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on March 25, 2004
Anti-hero Kowalski has had an eventful and troubled life as a Vietnam vet, policeman, motorcycle racer, and off-track racer. He is now reduced to the more mundane job of a car delivery driver. In his latest assignment - delivering a car from Colorado to California - he starts down a path of self-destruction for no apparent reason. The car, a supercharged Dodge Challenger with no equal, has given him the chance to begin his journey out of society and into the abyss.
He outruns the police in several states, brooding all the way over his past, and digs himself deeper and deeper into trouble with the law. He also meets a variety of characters along the way. His exploits are reported by a funky DJ and he becomes a counterculture hero.
Although Kowalski seems to drift through life with no purpose, like the protagonist in "The Stranger," he never loses his humanity. This is evident when he encounters a total jerk in a Jaguar who taunts him and engages him in a drag race. After the Jaguar driver runs off the road and crashes, Kowalski runs back to see if he is alright, putting himself at risk of being caught by the police, who are in pursuit and not far off.
The movie ages well. The early 70's images don't come off as corny, but rather as a clear snapshot of the time, much like "Saturday Night Fever" gives a snapshot of the late 70's. This is not just another car chase movie with fruit stands being knocked over. It's a thoroughly enjoyable tale of existentialism and defiance that reflects the tensions of the period.
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on May 30, 2004
Fast action, terrific photography, great period atmosphere, colorful characters and a first-rate rock soundtrack add up to a true drive-in classic that retains its "cult classic" reputation even after more than 30 years.
This DVD includes BOTH the 97-minute U.S. print typically seen on cable and video AND the 105-minute U.K. version which includes a couple of flashbacks featuring Charlotte Rampling that for some reason were completely excised for U.S. release. The excised scenes add just a tad more insight into Kowalski's character; while not essential to the whole plot (such as it is), these scenes ARE interesting and definitely will be appreciated by hardcore fans of the film. Kudos to 20th Century Fox for making available both versions. Being a real fan of the era that this movie was shot in, it's a kick to hear director Richard C. Sarafian's commentary track. Highly recommended!
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on July 11, 2004
This movie held me spellbound the first time I saw it and is still capable of this after countless viewings. This is more than just a car chase movie, it actually has depth and a story to tell. The scenery of the great American West is also first rate and the soundtrack never fails to set the mood.
The story of the main character, an auto delivery driver named Kowalski unfolds as he takes delivery of a white '70 Dodge Challenger which is as he puts it `souped up to 160' and proceeds to drive it from Denver to San Francisco. His plan, however is to do this in 15 hours to win a bet. As Kowalski makes his journey his life is revealed to us through flashbacks and recollections which are usually triggered by what is currently happening to him in real time. Through these the viewer learns that despite his apparent lawless behavior, Kowalski is a man of good character.
It is this good character, sense of duty and strong moral code that led to Kowalski's fallout with the establishment. He had been a decorated war hero and was honorably discharged from the military. A few years later, he was a decorated policeman. However, when he saw his police partner behaving in an unsavory fashion, he reacted. His reward was to be dishonorably discharged from the police force. This ultimately led Kowalski down the path to where we are introduced to him.
One of the big things that drew me into this movie is that it doesn't hand you the explanations on a silver platter. Instead it allows you to think about it and draw your own conclusions long after you've seen it. Some reviewers on IMDB have already done a great job of touching on the philosophies of freedom and individualism prevalent in this movie, so I won't waste the time trying to top those. I'll add that I feel this is a type of an expressionist film. Kowalski is kind of an `Everyman' who is on a journey to find his place in the grand scheme of things. Along his path he encounters various characters that watch over him and help him along, but there are also those who wish to shut him down. Whether you think the conclusion of Kowalski's journey is successful or not is up to you.
