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The Road Movie Book: 08/04/17

The Road Movie Book  by Steven Cohan

The Road Movie Book edited by Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark is a collection of essays about road movies. They're divided up into three sections: Pre-WWII, Vietnam War era, and modern era (being the 1980s-1990s).

Though there are about a dozen essays, there seems to be only four road films of note: It Happened One Night, Easy Rider, Thelma & Louise, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert. Granted, these are all memorable films but it seems like academia is fixated on these films.

As I've mentioned before, Thelma & Louise was the catalyst to my first attempt at my road narrative project. I should say that I don't particularly like the film and now after nearly three years of solid research, I can say why I don't like it.

Originally though I was looking at how the road is used to convey plot points in the film. That at the point of no-return — do they go off road, literally. I was really into semantics at the time and I was looking at wayfaring devices as narrative shorthand. While I'm still interested in semantics, my focus now is more literary than cinematic and the shorthand used is different. There is some overlap, of course, but not enough to say they share the same dialect.

What reading this collection of essays has confirmed is that that I'm not the film theorist I once was. Oh — I still have the skills — but I've been removed from academia long enough to no longer be in-step with dominant thoughts and theories. What this means, is my eyes are opened to things that have been missed.

In all fairness — this book was published the year I left film theory (with a masters in it). The theories in this book are very narrowly focused: the white, straight, cis-gendered, young middle class male. Anyone else whether in a film or in the audience is part of the massive "other." Early films are all about young men being scooped up (or scooping up) young modern women whilst on the road. The films of the 1950s-1960s are all about young men traveling solo and being jerks wherever they go and it being all in fun (at the expense of everyone else). The modern era seems to be an attempt at making films about the all the "other"s that have been ignored — though often by the same cis-gendered straight males and for that audience.

There are also essays in the post-WWII section about foreign films — namely the French New Wave and the Cinema Verité coming out of Italy. Granted, these are both important movements in cinematic history — but for the purpose of my research — they aren't road narratives.

Out of the entire book, the essay "Hitler Can't Keep 'em That Long" by Bennett Schaber, was the most eye opening. Not the Hitler bits (again, not relevant to my road narrative project), but the side discussion on the Wizard of Oz (1939) (though not the novel). Schaber describes the film as "Kansas farm hands become the new ruling junta of Oz" and while that's only true in the film as a function of the same actors being used for the Kansas and Oz scenes to set up the notion that her experience is all a dream, it does make sense — strikingly so — when looking at all the books.

Three stars

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