I saw a film!
Starring Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw and Ernie Borg9
Also, with Burt Young! Who is one of those guys you see all the time in the old movies from Chinatown to Serpico to Rocky and all the way up to last year’s Natasha Lyonne project Russian Doll. He’s always been in demand and is always excellent!
OK so as you may or may not remember, as some of you were babies at the time, the late 70s were an era obsessed not with cops or law, or cowboys, or X-files, but with Trucks. Trucks and truckers were the entertainment commerce of the day. We couldn’t get enough big honking semi rigs hauling big ole wheeled boxes of shit around. We loved them. Trucks captured our imaginations the way the ancient Greek goddesses bewitched Renaissance artists. Everyone made trucker movies, hell, Henry Fonda did!
Also it should be pointed out that this obsession was not limited to movies and television but also expanded into pop music with mega hits like CW McCall’s country hit “Convoy”. Which not only crossed genre stations but literally featured CB Radio chatter which was also all the rage at the time: 10-4 good buddy. Now when I tell you that this shit was stupid, I want you to please accept that I’m speaking with some authority about things stupid. I grew up in the 70s, I was fourteen when this film was made and as big a star as Kristofferson was, and as big a director as Sam Peckinpah (yes, freakin’ Peckinpah!) was there was no way to make this mess into a compelling narrative. A film based on long loving camera shots of the freakin’ trucks was all he had. Peckinpah lent his considerable talents to the task, however, so we’re met with having the trucks going right and left, and superimposing and fading them into each other while the music plays. Shots of the horns blowing and the tires rolling underneath, are all expertly edited together, but I must insist, it’s not possible to care. You really can’t get that excited about trucks. How did this sweep the nation back in the day? I don’t think anyone can tell us. It was transformers without any transforming. So as a filmmaker what do you do? You have to make it into a story in which the truckers are an oppressed minority fighting for their rights against a careless government machine, and a crooked townie sheriff played by the ever fantastic Borgnine. So borrowing strongly from epics like Billy Jack and Bless the Beasts and the Children, and Mario Savio’s 60s public speeches, you create a kind of post-hippy counter-cultural political movement. But of course, it’s horribly unfocused, as there isn’t much to hang a hat on there in the story, so throw in some harrowing racism and . . . boom! You have a crappy truck movie not just loosely, but actually based on the freaking CW McCall song.
Now for my money, this movie had just been made with Chuck Norris, it was called “Breaker! Breaker!” more CB talk for you not-in-the-know. Others had been jumping on the suicide bar as well, Clint Eastwood had done a couple of terrible (1978) Trucker films (Every Which Way but Loose, and Every Which Way You Can) that were augmented by him being a bare-knuckle fighter AND buddies with a freaking Orangutan! This little setup spawned a whole TV series that same year called BJ and the Bear. Which was about a trucker who went through life with a chimpanzee partner (who had rescued him, so the show told us, in VIETNAM! It fairly boggles the mind) So I’m not kidding about this, Truckers were everything for a while. There was even the megastar Sly Stallone as an arm-wrestling truck driver!
Back to Convoy. Do you like lines of trucks? Sure you do. Lines of them. They look amazing don’t they? All lined up, and sometimes maybe even swaying back and forth on the road, like a kind of synchronized driving sort of thing? It’s pretty special to watch. You get that with this movie, and so much more . . . well, not really, you get trucks and more trucks. Do you enjoy CB Radio chatter? Smokey in a plain brown wrapper? You know what that means? This is for you then. But Wait, You also get Ali McGraw, who looks a little spooked and jumpy, and has a crazy hairdo for her (making her look a little punky, like she was just singing for Penetration or something), trying to be a world weary photographer but somehow falling in love with Kristofferson’s bullshit after accepting a ride that never gets completed. One would think she’d run like hell at first chance, but this was the late 70s and we weren’t yet obsessed with “creeps” and “stalkers” and other impulses of humanity.
By now we’re used to the crooked law misbehaving on our heroes but eventually we’re seeing a giant Trucker camp-out in the second half of the film and we’re getting the voices of the blue collar working class – you feel a bit like the movie became self aware and adopted a kind of folksy Woody Guthrie socio-political angle, but it doesn’t last long. It comes back to a revenge tale pretty quickly and the finale on a rigged bridge like another Peckinpah film set in the West, and a massive military cannon being fired by Borgnine, of course. Great Schlock. I can’t really tell you more without spoiling it, but, I can say if you’ve seen one of these things you’ve pretty much seen them all.
I learned a lot.
I am a trucker. You are a trucker. We are all truckers.