Another big plus is the realism in the driving scenes, where the drivers are actually driving their machines and occasionally things happen like tires going flat or the car needs fuel. Most modern car chase sequences leave me wanting with all of the computer generated car moves and general lack of realism. I know they sometimes got it wrong back then too, doing things like obviously speeding the film up. In this one though, they got it right. The driving here brings us into that realm of manhandling 4000 lbs. of American Iron, in all the glory of big-block V8 roar, screaming smoking tires, and hands grappling with the steering wheel.
Another thing that's cool to me about this type of movie is the appearance of the car. At the beginning, the car is resplendent in gleaming chrome and white paint. As the story moves along, the car gradually gets a more dusty battered countenance. I won't spoil the end, but those who've seen it know.
The final things that tie this whole thing together are the soundtrack and scenery. They seem to go hand in hand, from the upbeat rock & roll as Kowalski starts out to the stirring guitar strains during the thoughtful moments. I also cannot say enough about the scenery, which really draws the viewer in. It ranges from the mountains of Colorado, across Utah and into the searing Nevada desert.
In closing, I'll say that this is one of my favorite movies. It won't be understood by everyone, but those of us who fantasize about getting in a classic car and blasting down an open two-lane highway devoid of SUV's, sport sedans and minivans will likely get it.
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on March 20, 2004
My favorite road movie of all time. I think this is a better film than Easy Rider. Barry Newman's subtle non-machismo performance is the perfect contrast to the awesome muscle car which carries him to his vanishing point. I just listened to the dvd commentary track by director Richard C Sarafian, where he claims his choice for Newman's role was Gene Hackman. I don't think Hackman could have done a better job, in fact the balance of the car and the driver would not have been the same. Gene Hackman is an incredible actor, but Barry Newman was, in my opinion, ideal for this film. A work of great beauty, and the haunting loss of a freer epoch. Incredible handheld cinematography by the late great John A Alonzo, married to an uplifting and deeply poignant soundtrack. This film can be viewed on many different levels from an exciting car chase movie to a true American existential classic. I never get tired of works of art and Vanishing Point is such a work. I can't understand why 20th Century Fox failed to put out a soundtrack album. "Another Soul Goes Free"
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on March 11, 2004
Vanishing Point is one of the great existential counter-culture films of the 1970s. Like the similar-minded films, most notably, Two-Lane Blacktop and Duel, this car chase movie features an anti-hero protagonist who equates the open road with freedom and staying in one place for too long with death. For years we have had to suffer with pan and scanned VHS copies but now it has finally arrived on DVD in its original aspect ratio.
Fans of Vanishing Point are in for a real treat as both the US and UK versions of the film have been made available on DVD. The UK version runs seven minutes longer and features a scene where Kowalski picks up a female hitchhiker.
Director Richard C. Sarafian contributes an engaging audio commentary. So little has been written about Vanishing Point and it is great to hear Sarafian talk at length about his experiences making the movie.
Also included are vintage TV spots and a theatrical trailer that features wonderfully kitschy ad copy: "Everyone wants a piece of his hide!"
Vanishing Point is a cult film that has endured over the years. UK music group Primal Scream named their 1997 album after the movie and even recorded a song entitled "Kowalski" that features samples from the movie. Audioslave took their love of the film even further and brilliantly recreated and condensed the movie into a music video for their song, "Show Me How To Live." The video incorporates actual footage from the movie and replaces Kowalski with the band. After years of obscurity, Vanishing Point has finally been given proper DVD treatment with an excellent transfer and made both versions available for fans to compare and contrast.
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on February 11, 2004
'Vanishing Point' still resonates within my soul, some 34 years after it was filmed. This latest release in DVD offers great extras (Sarafian's commentary and the extra scenes edited out of the original release make it worthwhile). Vanishing Point has not a single allure, it has many. It is Kowalski, the Challenger, the music, the trip and yes it is (was) the times, all of which make it very personal for me, having lived them. So much so that in the summer of 2003 I retraced Kowalski's path from Colorado through Utah and Nevada in my 1970 Challenger RT. It's a long, long ride but the scenery is still magnificent and the Challenger still dominates the highway (and surprises the occassional state trooper like the one who eyed me just outside of Eureka, Nevada - arriving a minute earlier he would have heard me go by at 140 mph. And they say you can't go home again...of course you can :) If you didn't live it or can't drive it, then by all means see it - you're not likely to be dissapointed.
