Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In Cars

You know what they don’t make anymore? Car movies. Does this say something bad about America? It might. It certainly says something bad about Hollywood.

Yeah, they don’t make car movies anymore. What do I mean by car movies? Well, I’m not talking about Cars or Cars 2, which could just have been called Toy Story 4/5, and I definitely am not talking about Transformers. God no.


What I’m talking about are Vanishing Point. . . Smokey & The Bandit. . . Cannonball Run. These weren’t car movie so much as flipping the bird at the man and hitting the gas movies. These were westerns on speed. These were movies about “the last American hero” who would not conform to the dictates of the nanny state.

They don’t make movies like American Graffiti anymore either, movies about American youth in their natural habitat.

They don’t make movies like Corvette Summer. . . uh, never mind on that one.

They don’t make movies like Vacation anymore, about the Odyssey so many Americans take with their families: the family road trip vacation.

They don’t make movies like Duel, which speak to our love with road rage or Death Race 2000 which had everyone I know looking for points.

Look, Americans and cars go hand in hand. They define us, we express our individuality through them. They set us free. And you don’t see that anymore. When you see “car” films today, they are really just heist films that involve cars, like Fast and Furious or The Italian Job. Or they’re nostalgia pieces like Deathproof. Or, God help us, it’s spoiled rich girls taking daddy’s BMW on the road to find get attention.

What you don’t see anymore are films about the connection between average Americans and their cars. You don’t see films about our love for cars... about us defining ourselves through our cars... about the freedom our cars give us.

There are several possible reasons for this. It’s possible that car movies have just become that much harder to make since cops are more sophisticated now in stopping scofflaws... though that doesn’t stop the heist films. It’s possible that we aren’t as interested in cars since we’re more urban, but anyone who has looked at our busy highways and the love affairs Americans still have with cars knows that’s not true.

I think this is another example where Hollywood has lost touch with America and Americans. Hollywood still realized that American’s love cars - indeed, they use cars to make their heroes stand out by giving each a classic car - but they don’t seem to understand the connection. They don’t seem to understand that a car in not like a jacket or a watch, it is a much larger symbol of who we are, it is a member of the family, it is one of the few things that give American’s total control over their destinies. . . cars are a part of us, not just an accessory.

Maybe it’s time for the next great car film to remind Americans of personal freedom. Thoughts?


shawn said...

Hard to relate to the freedom of having a car and being on the road on your own or with your best buddies when your soul aspiration is to live in your mom's basement playing "Gears of War", "Grand Theft Auto" or "Battlefield 4" on your Xbox or Playstation for as long as you can.

I have a co-worker whose grandson recently turned 20 and he has no interest in getting his driver's license. Apparently many of this kid's friends are the same. I don't get it. When I was 16 and got my permit, I dreamed of the day I would get a car so I could get out of the house unsupervised and have fun with my friends and maybe even the fairer sex.

Anonymous said...

I agree with shawn...

Apparently, for a millennial, owning a car isn't nearly as high a priority as it used to be. Today, the priority seems to be owning a smartphone. Even I waited until I was 17 to get my license (and in Florida, I couldn't gotten my permit two years earlier - I only did it out of necessity anyway).

And the economy isn't helping either.

And as much as I enjoyed NOT owning a car when I lived up north, there were times when I wouldn't liked one for a weekend spin.

Jason said...

Also, ever noticed how many of these "heist" films like Fast and Furious or The Italian Job take place overseas? So in addition to not being about American cars, they're not even about cars in America anymore!

tryanmax said...

Digs at gaming aside, I agree with shawn and Scott. As Scott points out, the smartphone is the symbol of freedom now. Freedom isn't associated with automobiles anymore, and it's not hard to see why:

Cars aren't a ticket to freedom the way they used to be, what with soaring gas prices and more laws than ever to affect driving. Who cares if you can make it to Tuscon by morning if every interstate cam on the way sees you passing?

With all the mandated safety features, not only sense of taking things in your own hands gone, the base price is way, way up. And even though cars today require far less maintenance, good luck popping the hood and jerry-rigging a fix if something does go wrong. You're never beyond the reach of AAA anyway.

That's because of the homogenization of the American landscape. The only places that are different are the places that were set aside to be left--or made--different. But the roads between are all the same. You're not going to stumble on many surprises so you may as well fly.

