With summer right around the corner, there's no better time to hit the road and get out of dodge. Summer is also the best time to discover new movies; whether it's a big-budget new release in theaters or an old classic on DVD, an evening indoors with the AC on overload can sometimes be just what you need. Opening Ceremony at Ace Hotel is lucky enough to offer the complete library of Criterion Collection DVD titles. Inspired by summer road trips, I took to the shelves and scanned the DVD spines in search of three American road movies that are slightly off the beaten path:
dir. Preston Sturges
Black & White, 90 minutes
One of the funniest films from Preston Sturges, the man who re-imagined screwball comedy. Bawdy and farcical, but also soulful and picaresque, "Sullivan's Travels" opens as a Hollywood satire about a hot-shot director, John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea), who is eager to break his populist, blockbuster-comedy mold. He decides, against his producer's wishes, to make a serious, social-drama about American poverty (to be title, "O Brother Where Art Thou?"). The film really kicks in once Sullivan disguises himself as a hobo to experience life on the other side of the tracks. Along the way he runs into The Girl - played by Veronica Lake, never more iconic and beautiful (even when disguised as a street urchin). Sullivan begins his journey expecting it to be nothing short of a vacation. But of course, he finds his travels begin to take on a new meaning, as most trips often do. An example of classic Hollywood comedy, rendered beautifully in black & white from train boxcars to the California highways, with a brilliant digital transfer by Criterion.
BEST SPECIAL FEATURE: Audio commentary by Noah Baumbach, Kenneth Bowser, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean.
dir. Monte Hellman
Color, 103 minutes
"Two-Lane Blacktop" is an elliptical road movie in which plot comes secondary to experience. Like most road trips, detours arise. Two drag-racers (played by musician James Taylor and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys) drift across the American Southwest in their '55 Chevy challenging townies to make ends meet. After picking up a hitchhiker (Laurie Bird), they begin a cross-country challenge with another drag-racer (Warren Oates) for the ultimate prize: possession of the loser's car. Following the characters across Route 66 through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, the film meanders from town-to-town, unconcerned with following a strict narrative structure. Instead, director Monte Hellman shifts his focus to the road experience: textures of daylight across pavement & windshields, personal dynamics between passengers & drivers, and the hypnotic hum of the engine. "Two-Lane Blacktop" is a time-capsule of American interstate travel and car culture; it's an easy film to get lost in.
BEST SPECIAL FEATURE:Performance and Image: a look at the restoration of a ‘55 Chevy from the movie and the film’s locations today.
MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO
dir. Gus Van Sant
Color, 104 minutes
"I know this road," says Mike Waters (River Phoenix) at the start of "My Own Private Idaho." Mike, prone to sudden narcoleptic episodes, is mysteriously standing on a desolate stretch of highway in the middle of Idaho. He soon suffers another episode, drifting into hallucinogenic dreams of his mother. "My Own Private Idaho," Gus Van Sant's break-out 1991 film, is a quasi-Shakespearean parable about life on the fringe and the roads in between. It follows Mike, a gay street hustler, and his best friend Scott (Keanu Reeves), the wayward son of the mayor of Portland. They scrape by, forming makeshift families of thieves and junkies. Mike and Scott embark on a journey across the Pacific Northwest in search of Mike's mother which eventually leads them all the way to Italy.
Once they're thrust upon the road, the two friends begin to confront their relationship; including Mike's unrequited love for Scott. Ultimately, "My Own Private Idaho" is a story about a journey with no destination. Mike recalls, "I've been tasting roads my whole life." And some roads don't lead anywhere.
BEST SPECIAL FEATURE: Exclusive new audio interview with Gus Van Sant by filmmaker Todd Haynes.