The road movie, one of the greatest genres of American cinema, will be showcased at LACMA with an extraordinary line-up of 11 films from the genre's "golden age" starting this Friday, January 7. The series, curated by Bernardo Rondeau to coincide with the exhibit of photographs by William Eggleston and titled True Grit: The Golden Age of Road Movies, kicks off with Five Easy Pieces from 1970, and Play It As It Lays from 1972. The second film in particular deserves attention as it's a rare chance to see a movie not available on DVD. An adaptation of Joan Didion's novel of the same title, the film stars Tuesday Weld as Maria, who drives the LA freeways as her main means of solace at a moment of personal and cultural turmoil.
LA-based film scholar and Occidental College faculty member Katie Mills, author of The Road Story and the Rebel, notes that Play It As It Lays is a key film in the genre, in part because it highlights the genre's limits. "I think the film is very interesting visually, with interpretations of the underground film and the biker genre within the great shots of Los Angeles streets, freeways and road culture," she says. Mills also celebrates the film's subject matter. "Although the book and the film are bleak in ways characteristic of the early 1970s, each portrays the limited roles available to Hollywood trophy wives as passive shoppers and sexual playthings. Both book and film are important responses to the excesses of New Hollywood."
The series also includes such iconic films as Two Lane Blacktop, Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde and Zabriskie Point. While these are great movies, are they really so deeply relevant to viewers in 2011? Mills says yes, definitely.
"Road films, as well as the significant body of work by photographers like William Eggleston on the road, both in the Depression and after WWII, all offer a way of looking at ourselves anew in a time of tremendous change. That's why these films are important now." She continues, "Although the road film genre has expanded and remains important both culturally and financially, this series focuses on the films that created the genre as a self-aware body of work about distancing oneself from home so as to better scrutinize the benefits and barriers of home. It's not nostalgia; it's looking from a distance at one's ideas about stability by being on the move." And in case her support for the series isn't clear, Mills concludes: "Yes, yes, yes, the genre is still important! And the new year is a great time to reflect on what we think we know about our lives." The series continues through January 21, 2011, with many high profile guests attending, including Karen Black on the first night, Paul Mazursky, Vilmos Zsigmond and Monte Hellman.