Programmed by Mojo Lorwin
Essay by Mojo Lorwin
Since Homer's Odyssey and before, long journeys have been a frequent theme of fiction. The journey plot might be the launching point for a meditation on freedom, a backdrop for a bildungrosman or the material for an allegory. Regardless of how it is used, it is a theme to which the visual medium of cinema is particularly well suited. The archetypal "road movie" as it crystallized in the 1960s features two buddies (usually men) cruising across the highways of America, having adventures and epiphanies amidst impressive landscapes and sleepy backwater towns. Two films in this series (Easy Rider and Two-Lane Blacktop) fit that description neatly, but journeys come in different forms, have different protagonists, motivations and outcomes. Wendy (Wendy and Lucy) journeys to reinvent herself, Sullivan (Sullivan's Travels) is on a fool's errand for elusive authenticity and the "Wild Boys of the Road" are intra-American migrants travelling in search of work. The young protagonists of Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout are thrust into a dangerous journey by necessity, but through it they learn something fundamental about the relationship between humanity and nature. In contrast, the middle aged protagonist of Frank Perry's The Swimmer embarks on an artificial journey which mirrors the artificial suburban community in which he is trapped. The nameless woman at the center of Abbas Kiarostami's Ten works as a taxi driver, navigating the streets of Tehran as a means of gaining her independence in a patriarchal society, while the eponymous street gang of the cult classic The Warriors must run a gauntlet of New York City gangs in order to return to the safety of their home turf. Whether the characters in this series are trying to get back home or as far from it as possible, whether their wanderings take them through the outback, the train yards, suburban lawns or city streets, whether they reach their destination or die trying, invariably, it's the cinematic journey that counts.
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(William Wellman, 1933) · When the Great Depression hits, two boys hop a freight train East looking for work and soon become "Wild Boys of the Road" in Wellman's (Wings, Public Enemy) pre-code classic. Clashes with the police and "train dicks" are frequent, but the boys also find kindness and solidarity among all the wandering youths. The film's themes of downward mobility, the casualties of capitalism and honest people corrupted by desperate circumstances are topical again.
runtime: 67 min format: 35mm, Print courtesy of the Library of Congress
(Nicolas Roeg, 1971) · In Walkabout, British auteur Nicholas Roeg handles both cinematography and directing, resulting in what Roger Ebert called "one of the best-photographed films ever." The story of a brother and sister lost in the Australian outback is simple, but the telling is complex: through Eisensteinian montage, psychedelic compositions, and an incredible attention to desert minutiae, Roeg gives a heart wrenching glimpse into humanity in harmony with nature.
runtime: 100 min format: 35mm
(Monte Hellman, 1971) · James Taylor and the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson go on an existential cross-country road race to beat repulsive muscle car driver Warren Oates, with hippie femme fatale Laurie Bird throwing a wrench in the works. A film that runs the gamut from bleakness to hilarity, Two-Lane Blacktop has become a cult classic in the years since it confounded audiences in 1971. Director Hellman channels the spirit of his mentor Roger Corman and the drive-in era of film.
runtime: 102 min format: 35mm
(Preston Sturges, 1941) · Hollywood director John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) wants to make the great Depression-Era tragedy and he wants to call it "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"(!). To research, he goes undercover as a tramp, hitchhiking and train hopping around America for material. The result is a philosophical screwball comedy that addresses poverty, class perspective, and the conflict between art and entertainment, even as it satirizes the very idea of social relevance.
runtime: 90 min format: 35mm
(Abbas Kiarostami, 2002) · Featuring incredible performances from real-life mother-son pair Mania Akbari and Amin Maher, Ten tells the story of a recently divorced woman working as a cab driver in Tehran. Rather than relying on the wide lenses and sweeping vistas typical of road movies, Kiarostami's small masterpiece is filmed entirely on two mini-DV cameras focused on the interior of the taxi, resulting in an intimate and life-like portrait of its protagonist and her passengers.
runtime: 94 min format: 35mm
(Frank Perry, 1968) · Burt Lancaster plays Ned Merrill, an earnest and virile middle-aged man who wakes up one day and decides to swim all the pools in his Connecticut suburb in a quixotic attempt to "swim home." In this underrated classic, Frank Perry reimagines John Cheever's twelve-page riff on The Odyssey as a modern American epic, a tragicomedy of the suburbs with a touch of the surreal. Both Lancaster and Roger Ebert considered it as the actor's best performance.
runtime: 95 min format: 35mm
(Dennis Hopper, 1969) · From the opening chords of Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" to the dramatic finale, Easy Rider is the epitomal road trip flick. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda's pet project started as a pipe dream (literally) but ended up becoming a cultural phenomenon that put the nail in the coffin for old Hollywood. Jack Nicholson's performance as an alcoholic lawyer with hippie sympathies made him into a star, as did Karen's Black's turn as a New Orleans prostitute.
runtime: 95 min format: 35mm
(Kelly Reichardt, 2008) · Sometimes the journey is over before it's begun. Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is driving from Indiana to Alaska with five hundred dollars in her wallet and her faithful dog Lucy in tow, until a series of unforeseen events stalls her in small town Oregon, broke and friendless. The second film in Reichardt's road trilogy, Wendy and Lucy is a powerful vignette about the difficulties of freedom and the best laid plans going to waste.
runtime: 80 min format: 35mm
(Walter Hill, 1979) · The cult classic that inspired countless hip hop samples ("Warriors, come out and play!"), The Warriors follows the adventures of the eponymous street gang as they try to make it back from an ambush in the Bronx to their home turf in Coney Island. Walter Hill's film presents an archetype of 70s New York, replete with graffiti-covered subways and crawling with flamboyantly decked out gangbangers. The Moog synth soundtrack is a classic of the genre.
runtime: 92 min format: 35mm