Not enough car chases

I spent the day at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History: The Kenneth E Behring Center (the last bit of the name after the colon is new and is ostensibly the name of their biggest donor, reinforcing that the public domain is certainly not beyond some ostentatious advertising—how can this be tolerated?) for the America on the Move exhibit, and I was blown away. It was the intravenous fix of nostalgia I needed. There’ nothing like walking through a 1940s car showroom on Sandy Boulevard in Portland, Oregon, or fetishizing a 1955 Country Squire station wagon in Park Forest, Illinois to re-enforce I was born in the wrong decade. The exhibit was brilliant in the way it framed very specific places and settings from all over the US. And the 30s, 40s, and 50s focus on car culture is filled with all kinds of brilliant industrial design and aesthetics—the Greyhound Buses back then were beautiful!

And while I could find all the links for the various exhibit objects, which was nice, I was sad that my favorite single element of the exhibit was nowhere to be found online. Someone (or many ones) put together a 5 or 10 minute collage/mashup of the love affair Hollywood has continually had with cars. Everything from It Happened One Night to Psycho to Thunder Road to Rebel Without a Cause to The French Connection to The Godfather to Taxi Driver to Back to the Future to Bonnie and Clyde to Pretty Woman to Herbie the Love Bug and on and on. It was absolutely masterful; both thoughtful and affection choices from just about every movie it quotes, and deeply suggestive of how film and movies came of age together at the beginning of the 20th century. The film also did a beautiful job of illustrating how these two technologies devolved over time—they both peak from the 30s through the 60s, with a flash of hope in the 70s.

Anyway, the whole exhibit got me thinking about car chases, and how little I talk about them on the bava, but more importantly about how the networked computer is bound to indelibly transform the mobile landscape of America for the 21st century, the idea of superhighways and infrastructures for daily commuting may not disappear entirely, but how drastically will they change when presence at work is almost entirely defined in terms of a virtual space? Will shipping and farming remain far more local as a result? Will the idea of the suburb and city dissolve further as the livable space tied to urban centers for work becomes un-anchored? We’re at the beginning of a century long re-framing of what the movement of America will look like 100 years from now—and that excites me to no end, as do these three car chases:

Bullit: The single best car chase ever filmed? Could be rabbit, could be.

The French Connection: But it would have to contend with Gene Hackman slamming on the gas and brake simultaneously in this gem of a chase (chasing a subway no less)

Mad Max: The Night Rider chase is may be my personal favorite because it is so far over the top, and the Night Rider rules.

This entry was posted in movies, museums and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Not enough car chases

  1. Reverend says:

    This makes me want to go out and rent Smokey and the Bandit, and re-think my choices all together 🙂

  2. it’s not a traditional chase, but the road battle from Mad Max 2?

  3. Reverend says:


    Absolutely one of my all-time favorites, it should have been up there–the apotheosis of apocalyptic cinema.

  4. Mikhail says:

    I strongly recommend Vanishing Point, a low-budget car chase classic much referenced in Death Proof along with Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. To wit:

  5. Reverend says:


    I did see that one, and I particularly liked the naked, weed-smoking hippie chick on the motorcycle, one of my all-time favorite performances, but the chases…not so much 🙂

    The other chase i did forget, however, was the one in To Live and Die in LA (1985). So, here it is:

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

  6. Shannon says:

    You know if you are going to somehow have William Petersen included in a post or comment I am going to need to comment hah 🙂
    I think Friedkin knows his way around car chases considering he directed both the French Connection and To Live and Die in LA. Has he done any other car chases in other movies that you know of?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.