16 January 2013

The Car

United States - 1977
Director - Elliot Silverstein
Anchor Bay Entertainment, 1999, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 36 minutes

Nobody I know seems to love this movie as much as I do. Nobody I know (except one person) seems to have seen it. Granted it is kindof a lower quality spin on Speilberg's '71 film Duel, but the underlying crisis has a different dimension. If that made for TV film was a semi-clever riff on the changing dimensions of masculinity in the wake of the 60's, The Car was a more conservative, blunt instrument. Both protagonists are menaced by mysteriously evil vehicles, but their circumstances are different.

In Duel, protagonist David Mann is a modern man, (that is, technically, post-traditional/post 50's) an urban electronics salesman whose 'new' masculinity is challenged by leaving his comfort zone for the rural, physical and isolated setting into which he travels. His is a crisis of the terms of masculinity, terms that changed in the 60's thanks to a number of factors.

Sheriff Parent (Brolin) on the other hand is in his element in The Car's rural Utah town. His position confers upon him the responsibility for safety, order and law, but the Car undermines his ability to provide any of these. Parent's faltering masculinity is a crisis of authority. What with his inability to relate/communicate with women (girlfriend and daughters) the death of his elder mentors and his own repeated declarations that he just doesn't know what to do all suggest his impotence. Not sexual impotence, but a lack of physical potency, but the ability to enact or effect his will on his environment. In a post Nixon/Watergate world, authority (especially institutional) was no longer seen as omnipotent (it was impotent!) Parent's is a crisis of the means of masculinity.

In the first case it is a question of what the definition of a man is and how changing that definition is troublesome or threatening. In the latter case, the traditional definitions remain in place, but the ability of men (a man, Parent) to live up to them is troubled. That the Car seems to come from the city (as suggested by the post-film credits) may be a philosophical reversal of Duel's modern-man-in-danger-scenario, but both films end on a positive note with the destruction of the vehicle and the victory of the man. Despite troubling ripples in the fabric of normalcy, our masculinity, our men, still triumph. Or do they? The last original evil car movie for almost 2 decades, 1990's Wheels of Terror aligned the car with male sexual terrorism.

In any case, in the subsequent decade both films would be overshadowed by a number of evil-machine Stephen King pictures, but the 70's and 80's was a good era for vehicular possession that reflects to some extent the ambivalence about technology that pervaded culture at that time. One possible and partial explanation for the first is above, but in any case, I think it's sad that The Car kinda got buried by the second.

This image I got from TVTropes looks like the cover of a novel.

I do love some Japanese poster design. This one and the one above it come from Movie Poster Shop which has a whole bunch of other posters for The Car.


Mr Reverb said...

Excellent movie! Love the Japanese poster...

The Goodkind said...

Yay, someone else who likes this movie! I am a big fan of Japanese posters too, I was glad to find one for this movie.

Burl said...

Ha ha, I'm another fan of this picture! It's a real humdinger with some great desert atmosphere and an excellent cast!