“People love lists.” People say this.
In an unguarded moment—no doubt involving bourbon, perhaps gin and in a pique of honesty—I might admit to being a writer, I may even say I enjoy writing, sometimes. I know I don’t enjoy not-writing. And so I dislike the popular trend of compiling lists. That’s not writing, it’s math. And I straight up despise the made-up internet word ‘listicle,’ which doesn’t charm me as an astute portmanteau for the digital age. But make me think ‘testicle,’ some pendulous extension that hangs from the ‘taint of not-writing. In other words I don’t think ‘listicles’ have much in the way of balls, they’re a cop out, lazy.
Well, as the saying goes “don’t knock it ‘till you try it.” The criterion release of Two-Lane Blacktop includes a tribute by Richard Linklater, “10 (Sixteen Actually) Reasons I Love Two-Lane Blacktop.” It’s from an introduction he gave in 2000 at South By Southwest as part of a retrospective on the career of director Monte Hellman. The ‘sixteen reasons’ give the piece that even/uneven cardinal number cache so favored by Vulture, Buzzfeed and the other listicle swingers out there. But this is Linklater, a director who doesn’t truck with soulless slick surfaces, a raggedy director if there ever was one.
As I read Linklater’s list I let go my snark and heard the thrum and rhythm of what he lays down. Read it aloud, as Linklater would have, and you’ll catch the cadence. Ride in the pocket of the groove. Hear how these bullet points tune in on the simplicity, the stillness and the details of Two-Lane Blacktop. I got it. I get it. This is a movie about practitioners, monk-ish men, strict devotees, zealots really. They’re God is the holy road and the automobile is their prayer. Two-Lane Blacktop prizes existence, the meaning of existing … ranks it, presents it, lists it. And so should we.
With apologies to Mr. Linklater for copping his idea, here are “10 (Fifty-Five Actually) Reasons I Love Two-Lane Blacktop.”
1. Because the color of the Car is primer grey.
2. Because Rudy Wurlitzer capitalizes the ‘C’ when he refers to ‘the Car’ in his screenplay.
3. Because it’s about handmade: a 454 with custom built headers … not a 396.
4. Because the Driver (James Taylor) and the Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) never lock up the Car when they stop.
5. Because James Taylor still has hair.
6. Because Dennis Wilson is still alive.
7. Because the Girl (Laurie Bird) just gets in the Car and makes herself at home.
8. Because the Girl’s handbag looks like a headless Muppet.
9. Because the Mechanic’s jeans are so dirty.
10. Because of the Driver’s green sweater.
11. Because the director, Monte Hellman, and cinematographer, Jack Deerson, never use the conventional two shot looking at the Driver and the Mechanic through the windshield.
12. Because there is the road … and that’s it.
13. Because “gone” is the best color.
14. Because “make it three yards muthafucka and we’ll have an auto-mo-bile, race” is a way men talk in movies to other men about car racing.
15. Because, as G.T.O (Warren Oates) says, “performance and image … that’s what it’s all about.”
16. Because it takes a singular talent like Warren Oates to make something sound as rehearsed, like a lie, as G.T.O.’s stories.
17. Because Warren Oates is still alive.
18. Because of that weird little rack G.T.O. keeps putting his Coke bottle in and out of again and again.
19. Because the Girl calls tapes ‘groovy records.’
20. Because the Driver and the Mechanic ignore the Girl when she says things like “Screwdrivers and wrenches don’t make it for me,” and “I don’t see anyone paying attention to my rear end.”
21. Because the GTO makes a whirring sound every time G.T.O opens or closes the driver's side door.
22. Because “racing bread.”
23. Because the Mechanic lies down on a clean bedspread in those dirty jeans.
24. Because it’s never not funny when a hippie walks in on a ‘business man’ in a gas station bathroom.
25. Because of the look of those ‘stock’ headrests on 1970 Pontiac GTOs.
26. Because Monte Hellman cut his own movie.
27. Because “racing for pinks” and “General Delivery” sound so cool and so desperate.
28. Because when the hand-sy Oklahoma hitchhiker (Harry Dean Stanton) propositions G.T.O., G.T.O. says “I ain’t into that! This is competition man. I got no time!” and not ‘no.’ Later G.T.O. tells the hitchhiker “I got no time for sidetracks.” But, again, not ‘no.’
29. Because the only response to a toast like ‘Here’s to your destruction’ is ‘same to you.’
30. Because a dumb-ass question like “How come you ain’t in Bakersfield” deserves a smart-ass answer like, “‘cause I’m in the Southwest.”
31. Because Two-Lane Blacktop is a time capsule of a long-distant America.
32. Because it is best “to keep a hunger on.”
33. Because this is one of the most classically and beautifully composed publicity stills for a movie, maybe ever.
34. Because it’s a story about Westerners going east.
35. Because the Hot Rod Driver (Rudy Wurlitzer) has a bad night.
36. Because cicadas are “some freaky bugs.”
37. Because of Monte Hellman’s amazing white man’s afro.
38. Because of everything going on in the background in Two-Lane Blacktop, all those horses and trains and trains carrying train cars and cars and roads, all those roads, all that road going.
39. Because neither of the non-actor-professional-musicians (Taylor and Wilson) perform in a movie that’s all about performance.
40. Because there are few opportunities to use a phrase like “rolling stock” or “the whole shot” outside of the movies or maybe gambling.
41. Because Laurie Bird was still alive.
42. Because of who found the location where G.T.O. picks up the Texas Hitchhiker with the sign that reads: “Notice please do not pick up hitch hikers in this area, thank you, State Hospital.”
43. Because when the Car goes off the road to narrowly avoid a wreck between a tractor and a station wagon the Mechanic’s first instinct to check the Car's undercarriage.
44. Because of the Mechanic steals a license plate to help him feel ‘less nervous’ when he’s in ‘this part of the country.’
45. Because of the way the Girl smiles, especially when G.T.O talks, which probably has something more to do with Warren Oates than his character.
46. Because nowadays so few gas stations look like the way they look in Two-Lane Blacktop.
47. Because neither the Car nor the G.T.O. has seatbelts.
48. Because “city car’s what killed ‘em.”
49. Because plot has its place. To borrow from the Driver, “’course there’s a lot of movies out there with plots. They all look the same. They perform about the same too.”
50. Because nobody ever says what year the Car is except the announcer on the loudspeaker at Lakeland International Raceway.
51. Because the only thing existential about Two-Lane Blacktop is everything and, yeah, nothing.
52. Because who wants to go to Columbus, Ohio anyway.
53. Because Two-Lane Blacktop is not about the race.
54. Because “You can’t stay with the same high forever.”
55. Because “Those satisfactions are permanent” might be the greatest closing line in cinema history.