vanishing Point is on the verge of extinction. Released in 1971, it turns 50 years old this year. But it’s not being celebrated with special performances at art-house movie theaters or being re-released as a newly remastered “Special Edition” Blu-ray—and who owns the Blu-ray player now? It’s not on Netflix or Hulu or HBO Max. And you can’t download it on iTunes. It’s a movie that muscle freaks, mopar junkies, and people who have made a career in writing about cars have grown up worshiping. And now it is disappearing.
If you yourself are under 50, you may have never seen it. under 40? You’ve probably never heard of it. If you’re under 20, it’s likely 20th century for you to understand your 21st century psyche.
It’s about a single man who hastened a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T from Denver to San Francisco. Why? No real reason. He is a former cop. He is a former race driver and a former motorcycle racer. He is a Vietnam Veterinarian who has won the Medal of Honor. She is now hypnotized on Benzedrine. But despite the high-profile gigs, none of the cops following her can find out her first name. We know him as Kowalski.
vanishing Point was purely countercultural. Not just because the screenplay was written by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a former Cuban revolutionary who, in one lifetime, both served as director of the Instituto del Cine under Castro and was commissioned by King Juan Carlos of Spain. Awarded Premio Servants. Not only in the sense that it had hippie sensibilities, but because it had a mix of existential nonsense with pro-drug sensibility, pro-nudity scenes, half-ass nihilism, and a muscle car would help make it iconic. And not just the “iconic” way car writers throw words about crappy SUVs and any Porsche, but as a symbol of what was already passing. Car culture was, at the time, countercultural in itself.
It’s midnight in Denver and the protagonist wants to arrive at “Frisco” by 3:00 the next afternoon. “Yeah, it’s been over 160,” Kowalski tells his friend who has given him a fistful of speed on good faith credit.
“But still,” claims the provider of recreational narcotics, “you can’t make it up.”
Kowalski is more confident. “Tell you what I’m going to do to you,” he says before proposing, “I’m going to bet you on the tab for Benny that I’ll be in Frisco and call you at 3 a.m. tomorrow afternoon. And if I don’t, double the deal next time.” This was tantamount to conspiracy.
I was nine, my brother was still eight, when vanishing Point The premiere took place. So drug references went well over our heads. But at the time, entertainment meant going double feature in movies, and it seemed vanishing Point There was always another feature. What stuck with us was the sight and sound of that Challenger driving hard. And, of course, nudity.
Riding around the desert on a Honda 350 wearing nothing but Gilda Textor sandals? Indelible. First naked woman I ever saw.
critics did not like vanishing Point. “Many dumb movies have been saved by a thrilling automobile chase in the last few minutes—why not make a dumb movie that’s nothing but an automobile chase?” Critic Roger Greenspun wrote in new York Times. “And maybe that’s a sure-fire idea. At least it has a way of explaining my delight in Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point, a film about which I can think of almost nothing good to say.”
vanishing Point That wasn’t what used to get me hooked to cars. But it was powerful reinforcement. It was the tail end of the muscle-car era. Insurance companies were cracking down on performance machinery, manufacturers were pulling back on their horsepower claims, and it was less than a year after the first Earth Day since the devastating offshore oil spill occurred. “Screw it,” thought my former mind amid a whole culture that now hated cars. “I love cars. And vanishing Point playing along in Grenada billy jack. Let’s look at it again.”
watching my dvd copy vanishing PointThe casual, gay-bashing and stereotyping bother me. And now that I find references to drugs, I’ve seen so many lives ruined by drug abuse, to take it lightly. Barry Newman looks appropriately out there as Kowalski, and the great Cliven Little is awesome as his on-air radio guide, DJ Super Soul. But what’s clearly still impressive is the stunt driving by the really great—as are the anecdotal legends about her—Keri Loftin. And there’s an amazing soundtrack that includes Jerry Reed’s virtuoso guitar picks on “Welcome to Nevada” and Jimmy Walker’s killer vocals on “Where Do We Go From Here.” Cinematography is also very good. But it is not the best film in terms of long shot.
I am kind of sad for my now gone youth. And vanishing Point was a part of it. It’s still available on Blu-ray from Amazon and is well worth the purchase if you don’t already own it. But I am sad that its golden anniversary is passing with so much unknown, so much fanfare. If the movie hadn’t caught some part of the enthusiast, it’s hard to believe that Chrysler could have brought the Challenger back in 2008 on a 13/10 scale. Or that muscle cars would have the resonance they still have, like baby boomers head toward 70, or 80, and oblivion.
tribute has been paid vanishing Point through the years. There was a 1997 TV remake that really sucked. Audioslave made an inspired video for their 2004 song “Show Me How to Live” which included clips. and Quentin Tarantino insisted on film within his 2007 death Proof Part of grindhouse. But those references are also becoming obsolete and increasingly irrelevant.
vanishing PointThe time has passed. This is the nature of things. Still, if I’m following corporate intrigue correctly, the rights to the movie must lie somewhere inside the Disney tomb. Maybe it’s still too raw for Disney+, but come on. Hand it over to HBO or TCM and ask Ben Mankiewicz to do one of those re-wraparounds he celebrated for a few minutes. This is a film that means a lot to many of us.
Please stream this for us old people.
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