Been soaking my eyeballs in America pop culture iconography recently, starting with the bad trip that is ‘Two-Lane Blacktop’ (1971), wherein hippy petrol heads James Taylor and Dennis Wilson hit the road on what feels like an eternal downer. It’s a cult classic – yes – but...isn’t it also a comedown after the previous decade’s high of new-found ideals and cultural revolutionary zeal? Monte makes what happens as exciting or interesting as listening to a marijuana plant grow. But these boys don’t even do drugs (just burgers and Coke – the all-American drug). Warren Oates is the only live-wire as an insecure serial liar sucked into the race, and I found him more interesting (likeable, even) than The Driver and The Mechanic. ‘But it’s all existential’, you might say. Maybe it is, and maybe I’m missing the point. If the point is the pointlessness of going on the road in search of anything, ma-a-n, because, well, you know, there’s nothing to find and no place worth getting to, Hellman delivers. It’s a cynical 70s riposte to Kerouac’s joy and kicks two decades before. If I had produced this, I’d have told Monte: ‘Look, you can contemplate the futility of life for young people now and the nihilistic existential nature of life in a world of shattered dreams but, you know, at least make the car races exciting.’
From cars to bikes and Kenneth Anger’s ‘Scorpio Rising’ (1964) – known as an underground classic, which I’m sure it is. The camera lingers lovingly on the muscle-bound biker boys (of course, this being our Ken) along with the contents of Bruce Byron’s room (thus highlighting the pop culture significance of all its artefacts) – before going on to a biker’s party where the boys (straight boys) lark about acting gay. Then there’s the sacrilegious church scene in which the biker rants (unheard) from the pulpit. There’s a Nazi flag too – what is Anger saying? Religious zealots are no better than political ones? It all plays out to a soundtrack of choice pop tunes, the use of which pre-date every filmmakers use of pop and striking imagery – for that, you must give Anger credit, along with his humorous use of a Hollywood biblical movie cut into all this. Anger was a rebel, for sure, but whether he had a cause or not, I don’t know.