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on February 7, 2004
You may need to be over 40 to appreciate the social contrasts of American life in 1971 and today. In April of that year an estimated 500,000 Americans were in Washington DC protesting against our involvement in Vietnam. Howard Hughes was still living; NASA sent a probe to Mars while the crew of Apollo 15 was riding for the first time in the Lunar Rover. Charles Manson and 'family' were found guilty for the murder of Sharon Tate. The U.A.E. (United Arab Emirates) was formed this year, so was the Libertarian party in the USA. The Concord SST was doing flight tests, Intel announced their 4004 chip, and the movie Vanishing Point began showing in our local movie houses.
The star of the movie is not the '70 Dodge Challenger; rather the star is the freedom the car and its driver are trying to attain through speed, and ultimately death. Most of us never know when we'll die, yet the character Kowalski seems to have one up on us. He has been running through life's trials like questions with multiple choice answers, eliminating the obvious wrong answers first.
The vast open spaces the cinematography so wonderfully capture frame the path to the Pearly Gates; rather a crack of light between the blades of a couple of CAT dozers that Director Sarafian refers to as a crack in the fence. Kowalski's soul is about to be set free and the Challenger is just the vehicle that can go fast enough to do it.
As Insurance company's rates soared for muscle cars and Emissions standards pummeled high output engines, the whole muscle car era faded to black in a few years. The movie Vanishing Point is a time machine - the beginning of the end.
The DVD version is by far my favorite which includes Mr. Sarafian's narration as an option. I would have loved to have heard Barry Newman and Clevon Little (sadly deceased in 1992), and or some of the crew with Sarafian discuss the making of the film. There's also a UK version of the film including the cut scenes with Charlotte Rampling (great scene). This is definitely one to add to your library. 5 Stars in my book.
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on December 9, 2003
The movie opens at the climax of the film, where we are shown a roadblock of monstrous proportions, and a white 1970 Dodge Challenger rocketing toward it. From there the tale begins, backing up two days to give the rest of the story. An interstate chase is on for the driver of the Challenger, whom we know nothing at all about. As the story unfolds, the identity of the driver is rationed out in flashbacks and news reports, slowly bringing into focus the nature of the character. At first, we naturally assume the driver to be a simple car thief, as does law enforcement. Gradually, we learn that the driver is not a thief at all, he is simply delivering the car. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran who joined the police department after his honorable discharge, married a beautiful girl, and then lost her in a surfing accident. Not long after, he stopped a senior officer from beating and raping a young hippie girl, and was dishonorably discharged from the force. We also learn that his high-octane burn across the desert is to satisfy a simple wager: if he makes it from Denver to San Francisco in less than 15 hours, he doesn't have to pay for the amphetamines he bought to keep him awake for the trip. He is guided along the way by blind disc jockey "Supersoul" (Cleavon Little), who speaks to the driver (whose name is we learn is Kowalski (no last name given, via the AM radio in the Challenger. Supersoul is Kowalski's invisible guardian angel, advising him of the cop's attempts to stop him, at least until some local rednecks bust into the radio station with a storm of rocks and racial epithets and beat Super Soul and his engineer into submission. As Kowalski rockets across the blasted desert landscape, he encounters numerous crackpots and visionaries, all of whom seem to offer another piece to the puzzle that Kowalski's life has become. From prospectors to faith healers, outlaws to newlywed hijackers, we are given a glimpse into a world that exists far from the beaten track we all travel each day. As Kowalski hurtles toward his date with the destiny that was mapped out for us at the very beginning of the film, each rumor and news report seems to contradict the image of him that is being played out by the police of several states, elevating him to something of a folk hero among a growing legion of fans and supporters.
