Tuesday, May 29, 2018

At least I got to learn a bit about the Interstate Highway system

I had the opportunity to watch a bunch of movies off the DVR since we had a long weekend here in the States; one of those movies was Vanishing Point.

The movie starts off with a brief sequence of a car outrunning a police car and then turning around to avoid a police roadblock, eventually telling us that it's Sunday at 10:02 AM. I actually had to go back and check the time; the movie ended with a scene telling us it was 10:04 AM Sunday. When you see the movie it will all make sense. Anyhow, after that opening scene, the action moves back to Denver, CO, at about 11:30 PM Friday.

Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a man making a living delivering cars across the country; rather then putting a bunch of cars on one of those car carriers you see on the highway; he actually drives the cars himself, and he insists on driving them fast. (You'd think the people getting them delivered would want him to take more care with the cars.) Kowalski's next job is to deliver a Dodge Challenger to San Francisco. He makes a bet with a guy who provides him uppers that he'll make it to San Francisco by 3:00 PM Saturday.

At this point, my first instinct was to see how far Denver and San Francisco are. Google Maps gives a couple of routes, all in the 1200-1300 mile range and in the 19-20 hour range. I didn't know about the state of the Interstate Highway system at the time the movie was released (early 1971). Nowadays, you could just take Interstate 25 to Interstate 80 which would get you to San Francisco. But while the Interstate system was conceived back in the Eisenhower administration, the last bit of I-80, in the Salt Lake City area, didn't get completed until 1986. Still, with the higher speed limits in place before the oil embargo of 1973, and the lower volume of traffic, I'd think 20 hours would still have been reasonable back then, maybe a little less depending on how much over the speed limit you're willing to go without bringing yourself to the attention of the police.

Kowalski doesn't care about any of that. He wants freedom, including the freedom to speed. So of course the police in multiple states are following him trying to track him down. At every step of the way, however, he's helped by a bunch of strangers who are also on the edge of society. There's a prospector (Dean Jagger); a couple of biker types; and, most notably, a blind radio station DJ named Supersoul (Cleavon Little) who listens to the police radio and speaks in Delphic phrases giving Kowalski information about where the police are.

That's about all there is to the movie. As a look at people on the edge of society, there are probably interesting points to be made. But I found that the story was at times full of holes, and at times filled with characters that were just too bizarre to be real. The geography is to me all off; Kowalski would have entered California around Lake Tahoe instead of in a desert that's presumably around the Death Valley area. Supersoul's scenes were just tedious, and then there's a pointless scene of a mob beating him up because, well why? The faith healers in the desert who don't want Kowalski around also made no sense. And then there were the "gay" carjackers. I don't know if they were making a point about homosexuals being similarly on the fringe of society, or if the two criminals were just passing themselves off as a gay couple as their MO. Either one would work. But in either case there's another utterly strange scene.

The characters in Vanishing Point are even quirkier than the ones in Antonia's Line that I recommended several weeks ago. At least in that one the characters have some grounding in reality, as does the story. Vanishing Point i found to be a mess.

But again, this is one of those movies you'll probably want to judge for yourself. A lot of people who have seen it give it extremely high praise. The movie is available on Blu-ray at a fairly reasonable price. Just make certain you're getting the 1971 movie and not the 1990s remake.

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