Sometimes the Music's in the Scratches
In defense of the bootleg
So it took no small effort to apprehend this mythic, existential road movie obscured by a fog of purplish skin tones, scratches that extended into the black bars of its letterboxing (at least it was wide-screen), and the considerable violence done to the sound mix along the way. But I loved it, and whether you're talking cars or movies, perhaps truer words were never spoken than in one of GTO's splendid lies: "There's nothin' like buildin' up an old automobile from scratch and wipin' out one of these Detroit machines. That'll give you a set of emotions that'll stay with you. Know what I mean?"
Not that I'm complaining about the souped-up video transfer and trunk-full of extras in this big block (including docs, commentaries, Rudy Wurlitzer's screenplay, and a thrillingly passive-aggressive interview with James Taylor). But perhaps more than any previous release, Two-Lane Blacktop reveals limitations in the Criterion approach that sets the bar for home-theatre-centric cinephilia. Picture and sound quality are exquisite, and the extras, mostly produced by Hellman himself, are affectionate and informative, so for any fan, this box is nothing short of essential. But on a good flat-screen in a living room, the film's very American retooling of Antonioni-style minimalism offers its design for appreciation as an art object, without quite handing over the keys for a drive at the horizon. Personally, I need something a little less academic, a little more hypnotic, and not a little bit disreputable. While most of the performances suffer somewhat without the scale and starkness of a bigger screen or the involving abstraction of a fuzzier one, whenever Warren Oates' hilariously, indestructibly tragic GTO takes the wheel, Two-Lane Blacktop still unfolds in a great, skuzzy drive-in of the mind. And those satisfactions are permanent.