This movie knocked me out from the very beginning. For those die-hards, yes, there are plenty of car chases and stunts to satisfy most fans of car/action films. But that's not the whole story, by any measure. For this is the story of one man, not a mythic legend, or even a regional folk hero. Why does he do what he does? He simply has nothing left to lose or gain. How many men returned from Vietnam at least a little disillusioned by the world they came home to? How many have had their lives mapped out neat and pretty, only to have the blind monkey wrench of fate turn their worlds upside down? Here is a man who is perfectly willing to sacrifice his freedom, his safety, and possibly even his life to win what amounts to a ten-dollar bet, at best. When Kowalski finally arrives at the roadblock, the inevitable conclusion to his odyssey, he takes the only road he knows, a path which had been set for him ever since the beginning.
On a cinematic level, the influence of Vanishing Point is far reaching, indeed. The story of a jaded ex-cop who has lost his wife, his hope and, to a degree, his humanity, was taken and nitro-injected in George Miller's Mad Max (1979) and the Road Warrior (1982), as Max Rockatansky (not too far a reach from Kowalski) has his life violently ripped out from under him, and thus turns to the open road. At first for revenge, but then because it is the only world he can exist in, a place where jungle law prevails. By then, Max is nothing more than a shell, a ghost of a human who haunts the blighted landscape propelled by a hunger not even he can understand. One of the most effective plot devices is that of not giving the protagonist a name until well into the film. Joel Schumaker used this technique very well in his good movie Falling Down (1993), not giving Michael Douglas' character a name until the final act of the film's story. By doing this, we are allowed to see the character as a sort of everyman, someone whom we may know, or may even be. We are then free to observe the goings-on at a much more personal level, knowing all too well that the story being played out upon the screen could, given the right circumstances, be any of us, and to that end, possibly even all of us. By the time we learn that the character is someone, it's too late. They are already a part of us, bound by destiny and experience. Also of note is the using of a disc jockey to provide a running commentary on the nature and exploits of the protagonist (as well as provide a reasonable source for the music in the film), a device used, to lesser effect, in Walter Hill's The Warriors (1979). Lastly, although film characters have been bumping into oddballs in the desert for years, Abbe Wool's wonderful Roadside Prophets (1992) stands out as the protagonists wander through the desert, encountering numerous wisdom-dispensing desert dwellers, each contributing their ideas, ideals, and experiences in a way that lends toward a larger collective ideology wherein a greater truth resides.
This is a masterpiece of filmmaking. Do yourself a huge favor and check it out.
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on March 26, 2004
In the mid seventies my father insisted that my family see this film with him, and in '84 Vanishing Point was the first film that I discussed with the man who would become my husband of over twenty years (a '71 Challenger driver/owner). How many times we watched it on Beta, stopping, rewinding, analysing, in a basement apartment in Normal, Illinois, while the snow mounded up against the frozen windows.
There was an article in a Mopar Magazine in the early '90's that talked about the two sequences with Charlotte Rampling that had been cut from US distribution. I am still hoping someday to see the one with her in the black hat, where she hisses at Kowalksi and becomes the malevolent spectre of his imminent death. Until then, I am happy to have at last the hitchhiker scene. It adds a darkness and a texture that enhances the end of the film. I am sorry that it was cut. The Sarafian commentary adds a lot too. Finally! It is a good thing.
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on February 25, 2004
Sarafian's 1971 cult road movie,with an early opening credit to Malcolm Hart for the idea and first script,depicts the protagonist's(Kowalski) race against time and space,in which speed is defined as a spiritual protest against the confines and limitations of an authoritarian state and its law enforcement agents.. the 'blue meanies'.
Kowalski heads west through the big space from Denver to San Francisco and along the way meets up with counterkulture characters amoung them a blind DJ(Cleavon Little)who can see into Kowalski's mind and broadcasts his epic endeavour to outpace his pursuers, achieving mythic status as he speeds down the road towards his destination.Not to be missed...
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