Monday, February 22, 2010

Vanishing Point

Vanishing Point:
A drive in theater classic if ever there was one

Back in the years before the 1990s, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth freely and hadn't yet been wiped out by their natural enemy the boy band, there were these places that people would go to see a movie, they were like a movie theater, but outdoors, normally in a field out in the woods somewhere, normally near a small town where they were a long distance from a movie theater. These places were called Drive In Theaters, and though they have had a somewhat revival in recent years, it just isn't the same, see, back in the old days, drive in theaters didn't really show what you'd consider A-list movies, they were in a sense, The Grindhouse for the rural folk of the united states, they would show movies that though seen as grindhouse today, fell into categories like "hixploitation" and "carploitation", and various other forms of exploitation that was aimed directly at those of the non--city ilk. In a sense, doing for the country folk, what The Grindhouse and blaxploitation were doing in the inner cities, a cheap double or sometimes triple feature of movies aimed at them, starring actors and actresses and musicians they liked, except instead of it being Richard Roundtree or Pam Grier, or Issac Hayes up on screen, it was the likes of Burt Reynolds, Dom Delouise, and Dolly Parton and the like, because it was what the salt of the earth people wanted at the time, complete douchebags, their fat sidekicks, and big hair large breasted women who show off the goods and everyone acts like she's not, even though you can clearly see everyone in the scene looking. Country folk were simple back then.

Among the many movies that came out of The Drive In Theater section of Grindhouse films, was, what I consider to be, one of the greatest movies of all time, I speak of 1971's Vanishing Point, a film thats main star is a beautiful fully customized white 1970 Dodge Challenger, which many would simply call "The Vanishing Point", and would lead to more custom restorations and emulation then Steve McQueen's Bullitt, and would be listed as just as iconic in the annuls of movie car history. Its a beautiful machine that just leaves you in awe of how beautiful it really is, even if you aren't a car person, you have to just stop in stare at it.

Vanishing Point is more then just the story of a beautiful classic car though, in truth the car is just a secondary player in the story, Vanishing Point is really the story of how even when some people are at the bottom, the very bottom with no signs or chances of things becoming better for them, when its all that they know, they still fight for what they believe in, and never give up on their own personal cause. Vanishing Point is the story of a man known simply as Kowalski, a hard luck case thats been around the world in back and looks battered and beaten enough to make you believe that he's really done it all and seen it all. As the film progresses, you discover his past, Kowalski fought in Veitnam, then he was a cop that was framed for a drug bust by his partner after stopping him from raping an underage girl, he then was a stock car driver, and later a motorcycle racer, and now, he lives in Denver Colorado, working for a car delivery service, no one really knows if he lost everything and simply ended up here, doing this job, or is just an adrenaline junkie at heart, its never really explained. All we do know is, for whatever reason, this job is all that Kowalski has in the world, and that he is the best in the world at what he does... bub.

The film starts two minutes before the ending, on the pacific coast highway outside of San Francisco, where Kowalski is barricaded by the California highway patrol and the national guard who are blocking the road with bulldozers and cars and watching him from above with helicopters, there are also news copters flying around, and you wonder how it got to this point as you see the stopped Challenger sitting in the road as Kowalski decides his fate. He then drops the hammer and the car roars to life as it speeds forward, you free frame as the Challenger passes a black late model Chrysler Imperial, thats on the other side of the road, as the movie on freezes, the Challenger has vanished, and you follow the Imperial back into the past, as you discover how this all began, its Sunday morning 10:02am.

Its now two days before, Friday, its 11:30pm and Kowalski has just returned from San Francisco with a black Chrysler Imperial, just like the one that passes him on the highway. He checks in with his boss who orders him to get some rest, stating he's been driving to long and needs too rest for his health. Kowalski for some reason argues with him claiming he can do another run to San Fran that night before he needs rest, his boss yells some more, and eventually gives in, giving him the task of delivering the film's iconic car, the white 1970 Dodge Challenger, stating it needs to be in San Fran by monday morning. Kowalski then heads to a biker bar, where he meets up with a friend who also sells him drugs, stating he needs some Benzedrine pills (in a sense, the illegal drug known as Speed), claiming he has to have the car in California by 3pm the next day (Sunday sense the clock has passed midnight) as a lie to get the pills, his friend claims its impossible, and they make a bet for the cost of the pills on if he can do it or not. After being given the pills Kowalski leaves Denver at high speed to make it to his destination.

Later on Saturday morning, two motorcycle cops appear in Kowalski's rearview mirror, flashing their lights and wanting him to pull over for speeding, knowing he can't do that given his high state of mind and his drugs that are on him, Kowalski decides to run for it, he forces one cop into a ditch, and after making sure he's unhurt, Kowalski shakes the other cop by jumping a ditch in the Challenger, and from there the chase that will span three states and over 24 hours begins, all because he didn't want to pull over for a speeding ticket, its kind of ironic in the end really. The two motorcycle officers radio for backup just outside of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and soon after there is a fleet of local and state police from Colorado, Nevada, and California, all chasing the man in the white Dodge Challenger, who seems to be just afew steps ahead of them the whole way.

Along the journey, you flashback through Kowalski's life, all he's done, all the places he's been, all of his loss, and you start to understand this job, and how he does it, is all that keeps him alive, for he has nothing else left in the world. Its implied that the scene with his girlfriend's death is not long before the film's start, and that living as he does, is wht reminds him he's alive, and that he can feel pain and other feelings as well. Outside of Goldfield Nevada, Kowalski picks up the radio broadcast of station KOW, who's main DJ, a blind black man called "Super Soul" spends his time listening to his police scanner while playing music for the masses, and though they never meet, there seems to be an almost symbiotic bond between the two men. Super Soul makes Kowalski a folk hero, with many people cheering him on, many making it down the radio station Super Soul works at and rallying in the parking lot, this leads to a police officer and a band of thugs to force their way in and beat Super Soul on the air while shouting racist remarks at him, though this doesn't stop him in his carrying on in instilling the listeners with admiration and love for the man in the white dodge challenger, if anything it solidifies it and what he's preaching by means of Kowalski's story. As this happens, Kowalski meets a young hippie biker and his nude girlfriend, who surprisingly recognizes Kowalski, its strongly implied that she is infact the young girl that he stopped his old police partner from raping, and he became a personal hero to her given that act.

In the full cut of the film, there is a scene where Kowalski picks up a beautiful hitchhiker, who offers him some weed, and unlike all the other times in the film when he refuses anything but speed, Kowalski smokes the weed with her, He stops the car when he starts feeling stoned. She says she has been, "waiting for him, everywhere and since forever." When he awakens the next morning, she is gone, without a trace. According to interviews with Barry Newman and commentary from the director, the hitchhiker was a representation of death finally catching up with Kowalski. After this scene, comes the final act of the film, and what many see is the most debated ending in movie history, the scene taht takes us back to that sunday morning at 10:02am, outside of San Fran as Kowalski barrels into a roadblock, and ultimately, his death in a fireball explosion, where you are left wondering why exactly he did it, why he did it all really, and as when you arrived in the life of this seemingly otherworldly man, at his end, you are left believing that you are no more informed on his world and his life then when you started out. And yet, with all of that, you feel alright, like you've seen something amazing, but you aren't able to process what that was just yet. But all you do know, is that you've watched an incredible film that just leaves you wanting more. And honestly, no one can ever want more then that when it comes to a film. Atleast I wouldn't think so.

and as an added bonus, here is the original trailer... gotta love that grindhouse style...




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  2. This movie OWNS! One of the most unheralded exploitation flicks ever made. It restores my faith in humanity to others dig it so.

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