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Screening #8: Vanishing Point (1971) – 105 min.

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Professional driver Kowalski (Barry Newman) takes a bet to ride his Dodge Challenger R/T from Colorado to San Francisco in less than 15 hours. On his way he fights obstacles and gains supporters, like a blind radio DJ (Cleavon Little) who is able to scan the broadcasts of the police…

For this class I choose the uncut version that only was released in the UK and is seven minutes longer than the US movie. A typical example of a cult movie, this film was a critical as well as a financial failure upon its release in the US. However, after being successful in Europe, the film was re-released in a double bill with “The French Connection” (1971). Running in drive-in theaters and on TV afterwards, the film since then has gained a respectable cult following. Steven Spielberg has named it among his favorite movies (there are some analogies to his 1971 film “Duel”), and Quentin Tarantino paid his homage to it in “Death Proof” (2007). A remake was done for TV in 1997, and “Donnie Darko” director Richard Kelly seems currently to plan another remake for the big screen.

The film was shot by director Richard C. Serafian on a low budget of 1,6 Million US $, but gained over the years more than 12 Million US $ at the box office. Despite its many locations, the film was shot in just 38 days (instead of 60 planned days due to a sudden budget shortage through the studio) with – for its days – light-weight ARRI II cameras and a small crew of 19 (excluding actors). I will leave the end of this film up to your interpretation (before you will hear mine of course). But it might be helpful for you to consider what Barry Newman has pointed in an interview: “… no matter how far they push or chase you, no one can truly take away your freedom…”

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067927/?ref_=nv_sr_1

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14 responses to “Screening #8: Vanishing Point (1971) – 105 min.

  1. Sandra ⋅

    I you are looking for the 70’s version of “The Fast and The Furious” look no further, Vanishing Point is a car-action about a man, Kowalski, driving from Denver to San Francisco at very high speed. The film literally oozes of the 70’s, not only from the fuzzy sideburns o the main character but from very hippie elements such as the opposing or skeptically of authority, the freedom fighters and the hippies and of course the many nude scenes.
    In this philosophical car-chase film, the role of the narrator falls on “super soul” a blind black jazz radio DJ who cheers Kowalski on and glorifies him and his drive as “a lone cahier, the last American hero, the last free soul… riding on his way of freedom”. The counter culture of law versus the outlaw and the law enforcement are certainly negatively portrayed. Kowalski’s history is in the military, the law enforcement and lastly as a race driver, throughout the film the audience is introduced to flashbacks from his past. Whenever he meets someone new he remembers an even from the past, he is seen rescuing a girl about to get raped by the police, him crashing in a race and intimate scenes with his ex-girlfriend who it turns out died in a surf accident. So 70´s.
    My favorite part was also the part that confused me the most and the part that was cut out from the U.S version of the film. His meeting with death, she greeted him as a hitchhiker and told him she had waited for him forever and everywhere they made love and the next day with a slight smile on his face he crashes in to the police barrier taking his own life.
    I believe that this type of film is an acquired taste or perhaps just don’t go well with everyone but I have to say that I did enjoy it. It was confusingly pleasant!

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  2. hiro ⋅

    Overall I enjoyed watching this film. This movie motivated me to watch entire scenes without getting bored. At the beginning I thought this film is just another film of car action, but I quickly realized that it is not a modern car action type film. The one thing I thought about this film after watching is that what actually happened? It was hard for me to track every event and know what is going on since the film contains various mysterious scenes such as flashbacks, effect of drug, mysterious women, and shuffled timeline. It was hard to understand everything about this film but it was fun enough for me to think about watching this film for a second time. I can understand little bit why there is a core fun for this film. Another thing what I liked about this film was that the music. During the movie, it was mostly scenes of car driving. This looks boring but adding appropriate sound effects and music theme in each scene really change the image of the film itself. Thus, I realized the music has a strong power and it is something must have in the movie. In this film music was not just a background music comes from unknown place, but the director wisely uses scenes of radio station so that it let audience to think the music is actually coming from the radio. I really liked this technique.

