Vanishing Point (1971) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The quality of films went through a very serious valley in a period from the 60s to the early 70s, with 1970 arguably being the worst year in the history of cinema. It was such a bad year that the industry simply could not produce five credible nominees for best picture. In fact, it was a struggle to come up with three. The two strong war movies, Patton and M*A*S*H, were about the only respectable offerings that year. Also nominated was the mediocre Five Easy Pieces, and the other two Oscar nominees were execrable mainstream films, Love Story and Airport.

To be honest, Five Easy Pieces, which was genuinely the third best film of that year, would not have cracked the top 25 in the banner year of 1999. As for Love Story and Airport - well - what can you say? I suppose there may be other years with two such abominable Oscar nominees, but I don't want to think about the existence of such a shameful situation.

There were two stages to the decline of film in the 60s:

  • In the first stage, the Hollywood dream factory was falling apart. The studio system was decaying and out of touch, a dinosaur clinging to a life that probably should gave ended in the thirties. Movies were safe, formulaic, and repetitive. The studios were struggling to survive the challenge of television, or to convert their facilities to TV production.

  • In the second stage, the "auteur era" was trying to emerge from the primordial ooze. The films from this stage, in the late 60s and the beginning of the 70s, were no longer standard Hollywood copycat offerings, but they had no idea where they were going.

You see, the cultural revolution of 1967-74 had no philosophic underpinning like the French and American revolutions. The whole movement was based on anomie, and a vague understanding that "the man" was out to get us. If the U.S. had not had a selective service system, and/or had stayed out of Vietnam, there probably wouldn't have been much of a revolution to begin with. The people of the counter culture simply had nothing in common except an opposition to authority, most of which stemmed from the fact that they didn't want to be told that they had to die in the jungle.

Counter-culturalism, really anti-authortarianism, was reflected in the mood of the times and the battle lines that were drawn between the opposing cultural camps. The counter-culture did not really establish a powerful non-conformist trend, but rather created a new, alternate conformism with a new symbolism. I suppose that's how we humans work. We seem to be belongers. The new conformity said: (1) oppose authority in all its avatars, including materialism, the police, the military, your local water commissioner, even your school principal (2) oppose all the symbols of the authoritarian class, including but not limited to short hair, white shirts, neat suits, and polished speech patterns.

Of course, Hollywood wanted to cash in on the cultural revolution, but there was a great dilemma. If the whole point of a movie is to make money for its investors, how can those money-grubbing investors create a product that will appeal to those who profess to disdain materialism? That is the trap in which the movie industry was caught in the hippie years. The old-style films like Funny Girl were losing their economic clout because they had no appeal to the counter-culture. The new films like Easy Rider managed to tap into the youth market, but they were all attitude and no quality. They were so inept and amateurish that they had no cross-cultural appeal and had no credibility with people who actually knew how to make movies.

Hollywood had no idea how to respond to the changes in society. They wanted to catch the anti-authoritarian spirit on film in a profitable way, but they didn't know how. Catch 22, for example, was ballyhooed as both anti-war and anti-authority, but proved unacceptable to the counter culture, because it was obviously made by a bunch of slick guys who had nice haircuts, wore good suits, and got A's in school. A film like Vanishing Point, on the other hand, was the very polar opposite of Catch-22. It looked and felt like it was made by drop-outs and serious dope smokers, but (perhaps because of that) it was just completely inept at all the things that people require from a film: pacing ... character development ... coherence ... excitement. Basically, it just rambles and rambles. Some scene transitions don't follow logically. Certain pseudo-symbolic occurrences consist of things which don't make any sense on the literal level.

On the surface, it is a simple story of Kowalski, a guy who promises to deliver a car from Denver to San Francisco in an unrealistically short period of time. The strength of his promise is buttressed by his having made a bet that he could pull it off, and his resolve is fortified by vast quantities of speed. He's going to do it, or die trying. Since the film was made in the early 70s, in the wake of Easy Rider and Bonnie and Clyde, you can probably guess which of the two alternate fates will be his.

He's a retired race driver, so it seemed at first that he may just have been able to pull it off, but after a few hours on the road, he had the entire Colorado Highway Patrol after him. In due time, the responsibility was shifted to the law enforcement agencies of Utah, Nevada, and California. In the course of the film, he was being pursued by virtually every policeman west of the Mississippi. Eventually he became a bit of a cause celebre, the media became interested in his flight from the police, and everyday people started to talk about whether he could pull it off.

All of that might have made for a pretty decent film if it had not been made, as I suggested earlier, by people who were smoking too much loco weed. It was going along coherently until Kowalski's escape took him into Death Valley, where he was simply barreling through the sand and sagebrush in his power car. Then he got a flat tire and met some people in the desert - an old snake hunter, a congregation of Jesus freaks, a naked chick on a motorcycle, two gay thieves. The naked chick even had a collage on the wall dedicated to Kowalski, picturing the days when our hero was a dedicated cop. She showed him the collage, and he never showed any surprise that a naked hippie living in the desert had an entire wall of pictures dedicated to him. He just said, "that was a long time ago."


