The Road Movie Book

The Road Movie Book

The Road Movie Book

The Road Movie Book


The Road Movie Book is the first comprehensive study of an enduring but ever-changing Hollywood genre, its place in American culture, and its legacy to world cinema. The road and the cinema both flourished in the twentieth century, as technological advances brought motion pictures to a mass audience and the mass produced automobile opened up the road to the ordinary American. When Jean Baudrillard equated modern American culture with 'space, speed, cinema, technology' he could just as easily have added that the road movie is its supreme emblem.The contributors explore how the road movie has confronted and represented issues of nationhood, sexuality, gender, class and race. They map the generic terrain of the road movie, trace its evolution on American television as well as on the big screen from the 1930s through the 1980s, and, finally, consider road movies that go off the road, departing from the US landscape or travelling on the margins of contemporary American culture.Movies discussed include:* Road classics such as It Happened One Night , The Grapes of Wrath , The Wizard of Oz and the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road to films* 1960's reworkings of the road movie in Easy Rider and Bonnie and Clyde * Russ Meyer's road movies: from Motorpsycho! to Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! * Contemporary hits such as Paris Texas, Rain Man, Natural Born Killers and Thelma and Louise * The road movie, Australian style, from Mad Max to the Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.


Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark

The mating of the road and the movies is as enduring as any of Hollywood's famous couples, and seemingly just as inevitable. The road has always been a persistent theme of American culture. Its significance, embedded in both popular mythology and social history, goes back to the nation's frontier ethos, but was transformed by the technological intersection of motion pictures and the automobile in the twentieth century. When Jean Baudrillard equates American culture with “space, speed, cinema, technology” (100) he could just as well be describing the characteristic features of a road movie. Forging a travel narrative out of a particular conjunction of plot and setting that sets the liberation of the road against the oppression of hegemonic norms, road movies project American Western mythology onto the landscape traversed and bound by the nation's highways: “The road defines the space between town and country. It is an empty expanse, a tabula rasa, the last true frontier” (Dargis: 16). The 1969 ad campaign for Easy Rider exclaimed, “A man went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere, ” and this much-remembered sentiment condenses what is typically taken for granted as the ideological project of a road movie, regardless of what travel narrative it specifically recounts.

The ongoing popularity of the road for motion picture audiences in the United States owes much to its obvious potential for romanticizing alienation as well as for problematizing the uniform identity of the nation's culture:

Road movies are too cool to address seriously socio-political issues. Instead, they express the fury and suffering at the extremities of civilised life, and give their restless protagonists the false hope of a one-way ticket to nowhere . . . road movies are cowled in lurking menace, spontaneous mayhem and dead-end fatalism, never more than few roadstops away from abject lawlessness and haphazard bloodletting . . . road movies have always been songs of the doomed, warnings that once you enter the open hinterlands between cities, you're on your own.

(Atkinson: 16)

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