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  3. Reggie ⋅

    Vanishing point was an interesting movie through I was kinda disappointed at the end. The car just crashing into the tractors at the end leaves a lot of questions. Which I think the movie was intended to do so. It had a very simple story, I’m a car delivery driver trying to get from point a to point b as quickly as possible. Through the movie doesn’t give an outright hint that he is suicidal. He tells his friend he going to make it to Ciso in time, even makes a wager. He keeps trying to avoid the cops at all cost. As he is driving and avoiding the cops the plot starts building on the simple back story. It starts showing all these flash backs and they are all bad. He is either remembering being in races and crashing, which I’m guessing they were career enders. Or they showed him having hard times with his partner as a cop, It even showed were his girlfriend drowned while surfing. So you start to get a sense he has lost a lot in his lifetime and never really caught any breaks. I guess they try to explain how he is now a pill popping adrenalin junkie. The movie also tries to add an expect of a female whom is supposed to represent death and finally catching up with him, but I don’t understand why it was death. I mean he wasn’t really playing with death. I could see it if he stayed in the military, or when he was a cop he got into a lot of shot outs. Or even with the car crashes if there was more destruction and it makes it look like her barely got out alive. I could see her more like bad luck or misfortune finally taking the last straw. Him deciding that life is not worth it anymore and he has nothing going for him but popping pills and speeding. I think this movie is supposed to make people relate and thinking about themselves and one another. Give you a look into the persona of the times and how things can push people to the edge even if they outward appear fine. Though I would have preferred a better ending then just crashing and exploding. Left like I got robbed out of a good ending and they just ran out of ideas. It reminded me other the other ending I hate a lot, o they guy wakes up and figured out it was all just a dream…

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  4. Yui ⋅

    After watching this movie, I was really confused and there are so many parts in the movie that I do not understand. For example, one of the questions was “why would the girl ride a motorcycle naked?” I know the movie represents “the American culture”, but since I am not familiar with some American cultures, it was a little bit hard for me to watch the movie with a subjective view, or reflecting my life in the story.

    One of the memorable lines I have is when a blind black guy distinguishes Kowalski as something like “the American to whom speed means freedom of the soul” on his radio, Super Soul. I think it well portrays Kowalski as a person who pushes back against the mainstream culture. He draws attention from people as the society’s most famous outlaw.

    Other than the naked girl and drugs, the landscape caught my attention. Since more than a half of the movie consists of car chasing scenes, it is hard not to pay attention to the beautiful scenery. As we discussed in the class, the landscape plays a significant role as it connects two worlds, the modern time and the old Western time, by shooting certain elements like the desert. Looking at Kowalski riding a car on his own in the magnificent desert, it reminded me a lot of a cowboy wandering in a desert alone as riding a horse.

    As I continued to watch the movie, I was able to grasp the meaning behind the title. Through a series of flashbacks, he revisits his whole life. As he has a number of encounters, he approaches to his death at the end. I could see that freedom is what drives him forward and makes him continue his last ride.

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  5. Michelle ⋅

    The 1971 film started out in the same manner as Sunset Blvd and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It (slightly) reveals the ending of the film and as an audience, I felt like it makes me want to stick around and see what actually happened. I have to admit, I was kinda confused in the beginning because I didn’t understand the flashbacks and the identity of the anti-hero but eventually it became clear.

    The first thing I have noticed is the frequent exposure of nudity and drugs. It also gave a hippy feeling. Compared to the previous films that were shown during the Hays Code, this is a refreshing film. You can actually feel the “freedom” that the film contains and it feels quite liberating to watch.

    I also like how the story focuses on the anti-hero and only have him one name. I think it implies that everything in the film will be about him, his past and his “ending”. The supporting (random) characters are pretty useful as well. Normally, I would be confused with the sudden appearances of characters but in this film, every character means something. It was quite symbolic.

    I would initially thought of it as just another action film, but it is actually much deeper than that. And I think that’s what I like the most about this film: it has a deep meaning.

    As for the technical aspect, the car tracking scenes are really nicely shot and some shots were seemed to be handheld so it also kinda gave a documentary vibe as well.

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  6. Lance

    As a fan of drive and car movies, I for the most part enjoyed Vanishing Point. The racing portioned kept me very well entertained. Mounting the cameras on the car made for some impressive shots, that I can’t confirm if they were, but felt ahead of the time. The cinematography in general was very well done. The actors all performed their roles well enough, although I don’t believe the script left them much room to give any outstanding performances. The only exception in my opinion being Cleavon Little’s role as Super Soul, which I quite liked. The music in the film may have been my favorite aspect of the film, I greatly enjoyed nearly every track and felt that they were all appropriately used. Really, if there was a complaint I had with the film it would be with the plot. I couldn’t quite follow… or rather I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be following. I am not sure if I sneezed during some exposition in the beginning or something, but I was not sure what Kowalski’s purpose in driving to San Francisco was. That fact is also what led me to be extra confused at the ending. It was said that the film had a symbolic significance, however I did not quite catch it during my viewing, and I tend to look out for those kinds of things.

