This is screening as part of the Barbican's Pop Art season. Here is their introduction: Cars held a special fascination for Pop artists in LA – where they were essential for traversing long distances in the sprawling city, and where a hot rod and ‘kustom kar kulture’ flourished. The drag racing scene was an acknowledged interest for Ed Ruscha, and this film recalls his work in its fascination with car culture, and in its bold primary colours, gorgeous widescreen compositions and landscape of highways, filling stations and roadside cafes. The story follows singer-songwriter James Taylor and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson who, drag-racing east from LA in a souped-up ’55 Chevy, meet Warren Oates in his decked-out orange Pontiac GTO and challenge him to a cross-country race.
Chicago Reader review:
This exciting existentialist road movie by Monte Hellman, with a swell script by Rudolph Wurlitzer and Will Corry and my favorite Warren Oates performance, looks even better now than it did in 1971, although it was pretty interesting back then as well. James Taylor and Dennis Wilson are the drivers of a supercharged '55 Chevy, and Oates is the owner of a new GTO (these nameless characters are in fact identified only by the cars they drive); they meet and agree to race from New Mexico to the east coast, though an assortment of side interests periodically distracts them, including various hitchhikers (among them Laurie Bird). (GTO hilariously assumes a new persona every time he picks up a new passenger, rather like the amorphous narrator in Wurlitzer's novel Nog.) The movie starts off as a narrative but gradually grows into something much more abstract—it's unsettling but also beautiful.
Here and above New York Times critic AO Scott delivers his verdict.