What is it about the image of a lone professional sat behind the wheel of a car that’s so damn cool?
Laconic, self-sufficient, in control. The timeless masculine elegance of a classic American muscle car certainly doesn’t hurt none.
Of course, they’re not always alone.
Sometimes there’s a partner, a buddy or brother, a friend/annoyance – someone to lend a quip or lay down covering fire from the passenger side. Very occasionally there’s a team; perhaps a gang of British blaggers after bullion.
Whatever the appeal, if you’re a movie-loving motor-head and happen to be based in London, you’ll want to make it down to the BFI for their Car Car Land season.
Curated by none other than Edgar Wright, whose latest film, Baby Driver, is due in cinemas next week, it includes a library – or should that be fleet – or automotive classics. As Wright himself puts it, “These movies are a literal crash course in the best car action from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.”
I was lucky enough to make it along to the opening film, John Landis’ loony Demolition Derby musical comedy, The Blues Brothers. Starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as Jake and Elwood Blues, a pair of deadpan Chicago blues musicians – the personas are fake, the musical is very real1 – who, after a religious awakening, hit the road to raise $5,000 and save the orphanage they grew up in from foreclosure.
A rambling, knockabout affair, which includes legendary musicians2, high-speed pursuits3 by cops6, there’s more inventiveness in each of its 132 minutes than there is in the whole of 129 of Transformers: The Last Knight.7
Landis himself did a Q&A immediately afterwards, charming the audience with (evidently well-practiced) stories of working with Cab Calloway (“You didn’t tell me you wanted it great!”) or using reverse psychology to ensure he didn’t have to work with Chevy Chase on Animal House. He also revealed exactly how and why the obscure confection known as “orange whip” made it into the movie.
Also being screened as part of Car Car Land, the equally influential, if perhaps less immediately recognizable, is Walter Hill’s The Driver, for which I turn to esteemed film critic Mr. Rob Daniel:
“Lean, laconic and achingly cool, Walter Hill’s The Driver is a contender for most underappreciated ’70s crime flick.
Ryan O’Neal is Driver, a world-class wheelman being relentlessly pursued by reptilian cop Bruce Dern. Isabelle Adjani is a professional card sharp paid to provide Driver his alibi, caught up in the chase.
A flop on initial release, this nonetheless set the cool crime template from which Michael Mann made an entire career, and its tire tracks can be most recently seen in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. Nicolas Wingding Refn’s Drive is a spiritual remake, right down to having a leading man named Ryan playing a character called Driver.
Told with ruthless efficiency and giddily exciting when it comes to the film’s two major chase sequences, this is French ’60s classic Le Samourai as imagined by Jim Thompson. And O’Neal is superbly cool; steely of stare and cucumber cool, he lets his revving engine do his talking.”
In short, if the squeal of rubber and the smell of burning tire does anything for you, the deadpan interplay of a couple of two-time losers on a last-chance power drive or the level glare of an ice-cold pro out to complete a score, then this is one season you wont want to miss.
You can find a full list of the titles being screened on the BFI site.
You can find my Baby Driver review right here.
- Their debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues, went double platinum
- James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin to name but a few.
- The film destroyed an at the time record-breaking 103 vehicles.
- Including John Candy’s maniacally cheery Burton Mercer4, rednecks, and Nazis, and slapstick aplenty5A scene of the two brothers sneaking along to Minne The Moocher is unexpectedly iconic if only in the number of times it’s been referenced elsewhere.
- There’s a low-key gag involving the disposal of a car cigarette lighter, the punchline to which is as funny as anything I’ve ever seen on the film.