Last weekend, I introduced V. to Two-Lane Blacktop, a movie every good as the reputation I wasn’t aware of when I first saw it. (One of the great advantages of working at the Fine Arts in Berkeley was that I could rely on Keith and Emily to know about such things.) Warren Oates, dressed in a dazzling array of pullovers, gives the best performance of his lengthy career, and both James Taylor and Dennis Wilson (of the Beach Boys) acquit themselves well. It’s pretentious as all hell, with the baffling last shot, the portentious character names (as the poster says, "James Taylor is the Driver. Warren Oates is GTO. Laurie Bird is the Girl. Dennis Wilson is the Mechanic."), the incredibly laconic characters played Taylor and Wilson. The director, Monte Hellman, was a Roger Corman house director. Corman, the frighteningly prolific director, had an eye for talent, and hired Hellman to make two movies with a B-movie actor and screenwriter named Jack Nicholson. Nicholson and Hellman made two Westerns, The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind; when Nicholson became a star with Easy Rider (and, more importantly to American International Pictures, showed that the youth market could be worth a hell of a lot of money to a studio), Corman sent Hellman off to do a road movie of his own. Corman couldn’t have been thrilled with the end product: the cross-country road race is seemingly an afterthought, ignored by all the participants; Taylor and Wilson have almost no dialogue not about cars, as opposed to the constant existential patter of Easy Rider; the movie denies the viewer a neat conclusion in spectacular fashion. (At least Hellman brought it in under budget.) It’s stiff and the symbolism is hammerlike, but some point the movie just gels; the stripped-down primer-colored ‘55 Chevy and the loaded ‘70 canary yellow GTO transcend being heavy-handed symbols for two sides of the American experience and become wholly appropriate heavy-handed symbols. The amateur actors incoherence starts to seem meaningful. Oates, already reeking of a desparate search for narrative and meaning, gets more wild-eyed, more fast-talking, starts to exert his own gravitational field even as the kids peel away from him. Bird’s indecision (and even her character’s needy grousing) starts to hint at a third approach to the world. Everything just works — despite tanking at the box office and being hung up for years thanks to disputed rights to the soundtrack, Two-Lane Blacktop rightly built up a reputation as one of the lost classics of the ‘70s, a decade when even a pretentious race movie made on a shoestring could turn out to be a thing of greatness.