The Road Movie Book

By Steven Cohan; Ina Rae Hark | Go to book overview
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Robert Lang

In 1990, writing in The New York Times, Caryn James announced unequivocally that, “Today's Yellow Brick Road Leads Straight to Hell.” The film that prompted her to lament “how far film makers have come from the road to Oz, and that made her realize there was something that should be identified as “the new, subversive road movie, was David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990). Unlike most film critics before her, James has a very definite notion of what the (classic) road movie is:

Films like The Wizard of Oz [1939] and Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels [1941] defined the standard pattern for road movies: whether the hero was a scarecrow or a rich film director bumming cross-country during the Depression, characters traveled through danger and disillusionment to healthy self-knowledge and back to the safety of home. They followed an optimistic course as old as the American West and as deeply entrenched in our culture as Whitman's “Song of the Open Road”


James believes that The Wizard of Oz has profoundly influenced the contemporary road movie, but that “The creators of today's road movies recognize that the road leads to the nightmarish wilds of society and of their characters' own hearts” (25). Using Wild at Heart and Something Wild (1986) as her primary examples, James noted that in the happy endings of such films, however, contemporary film-makers “fight for the persistent hope that the road still leads to a place where dreams come true” (25).

The road movie genre has taken yet another turn recently, with the appearance in the 1990s of a veritable wave of independently produced queer films - some of the more successful or critically interesting ones being Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991), Gregg Araki's The Living End (1992), and Steve McLean's Postcards From America (1994; adapted primarily from two of David Wojnarowicz's semi-autobiographical books, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration and


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