt, and the white paint job crystallises the ideals of purity and freedom, the knight on his white horse for instance. Surprisingly, none of these connotations were intentional with the only reason that the filmmakers chose to have the car white was so that it helped make it stand out from the background.
For the action junkie, there is also plenty to offer as the film is essentially one long car chase broken up by bizarre encounters and flashbacks. Not that this film is a one note deal, there is enough variety of things going on that the film never drags; pacing is good throughout. Its visual nirvana to once again see real cars doing real stunts, it brings an element of danger that doesn't exist in today's effects driven set pieces. You watch this thinking: "damn, someone probably got hurt making this". However, there's nothing here that scales the ridiculous heights of the car stunt work on say 'The Blues Brothers', but there is a down to earth realism here that's missing from current action movies. Those weaned on modern action moviemaking will probably watch this and not see what the fuss is all about, but for those who give it a chance (and watch it with a good sound set up) will be in for a gut wrenching experience.
Unfortunately, 'Vanishing Point' doesn't entirely vanish from criticism. The characters Kowalski meets can easily be accused of being nothing more than stereotypes. The nude girl on the motorcycle for instance: "Oh look at me, I'm not wearing any clothes on a machine where protection is recommended. I'm such a free spirit!" On the flipside, a defender of the film could argue that this is the point, encountering the stereotypes that make up our society and deconstructing them. It all comes down to interpretation I guess. Another niggle I have is the seemingly perfect nature of Kowalski who can't put a foot wrong as is always right. Its no bad thing given the film's storyline, but as a developing writer and filmmaker myself; I thought people were more rounded than that.
For those who give it a chance or have an interest in cult/counter cultural seventies cinema, 'Vanishing Point' will be right up your street. Although it is borderline exploitative itself (not uncommon for many American seventies films made on a budget), the film never preaches and serves up some entertaining and realistic car theatrics. But for those who dig a little deeper, they'll find multiple layers of symbolism and social commentary. During Kowalski's personal mission, he never directly damages or harms through his fast driving. However, the police end up hitting things and hitting each other as they give chase; all in the name of justice.
Director: Richard C. Sarafian
Time Approx: 106 minutes
What this,vigirn territory,no reviews,am I to be the first to waffle on about this film?Then I'd better make it at least interesting if not informative,here goes! This is one of my favourite films though it may not be to all tastes,the plot line is rather simple the dialogue is not exactly blistering but it has a hallucinogenic,trance-like quality similar to Easy Rider with long straight open roads and panoramic desert landscapes again like Easy Rier that somehow give it an isolated and surreal character.Centreing round one man hunched over his steering wheel intent on his destination this is however a gripping little film that I recommend. The main character Kowalski (Barry Newman) who as we find out as the film goes along is an Vietnam veteran,an ex-cop and ex-speedway,nascar racer who delivers cars from state to state. The film begins on a Sunday in a sleepy Californian town where the police are setting up a road block with a white car fast approaching before we are transported back in time and location to a few days before.11:30 Friday night in Denver,Colorado and returning with a car Kowalski asks what cars need to go back to San Fransisco,his boss and one of his few friend while concerned about his continous working none the less gives him a 160mph beautiful white Dodge Challenger to take back.After failing to persude him to wait until morning,Kowalski hits the road making just one stop to pick up some speed,making a deal with his supplier to be in San Fransisco by 3pm the next day which his friend seems to believe is impossible.Now resupplied Kowalski departs from Denver and heads off into the night. While racing down the highways and by-ways of Colorado he comes to the attentions of a pair of motorcycle cops who try and pull him over when he takes off,eventually losing them but they radio in and a cross-state police pursuit begins.No explanation,and there are very few throughout this film is given for why he won't
stop. Now we meet the other main character of the film Super Soul a blind,black DJ who hosts a radio show in a back of beyond town in the middle of the californian desert,perhaps looking a little out of place in a town inhabited full of redneck cowboys and dungaree wearing hill-billy types.Hearing on the banned police radio channels that the police are in pursuit of Kowalski he gives advice to him and makes speeches across the radio which don't curry favour with his straw-chewing townspeople. This cross-state police chase is the what the film follows with Kowaslki throwing off persuers and while racing through the desert he meets a collection of social drop-outs living in the wilderness,interspersed with Super Souls almost narrative speeches across the airwaves and Kowalskis flashbacks that give a few hints to his feelings of isolation.As with book reviews I'd better not divulge the ending so will leave the story there for those who may want to watch it if is aired on television or for hire at the video shop.Isolation seems to be a theme that is well captured throughout this film. Without much more of a plot,it's a straight forward road movie though the flashbacks hint at an underlying reason for the outcome and the motley band of wierdos met along the wayside add sometimes strange but none the less interesting colour to the bare bones of the story,it may not be a film that would enjoy wide appeal.The lack of definite explanations and the stark,isolated quality along with the vast desert landscape give it a surreal and uncomfortable feel especially when the rednecks get fed up of Super Soul.Similar to Easy Rider it has an unsatisfactory ending though that is the obvious intention in both films. But with superb car stunts it does make for a fast action film that does have a point to make under the surface and if you like films that are a little different to the typical pedestrian Hollywood fare then it's worth a loo
k.Along with a great music soundtrack that features soul,gospel and country music (singing cowboys - no good!!!) though it does feature the excellent Mountain wtith Mississipi Queen,with the sound of that roaring V8 who needs anymore.This is an atmospheric film and I don't want to give away too much of it which is why there is little about the overall direction and outcome of it in this op.