Weekly Quick Notes: Two-Lane Blacktop, The Warriors

Brief blurbs for each movie I watched last week, favorites first.

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

"Those satisfactions are permanent." GTO, compulsive liar.
"I can't get no satisfaction." The Rolling Stones, voice of a generation.

Form follows function. Everything elicits a particularly nihilist brand of minimalism: the '55 Chevy torn down to its basic components (vs. the flashy GTO), the driver and the mechanic disinterested in anything outside their car (vs. the manically self-identifying GTO driver), the editing and cinematography lacking style or structure (e.g. no establishing shots), the writing abstaining from artifice (e.g. no exposition).

Defined not by what it has, but by what it lacks. An era aimed at self-effacement. Meditative soundscape of engines and tires driving off the frame into oblivion.

Junesploitation: Day 27 – Cars!

The Warriors (1979)

Dystopian West Side Story without the musical numbers.

The Warriors aren't "warriors" (nothing about a red vest represents "warriors") as much as adolescent symbols of macho masculinity (bare-chested boys pretending to be men). Childish male wish fulfillment of a fantasy world without parents that sympathizes with its often unsympathetic juveniles even as they get distracted by every hormonal impulse from vandalism to womanizing.

More successful as an Escape from New York prequel than an allegory for international politics; the "turf" metaphor functions instead as a blanket signifier for community and family ("getting home").

Triumph of style in production design (costume) and editing (cartoonish transitions even without Director’s Cut add-ons).

Junesploitation: Day 24 – Teenagers!

Hard Target (1993)

A world bursting at the seams.

Everything explodes when shot full of bullets. Doves appear out of nowhere when dramatically necessary. Jump kicks and mullets required. Pinned down by so much slow motion that the film might evaporate if played at full speed.

Desperately frenetic editing splices together flashes of searing sunlight cutting through closed blinds on a hot summer day. Final shoot-out in Mardi Gras warehouse literalizes carnivalesque nature of violence.

Narrative framework of Natasha looking for her father doesn't work, but fortunately Woo forgets about the plot once JCVD faces off with Lance Henrikson.

Also, snake-punching.

Junesploitation: Day 25 – 90’s Action!

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Price of self-actualization in middle-class suburbia: one Ferrari.

Funnier than I remember, and the (maybe?) fact that Bueller is trying to help Cameron learn how to have fun makes up for a little bit of how much of a parasitic sociopath he is.

Puts a lot of stock in its music, and gets surprising mileage out of second-unit montages (city, museum, parade).

An almost Lynchian presentation of white-collar America as fundamentally dysfunctional (absent parents, disinterested youth); Cameron falls into A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, caught in the static shadows of Seurat’s idle bourgeoisie, staring at the one character alive enough to move into the sunlight.

Movies Now and Then podcast

Black Sunday (1960)

German Expressionism filtered through Universal Monsters with a goopy, Italian twist. Slow, moody atmosphere, caught in cobwebs after centuries of decomposition. Architectural storytelling constructs a magnified, mythical world noirishly highlighted by sharp rays of light and starkly contrasted with deep caves of shadow.

A society of men try to rid themselves of the satanic curse of a dangerous woman and end up digging themselves a deeper grave. Masculinity as (literally) morbid curiosity and femininity as (literally) lifeless corporeality. Man’s greatest fear is a woman without flesh.

Mario Bava | Italy

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)


Cheap, dirty lo-fi leaves no place to hide, no reassurance of humanity behind the curtains. Depraved and sadistic, but that doesn’t necessarily make it successful "horror".

The "good guys" are a bunch of stupid, selfish tourists (looking for "movie stars and fancy cars"), not worth saving for their few redeeming characteristics (except the dogs and maybe the baby, although it would probably also grow up to be a stupid, selfish tourist).

There's something worthwhile in its ability to eliminate our sense of safe distance, but otherwise shrill and annoying. Stick to Texas Chain Saw or Evil Dead.

Junesploitation: Day 26 – Cannibals!
Movies Under $1 Million

Starcrash (1978)

Impossible to evaluate as a movie by any traditional criteria: laughable dialogue, flat performances, contrived plot, etc. The only thing coherent about it is how incoherent it is.

Blatant Star Wars rip-off from the first shot onward, and even as a "low budget" feature (it was made on four million 1978-dollars, which doesn’t really qualify) there's not much to like about it on a technical level (even the thorough production design looks like it borrowed costumes from a kindergarten musical).

Its complete failure of storytelling might be entertaining if you're in the right mood (i.e. irretrievably intoxicated), but I had trouble enjoying it even as goofy garbage.

Junesploitation: Day 22 – Robots!