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  7. Max ⋅

    Vanishing point was able to maintain my attention a lot better than Diablo did. The movie starts out in the middle of a chase scene. Having watched Mad Max fury road again recently I caught myself in actually really wanting another chase movie that gets wilder and wilder as things progress. The Nevada desert would be a perfect setting for this.
    Though the movie did not provide a chase movie that would gradually ramp up, I was surprised to find out that the whole movie was one big chase.
    The first thing that struck me was the great soundtrack. Driving through the desert with that funk, soul and rock and roll lifted up my spirits.
    The main character in this movie was absolutely the desert. Beautiful shots of untouched landscapes that get marked by the tire tracks of kowalski’s car. In the movie the line : “you can’t beat the desert” is being said once and I always wondered if the desert was supposed to be hell or purgatory.
    Along the journey kowalski meets many characters and luckily these meetings are brief. It keeps the movie from becoming stale as I was afraid a cliche romance plot would be added when he met a cute girl at a gas station.
    But the meeting was very short and luckily nothing cliche happened. This was the same for the other characters.
    I really wish there were more scenes with the two queers. Their acting was sooo bad it was good. It was amazing!!!!
    All in all an excellent hippie movie. I wonder if my father knows this movie. He was a full fledged German hippie back in the day and he adores easy rider.
    As for the drug use and nudity, that was all not surprising to me. The most famous Dutch movie is called Turkish Delight and was made around the same time as vanishing point. It had so much sexual freedom and was free from restraints that I think it numbed many Dutch to what others might find shocking.

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  8. Weni ⋅

    I consider this film the most challenging one among all the others we have watched in class so far. The reason is the it has not only the frequently jumping scenes in between but also the philosophical meaning under what is being shown.

    I may not be a profound movie audience in a way that I was not able to get the philosophical meaning back there. Also, the language can be a fact that make the process of understanding the meaning of this film even harder. However, I do like to talk about what I have seen and what I thought about this film overall.

    First of all, the idea of anti-establishment, as known the counter culture. Second of all, the improvement of hi-tech methods. Third of all, the criticism towards the mass media and it audience. And the last of all is the sexual freedom. The last one, which is the sex liberation seems to be the most impressive one to me. Throughout the film, naked women bodies, complicated man and women relationship, and exaggerate sex and rape scenes … Etc, all these elements were not mentioned in the previous movies. It was highly influential and impressive. I was very surprised when I first saw it, because the film directly shows the completely naked woman body, behaving naturally while interacting to men. This explains to a large extend, women during the time has gained autonomy and are more aware of the freedoms that they deserve for their own body.

    Although I didn’t understand the philosophy concept under the film until the class discussion, this film sill remains a lot for me to ponder, such as the sexual freedom, the improvement of technologies used in the film, as well as the visualization of the minorities. It is a movie that can effectively make the audiences to think due to its profound ideas involved in the story.

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  9. Adrian D ⋅

    I thought this movie was pretty stylish. On the surface it is nothing more than a thrilling male-fantasy movie. It has a cool, stoical guy driving a tuned car making a mockery of the police. It has drugs, speed, loud music and beautiful naked women.
    However this movie is not just style over substance if viewed from the anti-establishment context and existential philosophy of the time. Having once been a soldier in the Vietnam War, and then a policeman, Kowalski is now defying any powers that be. From the ending we can see he was suicidal. Through flashbacks we learn of probable reasons for this. For example the drowning of his girlfriend and the failure of his racing career. Kowalski is on an existential journey through the desert doing what he loves and what makes him feel free.
    There are number of reasons I liked this movie. Firstly I liked the character of Kowalski. I can see how this character has influenced many other stoical movie characters I have seen. I also liked the energy of the movie provided by the soundtrack and the engine of the iconic turbo-charged Dodge Challenger. The scenery was great. The emptiness and vastness suited the existential theme of the movie. I thought the ending was appropriate and pretty satisfying as well

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  10. akems

    Vanishing point is definitely one of my favorite films that we have watched in this course. First I really like the structure of the film especially the climax of this film. Every scene makes the audience think and use their imagination. Although drugs, nudity, and hippie style of this film were very distracting and I thought it was not that necessary. I was very confused with the naked women riding the bike and I didn’t get the purpose f that and the other scenes. I like the fact that to fully understand this film, you have to be able to puzzle the pieces together. I actually missed some of the significant factors about this film. The flashbacks were really important but I missed some of them. The hallucinations were pretty interesting too. Although since the film was a bit unreal at times it was hard to predict or guess if it was real or just hallucinations. The woman he was with before he died was quite easy to guess because it was strange how she suddenly appears and then disappears.
    I was also fascinated with the car chasing between Kowalski and the cops. The surroundings were just so beautiful and I was very mesmerised by it.

