Forever Oates

Is there another movie like Monte Hellman and Rudy Wulitzer's Two-Lane Blacktop? That weird mixture of being really laid back and ripe with subtext, quiet and serious but also really funny and dumb? Why doesn't Warren Oates have his own channel, for goodness sakes?
The friend who initally recommended Two Lane said to watch Bresson's Lancelot Of The Lakes for a similiar watching experience. And he was right. They work amazingly well together. It's late period Bresson, and like Two-Lane Blacktop, the picture is ripe with tension in it's basic plot structure.
In Two-Lane you have the love triangle between the breezily arogant Laurie Bird and "friends" James Taylor and Dennis Wilson. As well as the race for pink slips with Warren Oates' character (all unnamed in the film. The most we get is Bird's character is refered to by the name stitched on her army jacket). In Lancelot, there's Lancelot cheating with the queen, everyone knowing about it, except his trusty young friend who is willing to duel for Lancelot's (non existing) honor.
It's almost because of this innate drama, Bresson and Hellman can get away with shooting everything almost passively. They linger on open spaces of people coming in and out of frame. Tension building and subsiding in a world that stays unmoved.
Its a fine line between making everything feel small and doing the exact opposite and making (accidentaly) everything overtly precious. The Brown Bunny is a disaster for this reason. Gallo's movie divolves into just shots of him crying listening to Gordon Lightfoot, indulgent in the worst way. Worse, it's just plain boring. And the blow job comes way to late and the explanation of the crying and the driving makes everything even DUMBER. After seeing that movie at the New Beverly, I was filled with even more admiration for Two-Lane Blacktop, Gallo's obvious inspiration, because it showed how easily that style of storytelling can be the worst.
Its interesting to me which films I catagorize in this open/laid back/pulsing-with-tension style of film making: Badlands, Straight Time, Aguirre, Wrath of God, Days of heaven, Paris Texas, Julien Donkey-Boy, Morvern Callar and Dawn Of The Dead. They are all different, but all seem just as concerned with texture and world building as they are with furthering plots. I mean, do I ever think of HOW Aguirre takes over the expidition and who he conspires with? Whereas the scene of the slave playing his reed flute on the raft (while breaking the third wall and looking into the camera) I think of all time. even though it has nothing to do with anything! seemingly.
Anyway, back to Two-Lane. I am fairly convinced that Warren Oates' approprietly nameless character (listed as GTO in the credits for the car he drives) has got to be one of the all time great film characters and that Oates' performance is one the finest ever. What's amazing is that the character and performance constantly reveals more with each viewing. He's is at once a man without a past, someone in the throes of a midlife crisis, a clown, an overgrown child, a villian. Constantly lying, trying to be what he thinks people want him to, he has no identity of his own ( he wont even reject the advances of a gay man honestly, only "I dont have time for that now!"). He becomes the perfect vehicle of all that is vulnerable in us. There is no subtext: He literally wanders around an Eggleston America, a lost soul, without connection, rarely a respite. Near the end of the picture, he picks up two hitchhickers, an old lady and her young granddaughter on their way to the cemeterey to visit the girl's recently deceased parents. GTO watches them in the cemeterey, lingering just outside the low chain link fence, it's raining slightly. He watches, struggling to feel something, frustrated and lonely. Hellman's camera just sits there bluntly staring, not giving us anything concrete. To me this is the center of the movie. Somehow everything before it has piled up for this scene. And you feel this man's intense longing, staring out at his own mortality, at his own confusion. Warren Oates plays this sad baffoon pitch perfect, constantly at odds with himself, a literal walking contradiction: delivering his lines fast and overtly confident, GTO is betrayed by that raised worried brow of wrinkles. He flashes that huge fine smile, but his eyes remain sadder than ever. even when angery, Oates does this thing where he sort of plays it big, pointing his thumb to his chest, deflating whatever agression is being presented. It's sad and beautiful and honest. It's the heart of the whole picture and what makes it work.

Oh yeah: 1) Fuck Easy Rider.
2) Hereis a neat article from 1971 published before the film came out.
3) And when oh when will two lane blacktop be re-released on dvd already? THROW US A BONE, WORLD!

posted by sammy at 4:52 PM

Blogger Jon Chandler said...

"Don't get splinters."
"You bore me."

12:48 AM  

Blogger Londonerr said...

I've just seen this out on DVD, where has it been hiding all my life? Before this Mad Max was my favourite road movie, now it'll have to move over for this one. It's great, moody and the sound is ace.

It's as if you can smell the oil and rubber seeping through the screen.

4:47 AM  

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