This collection of characters and situations would seem a bit unrealistic in a Road Runner cartoon, but in the context of a film which started out to be a fairly exciting and reality-grounded chase movie, the hippified detour in the desert was positively surreal, particularly since Kowalski didn't even know how to navigate through the desert and was just driving aimlessly in circles to begin with - albeit at top speed!!!

As Kowalski left the desert, he stopped to pick up a female hitchhiker, played by cult goddess Charlotte Rampling. The driver and Rampling had a mysterious and presumably metaphorical conversation of some kind, in which we were supposed to conclude (I think) that she was not a mortal women at all, but rather The Grim Reaper in convenient hardbody form. Her dialogue was filled with innuendo and faux-symbolism, punctuated by faraway looks. He asked her how long she had been waiting for a ride, and she replied, "I've been waiting for you so long, Kowalski - so very long. Perhaps most of your life. Yes, so very, very long ...."

Yeah, yeah.

As Kowalski made his way through the journey, he was "adopted" by a mysterious blind black DJ called Super Soul, who lionized Kowalski to his listeners as the last American hero, and relayed information designed to help Kowalski elude the police. (His radio station? KOW, as in Kowalski.) The police were not crazy about this, as you might expect, so a bunch of crazy redneck cops broke into Super Soul's station and beat the crap out of him. Then they forced Super Soul to broadcast some false information to Kowalski, thus leading our hero into a trap. Somehow Super Soul got himself back in business immediately, resumed his normal broadcasts, and ol' Kowalski outfoxed the police.

Once again, the symbolic stuff failed because it just didn't work on the literal level. The DJ was not only able to transmit his signal to Kowalski's car radio across four states, but he was also able to hear Kowalski talk back to the radio, and they engaged in interactive discussions. I kept trying to figure out if Super Soul was just in Kowalski's imagination, but that could not have been the case, because he gave Kowalski information that the driver could not have otherwise known, and other people could also hear Super Souls's voice on Kowalski's radio. I guess the Soulmeister was just one of those blind black DJs who can transmit a thousand miles from a small town radio station and can hear their listeners talk back to them. There seemed to be a lot of those back in the 60s.

All in all, the film proceeded under the false blanket of anti-authoritarianism. Kowalski was admired by the common people because he was fleeing the man. But why the hell was he doing it? Was it to call attention to an important cause, or to defend his family's farm, or something equally stirring? Not at all. He just made a bet that he could do it, and he wanted to win that bet. He was fighting for freedom, all right - the freedom to drive 160 MPH while stoned out of his head, thus endangering as many innocent motorists as he cared to.

And we were supposed to be rooting for him, not the cops who were trying to keep the highways safe.

Yup, that's what the 60s were all about.

Peace, brother.


  • Gilda Texter - breasts and buns.
  • Victoria Medlin - one breast
  • unknown girl - breasts


  • Although this flick is supposed to have some kind of appeal to power car lovers, the script has Kowalski's car identified wrong. The cops keep saying it is a 1970 Dodge Challenger. I'm no car buff, but I can read on the side of the car where it says "Camaro". The guys who are car buffs say 1969 Camaro, to be exact!

  • The DVD includes both the USA version and the UK version, which is eight minutes longer. The difference between the two was not a matter of censorship, but simply economy. The goofy scene with Charlotte Rampling was cut from the USA release.

  • The film includes a pretty cool cast when it is viewed from our perspective several decades later, including some vintage hippie nostalgia. The Jesus freaks are singing  - for no apparent reason - and their choir includes some true 60s icons like Rita Coolidge and "Delaney and Bonnie and Friends". Coolidge is not even credited! Cleavon Little has a major role as the blind DJ. Other people with small parts include John Amos and the crazy guy who played Exidor on Mork and Mindy.

DVD info from Amazon

  • two widescreen versions of the film: USA release, and UK release, which is eight minutes longer

  • full-length director's commentary

  • Gilda Texter, who played the Naked Motorcycle Chick, is now one of the best known costume and wardrobe specialists in Hollywood. 35 years ago, young and gorgeous and blonde, she made a brief stab at acting, a career that lasted less than a year. This was her big role.  She spent every second of her screen time stark naked. Hey, it was 1971. Shit got weird.

  • The film was remade for TV in the late 90s, with Viggo Mortensen as Kowalski and Peta Wilson as the (now clothed) Motorcycle Chick.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. It is not as good a movie as indicated by the 7.0 at IMDb, but it's interesting to watch inasmuch as it captures the early 70s zeitgeist.

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