Is this the ultimate car chase movie? For its time it was, but that honor goes to Ronin. However, Vanishing Point started it all with a 1970 white Dodge Challenger and a dude named Kowalski speeding from Colorado to California like a speed demon. This film is definitely a product of its time, full of the political symbolism that was so popular in the early 70s. It is a cool as fuck classic that any cinephile must add to his viewing credentials.

There isn’t much of a story here. Kowalski (Barry Newman) works for a car delivery service in Denver and gets hired to transport something to San Francisco. He bets that he can deliver a supercharged 1970 Dodge Challenger in less than 15 hours, thus beginning a cross-country road adventure with state highway patrols chasing his ass all the way. Along the way, Kowalski encounters a blind DJ, a group of faith healers, a snake charmer, gay hitchhikers, and a naked hippie biker chick. If you can’t already tell, this is a road movie in every sense of the word.

The main character, Kowalski, is a man of very few words. I think during the entire film he doesn’t say more than a handful of lines. We see flashbacks of his varied past, but other than that, we don’t get a whole lot about the man. As the blind DJ puts it, Kowalski is a symbolic construct who represents man’s independent spirit. The highway patrol chasing him is the Establishment/Big Brother/Government and it wants to bring him down. Yes, this film was born of the late 60s Counter-Culture Movement. The symbolism is heavy-handed, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie. The filmmakers were smart enough to create an interesting enough story, character, and situations (not to mention the amazing cinematography) to entertain the casual viewer.

Vanishing Point reminds me a lot of Easy Rider, both of which explore similar themes of Man vs. Establishment. Both are road movies that use the main character’s vehicle of choice (Peter Fonda rode a chopper in Easy Rider) as a symbol of freedom as they travel throughout the U.S. Here, Kowalski drives through the American Southwest, which I have never seen captured so beautifully on film as I have here. As does Captain America in Easy Rider, Kowalski meets some pretty interesting and strange characters during his travels. I won’t say anything about the ending other than that it ends in a very typically 70s movie fashion. If you’re familiar with 70s cinema, you’ll know what I mean.

I appreciated this film and had a good time with it in a film geek sort of way. This is not a conventional action road film that most of you are accustomed to seeing. It not only reflects the cinematic style of its time, but, politically, it also reflects the zeitgeist of the country in the late 60s/early 70s. In that sense, its a nice piece of cinematic history that I will be adding to my DVD collection.

On a sidenote, the contrast between the backwater, hick portrayal of the Nevada State Patrol with the sophisticated, technologically well-endowed California State Patrol is amusing.Vanishing Point

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