Originally created 06/08/06

Hollywood movies show cars are more than nuts and bolts



I admit it. I named my car, but I know I'm not alone. There's something about a car that allows, perhaps even encourages, owners to project very human characteristics.

Perhaps it's the sense of freedom we feel behind the wheel. Perhaps it's that certain sense of style we all believe our ride, be it Ferrari or Ford Fairmont, possesses. Whatever the reason, it doesn't take long for car owners to start to believe that their four-wheeled friends have personalities.

Be it a soccer mom bemoaning Mildred the Minivan's inability to get it going in the morning or the roadster retiree admiring the soft lines and smooth purr of his V-8 mistress, many find themselves considering their cars to be something more than mere machines.

It probably explains why car movies are so popular. On Friday, Disney releases Cars, its love letter to the automobile. Here are a few more like-minded movies that feature a four-on-the-floor with stars in its eyes:

VANISHING POINT (1971): A nihilistic art-house oddity, this story of an antihero bombing his way from Colorado to California in a brand-new Dodge Challenger is sort of automotive porn. Sure, it's short on plot and character development, but there's a real sense of satisfaction garnered from watching a classic car gobble up the highway miles. In fact, it's very similar in nature to ...

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971): Made the same year as Vanishing Point, this deceptively simple story about a cross-country race features characters with no names - they are referred to as the Driver (James Taylor), the Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) and GTO (Warren Oates) in the credits - and a plot with no dnouement. What it does have is a couple of classic rides, a 1955 Chevrolet and a 1970 Pontiac GTO and a certain surreal sense that turns the American road into a symbol for youthful dissatisfaction.

REPO MAN (1984): There's nothing spectacular about a 1964 Chevy Malibu. Perhaps that's what makes the car's inclusion in this oddball comedy so appropriate. Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez play a seasoned repo man and his protege cruising the streets of Los Angeles in search of said car. Along the way, a story of aliens, alienation and the bonds of man unfolds in interesting, and always unusual, ways. A definitive cult classic.

DEATH RACE 2000 (1975): This dark-but-dizzy social satire stars Keith Carradine and Sylvester Stallone as contestants in a violent road race where extra points are awarded for running down pedestrians. Camp of the highest order, it features a cavalcade of custom cars built with certain thematic ideas such as the Old West or gangsters, in mind. A light, bright, violent cartoon of a movie.

GRAND PRIX (1966): A true Hollywood star vehicle, Grand Prix stars James Garner as a professional driver trying to balance his personal life with the hazardous profession he loves. Some of the finest racing footage ever shot and an interesting look at the way motor sports have changed over the past 40 years.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.