Everything Went Black: Live Fast Drive Faster
By Marc Savlov, 12:52PM, Thu. Oct. 11, 2012
I've been thinking lately about my relationship to the cars I've owned and how that relationship stems almost entirely from 40-odd years of filmgoing. As a film geek, the maxim that you are what you watch and thus what you drive (or the stickers adorn your rear bumper) is often psychically welded to Detroit steel.
Which, I'm guessing, I why I just bought a Dodge Challenger R/T Classic: the 5.7-Liter V8 Hemi® VVT engine positively throbs a sultry sort of menace, the "Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl with flat black R/T side stripes" exterior both devours sunlight and reflects moonlight, and the black leather interior sports a back seat big enough to breed and then birth in. (Seriously, this car should come with free condoms in the glove box.)
It is definitely no one's idea of an environmentally friendly vehicle -- although Dodge, in a nod to the Green, installed a function that shuts down four of the eight cylinders when the 6-speed manual transmission hits fourth gear. Or so the manual says. Haven't tested that one yet. So far we're averaging 16 mpg in the city.
So why, in this nervous age of skyrocketing gas prices and Prius/Tesla's electro-supercars, would I sink my hard-earned greenbacks into such a clearly un-PC ride? Here's a clue: my license plate reads "KWLSKI."
To a film geek, that explains everything you need to know about both car and driver. Still not grokking the Magnaflow? Check it:
Richard C. Sarafian's 1971 moto-epic is pure cinema. Like Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop (released the same year), it's the distilled essence of a very specific type of 70's-era, antihero gestalt. Vanishing Point is man and machine and road, and not much else. Kowalski (Barry Newman) is pursued by "the blue meanies," as Cleavon Little's AM-radio DJ Super Soul refers to the popo hot on the rocketing tail of "the last American hero, to whom speed means freedom of the soul."
That white '70 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Sport that the "hero cop" gone rogue navigates is the real star of Sarafian's visually thrilling, thematically existential movie. In the end, it's not about the death of Kowalski, it's about the death of sixties, a prolonged scream infused with the acrid taste of flaming clutch and burning rubber.
Released two years -- almost to the day -- after the creepy crawl horror show at 10050 Cielo Drive, the film's title refers not so much to the events on screen but to the smoldering wrecking of the Summer of Love, as viewed through a dust-encrusted rear window.
In Vanishing Point, speed, both literally and figuratively, has replaced the acid-tinged love-in of the preceding decade. Paranoia, fatigue, and a white-knuckled sense of unstoppable acceleration that verges on the spiritual are Vanishing Point's degraded compass marks. Next stop: oblivion. It is, no question, the film that made me buy that great black shark of a vehicle that I now own.
(Also, Don Coscarelli wouldn't sell me the '71 Plymouth Barracuda featured so prominently in his Phantasm films. Bastard!)
Sixteen mpg isn't so great, but fuck it. If I ever need to race with the devil, at least I can drive like hell.