Two-Lane Blacktop stands out as one of the most un-Hollywood films ever made by Hollywood. An existential road movie, it feels more European than American. A shorthand description would be ‘Easy Rider directed by Samuel Beckett’.
Strip away the hippy frippery and drugs of Hopper and Fonda’s biker road trip and you begin to get to the seriousness of director Monte Hellman’s vision. He had earned critical recognition with his Westerns The Shooting and Ride the Whirlwind, both collaborations with by a pre-fame Jack Nicholson. With the financial backing from Universal, Hellman took musicians James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, (Taylor’s then girlfriend Joni Mitchell was a regular on set and can be seen very fleetingly on screen), actor Warren Oates and newcomer Laurie Bird on an identity trip across America.
Shot in gorgeous atmospheric widescreen, Two Lane Blacktop is a film out of time. Hellman’s next film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid ended up being made by Sam Peckinpah - which tells you everything about the critical and commercial reception to Two Lane Blacktop. In 2012 the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."