`Speed, Dust and Heat: Richard Sarafian`s Vanishing Point`

Road Movies
Speed, Dust and Heat: Richard
Salafian’s Vanishing Point (1971)
Genre Definition
• Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Easy Rider (1969) –
genre defining origin of the contemporary road
• Outlaw road movie – Quest road movie
• 70s road movies – romanticism, visionary (?)
rebellion, and a critique of conformist society +
defeated tone in the end
• Cynicism about being on the road and denial of
the pretense that wandering takes the driver
outside of society.
Road Movies in the 1970s
• Existential inspection rather than social critique
(European influence)
• Existentialism – an interpretation of human
• ‘Existence precedes essence’ (Jean-Paul Sartre) –
‘humans do not have a nature that determines
their modes of being (existence), but that these
modes are simply possibilities from which they
may choose and on the basis of which they can
project themselves.’
• Existential choice and existential loss
Road Movies in the 1970s
• Road movies as ‘existential quest’
• Road travel as a process through which the
protagonist finds her/his mode of existence
• Focused on this existential and individual search
and social dimensions receded: road movies
• The evolution of road movies through the 70s
1) the more pronounced dramatisation of the
human and automobile
Road Movies in the 1970s
2) a more ‘mechanized’ development of characters
3) a more fragmented, aleatory narrative
4) a road trip symbolic of emotional malaise
•Apathy rather than rebellion
•60s’s optimism for social changes replaced by
political apathy following the disappointments and
disillusionments with counter-cultural and antiestablishment movements
•This lead to the Me generation and the yuppies in
the 80s
Vanishing Point
• Vanishing Point a vintage 70s road movie – a
quest road movie with outlaw elements
• Kowalski’s obsession with speed and mobility –
his mode of existence and his existential choice
‘Speed means the freedom of soul’ Supersoul
• Spiritual bond between Kowalski and Supersoul –
another road movie element ‘buddy’
Vanishing Point
• ‘I am a DJ, I am what I play … I got believers.’
• Speeding Dodge GTO and a black in the
predominantly white town are spectacles for
Middle America
• Minor, typical social criticism of road movies –
corrupt and callous policemen
Vanishing Point
• Kowalski’s past career revealed through flashbacks
– wounded in Vietnam, discharged in 1964,
policeman at San Diego PD, two promotions, and
demolition driver
• Frustration with his job and relationships; difficulty
of finding himself and fitting into society
• Kowalski as a lost soul – nihilistic escape –
existential quest
Vanishing Point
• The film depoliticizes and delegitimatizes counterculture movements and homosexuality, by
identifying them with feminity
• Its emphasis on masculinity – even ‘reactionary’
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