Home > Everything Else > Frankenstein Jones Presents… (No. 1)

Frankenstein Jones Presents… (No. 1)

For the first edition of Frankenstein Jones Presents at Fiasco Towers, we kick it back to the early ’70s, an era when road movies had evolved from Buz-n-Tod innocence and wonder tied inextricably to America’s newfound love of the automobile (“What’s out there? Let’s find out!”) to a wary, existential horror at the prospect of The Road actually answering that very question; posed (Vietnam flagrante, post-JFK, -RFK, -MLK and -Manson) with only a slight tweak in verbal emphasis, the Emptiness of the American Canvas becomes a nagging worry (“What’s out there?”) instead of a carefree lark, a symbol of the profound pessimism that weighed down the post-Hippy hangover.

You never know what’s around the next bend in the road, these two films seem to be saying. But you probably won’t be happy about it.

First up, Steven Spielburg’s made-for-TV classic, Duel. “A business commuter is pursued and terrorized by a malevolent driver of a massive tractor-trailer.”

Yes, thank you RottenTomatoes.com, but Duel (1971) is so much more than that, and probably less, too. See Dennis Wagner battle impotence via metallic proxy! See one man wage helpless war against an implacable foe! See “man vs. machine” metaphors fly like cat fur! See Dennis Weaver cry! See Dennis Weaver scream at his car! See Dennis Weaver hoot like a baboon! See gorgeous vistas of the sun-baked high desert immediately north of Los Angeles! See red cars from the 1970s!

”Duel” might almost have been a silent film, because it expresses so much through action and so little through the words that are here. Mr. Weaver is David Mann, the film’s only real character, and he’s given a few internal monologues that only awkwardly express Mann’s anxiety. (After one encounter with the truck, he thinks: ”Twenty, twenty-five minutes out of your whole life and then all the ropes that kept you hangin’ in there are cut loose. And there you are, back in the jungle again.”) – Janet Maslin, New York Times.

Next up: Vanishing Point (1971).

How many “minimalist chase films” have you ever seen? You’re about to add to that paltry total. First, let’s get the synopsis out of the way:

“Richard Sarafian directed this minimalist chase film, starring Barry Newman as ex-marine, ex-race car driver and cop named Kowalski. He drives into Denver to deliver a car and pick up another vehicle to drive to San Francisco. To make the fifteen-hour drive to San Francisco bearable he pops a load of pep pills and drives off. Almost immediately, he is told to pull over by the police, but Kowalski refuses to stop. Ignoring the cops, a police chase ensues. Egging Kowalski on is a blind black disc jockey, Super Soul (Cleavon Little), who announces his comings and goings on his local radio show, praising Kowalski to the skies as the last American to whom speed means freedom of the soul. Super Soul’s hype makes Kowalski a media sensation and Kowalski fans mount up — as do the police cars chasing him — as he races against time to deliver both the car and himself to his San Francisco destination.” – All Movie Guide.

Next, let’s ask the reviewers what they think of this mess.

A movie about which I can think of almost nothing good to say. — Roger Greenspun, New York Times.

The last quarter of Grindhouse was little more than a love note to this flick’s towering excellence. — Brett Register, Orlando Weekly.

So come on, who’re you going to trust? The Orlando Weekly guy or the New Yor…er. Just come see it. It’s silly. It’s “The Brown Bunny” without Vincent Gallo’s enormous, um, ego (and also without an hour of pointless footage of someone riding a motorcycle across a desert). It’s got Barry Newman in it, for crying out loud, and he was sort of the 1971 version of Eric Bogosian. Or something.

Details to follow.

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  1. Marc
    December 9, 2010 at 17:40

    Let me know when this is going to happen.

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