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  11. liannagutz ⋅

    The main reason why I enjoyed Vanishing Point was definitely the scenery and where the film took place. I am a big fan of the 70’s woodstock era and I could see a lot of that in the movie. Although the film kind of lost my attention within the first thirty minutes, the visuals still made me want to watch it. However, the plot did not develop much throughout the movie. In the beginning, we are fooled into believing the film would be very action based since the first scene is a car chase. This is not the case however since the duration of the movie is very slow and hard to follow. In addition, I enjoyed the musical choices throughout the film. Music does a lot for a scene and I think at some points it really carried the mood and tone for the moment. Another part that confused me was the woman riding naked on the motorcycle. The 70’s was a time for sexual liberation but I believe that it was extremely unnecessary and sort of degrading for women. The ending, however, was the most interesting since everyone could interpret it a different way. Overall, I enjoyed the movie and was interested in the small aspects that make the film a cult classic.

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  12. Lilou

    Vanishing point is every fast paced, car-loving American male’s dream. What doesn’t grab your attention with the fast paced car chase sequences, vigilantly versus law enforcers, the soundtrack, WILL grab you with the overly prominent female nudity. What propelled the storyline was the narration from Super Soul, our African-American radio show host who strikes me similar to a character from Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”, where Samuel L. Jackson takes on a similar role. Super Soul takes on the voice of the people and even reaches out to Kowalski at one point, to help him along his journey. The film made me question why it had achieved cult status. Was it because towards the end of the film, Kowalski had achieved some sort of God-like status, and cheated death? From this perspective, we can think of his journey as the typical Hero stereotype; he encounters many people along his path who help him in one form or another and ultimately ascends to another form. The cinematography did not grasp me as much as I would’ve liked throughout this film; it is what I always look for and I did not believe it played well to the story save for the ending dramatic crash and “switching” of cars.

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  13. Derrick Gray ⋅

    Initially i was not the biggest fan of Vanishing Point. It felt as though it was a waste of time. The film spent 105 minutes on this epic car chase. Then suddenly at the end, he just dies.
    Those were my initial thoughts of Vanishing Point. Upon reflection, however, this film became more interesting. I had to distance myself from the though of this being an action film and relate it with western films. In that sense, using some of the tropes of western films to analyse this film, it is more enjoyable to reflect on.
    The most notable trope was our protagonist’s, Kowalski, independence. Being on the fringe of society, Kowalski take it upon himself to challenge the laws and society by racing to California as fast as he can. Taking copious amounts of drugs and meeting many topless women throughout his journey, Kowalski does a good job defying the norms of society. Vanishing Point expresses the feel of man versus society very well.
    Other relevant tropes in this film are his reliance on his car (instead of horse) and the wide country landscapes. While this film initially was not enjoyable, the analyzation of this film within the parameters of western tropes made it more interesting.

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  14. meidecomm

    The Vanishing Point encapsulates some key aspects I identify as the late 60’s and early 70’s. Civil rights, radical reform, and political push-back. The film embodies main character, Kowalski, with a past exposed intermittently throughout his epic race against the establishment. A Vietnam war vet, police officer, racer with a lover lost in a beach accident; this character oozes with tasteful exposition between shots of newspaper clippings, dialogue over criminal records, flashbacks of his darker moments, and symbolic acquiescence in the form of a popping tire, a basket of snakes, and women doppleganging for a piece of his sanity.
    Vanishing Point pits two men in a kind of inner dialogue: Super Soul, a black radio announcer in a small town trying to move his audience and Kowalski, a man whose real destination is more distant than San Francisco. Our radio announcer is bound from encouraging Kowalski’s behavior, but generalizes his struggle as the “last free man”. While their popularity grows, Super Soul garners empathy for Kowalski, but those aligned against Super Soul’s freedom to do so threaten his life. Meanwhile, Kowalski visits several locations and persons that confound or propel him. Where Super Soul must deal with the reality of society, Kowalski must confront fragments of his being existentially.
    I implore my peers to watch this merely so I can judge whether they find Vanishing Point (1971) in a superficial manner; in which immediately I would beckon them to re-watch it or abstain from talking to me until they can grasp an action film with depth.

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