Vanishing Point (Richard C. Sarafian / U.S., 1971):

"Greetings, sir. Let's race." From Colorado to California, Friday night to Sunday morning, the square peg's mythical spree. One of Richard C. Sarafian's opening compositions (fugitive, desert, helicopter) states the alliance to Losey's Figures in a Landscape, his marvelously terse overture has bulldozers muscling down main street to drop their blades on the asphalt and obscure the horizon slicing the screen. Kowalski (Barry Newman) the dropout—Nam hero, disillusioned cop, former demolition derby motorist—runs on adrenaline, "silent and moody" yet serene within himself behind the wheel of a pearly Dodge Challenger. An affront to a patrolman kicks off the pursuit, soon he has four states' worth of "blue meanies" for joust after joust. This roadrunner's hallucination is also a fable that is told, the sightless disc-jockey (Cleavon Little) extols "the last American hero, to whom speed means freedom of the soul." Cendrars' La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France, just about, only it's pure New World and pure 1971. The terrain here has its extraterrestrial side (sun-baked in the antihero's eyes, it dissolves to wintry vistas in his mind), furious swaths of dirt and pavement and sky sustain the ecstatic image. Hillbillies, prospectors, faith healers and swishy "gentlemen of the road" populate the pit stops, the hippie oasis is a junkyard with a tawny nymph bare astride a chopper. Sarafian engineers it all with a virtuosity stemming perhaps from Hawks' Hatari!, a pellucid kineticism closely studied by Spielberg (The Sugarland Express) and Tarantino (Death Proof): A camera hurtling through windshields, a dolly-zoom that sends the vehicle zipping ahead like a meteor. Funk and revving engines, rock and skidding tires, gospel and sirens and horns, "some wham-bam, zoom-boom, wake-up music." A fireball awaits at the end of the line, the curious sidewalk audience disperses in the aftermath. Cinematography by John A. Alonzo. With Dean Jagger, Gilda Texter, Victoria Medlin, Paul Koslo, Robert Donner, Anthony James, Lee Weaver, and Severn Darden.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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