Before it was even released in 1971, Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop was heralded as "film of the year" by Esquire magazine in a cover story.
Showing the power of the press, it bombed -- the low-key existentialism of the road-trip story about a cross-country car race between archetypes Driver (James Taylor) and Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) on one side and GTO (Warren Oates) on the other, with the Girl (Laurie Bird) sauntering between, was just too post-New Wave European for audiences. But showing the prescience of Esquire, Blacktop has slowly become a 1970s classic, heralded for the poetic subtlety of Rudy Wurlitzer and Will Corry's script as well as Hellman's elegiac directing and the film's overall vision of our country. In this re-release, Criterion treats it like Citizen Kane -- a double-disc special edition with commentaries by Hellman and Wurlitzer plus new interviews with Taylor and producer Walter Coblenz, outtakes and a short feature on the film's '55 Chevy. The full screenplay is also included, along with appreciations by Richard Linklater and Tom Waits. A memorable piece of post-counterculture Americana has been gloriously restored. Grade: A
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