Bumpy RoadThe Making, Flop, and Revival of Two-Lane Blacktop

Bumpy RoadThe Making, Flop, and Revival of Two-Lane Blacktop

Sylvia Townsend

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9781496804143

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


In meticulous detail, the book describes the filming, release, and influence of the 1971 film Two-Lane Blacktop. In 1970 the urbane producer Michael Laughlin asked the hippy filmmaker Monte Hellman to direct a script called Two-Lane Blacktop. The cult author Rudy Wurlitzer rewrote the script, the story of two scruffy hot rodders who pick up a girl hitchhiker and race their classic ’55 Chevy against a rich guy’s “factory –made hot rod,” a ’70 GTO Judge. In three of the four lead roles Hellman cast nonactors – the rock stars James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, and the director’s girlfriend, Laurie Bird. Hellman made an existentialist car-racing movie; nobody wins or even finishes the race, the protagonists are doomed to drive around endlessly. The film was slow-paced, the rock stars didn’t sing (and barely spoke), the movie had little music, and Hellman ignored other traditional crowd-pleasing conventions. When he resisted studio pressure to make the movie more conventional and commercial, it flopped at the box office. Universal failed to release the film on video, making it scarce and sought-after, and three of the four lead actors – Wilson Bird and Warren Oates, had untimely deaths, conferring mystique on the film. Many years after its release, the film gained wide acclaim, was released by the prestigious Criterion Collection and was preserved in the National Film Registry. In the book, the directors Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater and others tell how the movie influenced their work. Although Two-Lane Blacktop was a harbinger of the demise of New Hollywood films, brought about by the financial costs to Hollywood studios that allowed auteur directors to make non-commercial movies, had Hellman caved in to pressure to make the movie commercial, it would not have become a classic.