The Executioner: By the Neck By David Cairns
Designing for del Toro By Eric Skillman
01 Because it’s the purest American road movie ever.
02 Because it’s like a drive-in movie directed by a French new wave director.
03 Because the only thing that can get between a boy and his car obsession is a girl, and Laurie Bird perfectly messes up the oneness between the Driver, the Mechanic, and their car.
04 Because Dennis Wilson gives the greatest performance ever . . . by a drummer.
05 Because James Taylor seems like a refugee from a Robert Bresson movie, and has the chiseled looks of Artaud from Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.
06 Because there was once a god who walked the earth named Warren Oates.
07 Because there’s a continuing controversy over who is the actual lead in this movie. There are different camps. Some say it’s the ’55 Chevy, some say it’s the GTO. But I’m Goat man, I have a GTO—’68.
08 Because it has the most purely cinematic ending in film history.
09 Because it’s like a western. The guys are like old-time gunfighters, ready to outdraw the quickest gun in town. And they don’t talk about the old flames they’ve had, but rather old cars they’ve had.
10 Because Warren Oates has a different cashmere sweater for every occasion. And of course the wet bar in the trunk.
11 Because unlike other films of the era, with the designer alienation of the drug culture and the war protesters, this movie is about the alienation of everybody else, like Robert Frank’s The Americans come alive.
12 Because Warren Oates, as GTO, orders a hamburger and an Alka-Seltzer and says things like “Everything is going too fast and not fast enough.”
13 Because it’s both the last film of the sixties—even though it came out in ’71—and also the first film of the seventies. You know, that great era of “How the hell did they ever get that film made at a studio?/Hollywood would never do that today” type of films.
14 Because engines have never sounded better in a movie.
15 Because these two young men on their trip to nowhere don’t really know how to talk. The Driver doesn’t really converse when he’s behind the wheel, and the Mechanic doesn’t really talk when he’s working on the car. So this is primarily a visual, atmospheric experience. To watch this movie correctly is to become absorbed into it.
16 And, above all else, because Two-Lane Blacktop goes all the way with its idea. And that’s a rare thing in this world: a completely honest movie.
Filmmaker Richard Linklater originally presented this tribute at the 2000 South by Southwest in Austin, TX, as an introduction to a special screening of Two-Lane Blacktop, part of a retrospective of Hellman's work that Linklater helped coordinate. It also appeared in the Criterion Collection's 2007 DVD release of Two-Lane Blacktop.