Vanishing Point (1971)

And there goes the Challenger, being chased by the blue, blue meanies on wheels. The vicious traffic squad cars are after our lone driver, the last American hero, the electric centaur, the, the demi-god, the super driver of the golden west! Two nasty Nazi cars are close behind the beautiful lone driver. The police numbers are gettin’ closer, closer, closer to our soul hero, in his soul mobile, yeah baby! They about to strike. They gonna get him. Smash him. Rape… the last beautiful free soul on this planet.

It’s funny, when I was a kid a movie from fifty years ago meant something from the 1920’s or 1930’s. Nowadays, it means a movie from the year of my birth. Vanishing Point is only six month older than I am. The difference is, I will eventually die. Vanishing Point will live forever.

Vanishing Point is lean protein. No fat. No extra calories. It is pure viewing satisfaction. That is the secret to eternal life, cinematically speaking.

Vanishing Point occupies that wonderful rarified air where from all outward appearances – the hair, the mood, the film stock – the movie obviously dated. And yet, it is timeless. See also: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Star Wars among so many others. That’s damn fine company to keep. The Golden Age of cinema isn’t about a particular era, instead it plucks out the chosen few throughout history. Think the aliens in Toy Story. The claw! Every movie dreams that one day they too will be chosen.

Vanishing Point is Easy Rider on four wheels. It’s about freedom. Freedom and horsepower. Kowalski is everyman. He is Howard Beale in Network. He is Butch Cassidy and he is the Sundance Kid. He is Bo “Bandit” Darvelle. He is you and I. What we know about his history, we know from flashbacks. They provide bullet points to Kowalski’s life and little else. They are short and sweet and practically perfect in every way. And why would you want to know anything more.

The seventies were the glory days of the less is more approach to filmmaking. Backstory? We don’t need no stinking backstory. Let’s hit the ground running and let your imagination fill in the rest. Michael Meyer’s was just some crazy kid who killed his family. Got it. That’s all I needed to know. That’s all I want to know.

I like to watch remakes of movies I dig. Call it professional curiosity, call it background, or – more likely – the annoying habits of a film nerd. I pulled up the 1997 version of Vanishing Point starring Viggo Mortensen and – of all people – Jason Priestly. The Priestly factor is made even more bizarre when you realize he’s taking over the role originated by the late, great Cleavon Little. (See also: Blazing Saddles) To paraphrase Mojo Nixon, Jason Priestly has no Elvis in him. What he does have is diamond balls. I give him credit having the testicular fortitude to step into those shoes.

Viggo makes a pretty good Kowalski, but then again, he’s good in everything. (See also: Captain Fantastic) Though for some strange reason I kept mistaking him for a young Denis Leary, which is not a mix-up I make very often. Imagine Denis Leary as Aragon.

Still, the television remake focused too much on Kowalski’s backstory and that is where it went south for me. Let the audience fill in the blanks, that way instead of one movie, you’ve made a million. Each existing inside the viewers mind. That’s something that’s sorely lacking from cinema these days.

Is Vanishing Point the greatest car movie of all-time? Greatness is subjective, but I can tell you without a doubt it’s the greatest car movie I’ve ever seen.

The question is not when is he going to stop. But who is going for stop him?

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M. Ruin

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