Cars aren't as romantic or individual as they used to be, either. Gone are the miles of chrome and hulks of muscle. Thanks to the aforementioned mandates, first everyone built eggs. Now they all build wedges. The fact remains, you can't tell a Ford from a Hyundai at a glance anymore, and I'm barely kidding.

Scoff at the gamers if you like (as we type our comments by the blue glow of our monitors), the anonymity of a MMORPG represents more freedom than the open road anymore.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

It wasn't my intention to scoff at gamers. Considering some of my hobbies, I'm in no position to nitpick someone else's! :-)

If it's any consolation, it looks like the idea of a cross-country speed record is alive and well.

shawn said...

tryanmax said...
Digs at gaming aside

I'm a old school PC gamer: StarCraft, WarCraft, Dawn of War, X-Com and the like. So I'm not anti-gaming.

I could just have easily said Social Media instead. A number of years ago when I was working on getting my Nursing degree, in between classes, most of the girls would go to the computer lab and log into their MySpace pages rather than visit with each other. Or when the wife and I go out to eat, you will notice many people looking at their smart phones rather than the person they are there with.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Same here, I was there the first day I could to get my license. And then I got a car as soon as possible as well -- 1961 Ford Falcon! 0-60 in 20 minutes... but it was a car!

Your explanation is a good one, except there are still hundreds of millions of Americans who love their cars. Check out all the people who trick out cars or collect classics, for example. So let me refine your point a bit by adding that the problem is that the current crop of filmmakers are basement dwellers (like Apatow).

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The big cities have always been different. Having a car there can be difficult. But in flyover country, cars are freedom... man.

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, I've noticed that too. They seem to have decided overseas locations are just more exotic -- unless they need to hit a casino, then they go to Vegas. I wonder if this isn't part of their de-emphasis of American culture so they can sell more tickets overseas?

tryanmax said...

shawn, we are truly in a brave new world when one generation of gamers digs at another! ;-)

Anonymous said...

To be fair, many heist films, classic and otherwise, have taken place overseas.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's a fascinating point... two actually. (1) We've lost the connection to our cars because we aren't capable of taking care of them ourselves anymore. So we don't relate the way we used to. (2) The highway killed "interesting America." I would go a step further though and say that it's not just the highways, which are boring, but it's the fact that everywhere has become suburban clone hell.

I've driven across country a lot in my life and over the years, I've noticed that little by little, everywhere started to look a like: St. Louis, Columbus, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Denver are absolutely identical unless you end up downtown... same building styles, same chain stores. That's bothered me for years.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I am stunned at the number of people who stare into their phones when they go out to eat with friends. Seriously, are they that bored by their friends that they need more entertainment?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, True. But it does seem that a lot more films now are set overseas than happened in the past. And what makes that seem even worse is the lack of any real "American" films, i.e. films that scream of American culture.

tryanmax said...

...are absolutely identical unless you end up downtown...

Even that's going away. The "Old Town" district is become a ubiquitous urban downtown feature, whether it's actually old or not.

AndrewPrice said...

I know. Really the only distinctive thing left are the skylines... unless you're in a city like NYC or Chicago, which got big before the clones came.

KRS said...

I agreeT-Max nailed it with the "homogenization of the American landscape" observation. That alone is the reason "Vanishing Point" would never work today. (And, VP has some of the poisenous tropes, like the Vietnam hero former cop damaged by each service who turns his back on his former prinicples for chemical highs and a suicidal run).

Also, there's the passing of the backyard mechanic. In the seventies, the only way for a teenager to get a car was to earn enough to buy it and the only way to keep a such a car running was to fix it hisself. Nowadays, they're all idiots driving a parent's car who don't know what to do when the oil light comes on.

My daughter is admired by the boys in her circle for her mechanical expertise - she showed one of them where to place a scissor jack and how to change a flat tire. I truly wish I was kidding.

I had a '69 Impala in college, under which carriage or hood I toiled every month to keep running. I have a '69 Convertible today and guess what; I'm doing the exact same blasted thing. It was charming and nostaligic for a few years. Nostalgia's gone.

They weren't bad cars; 1950's, -60's, 70's auto technology requires attention.

I have a '98 Toyota Camry that I drive every day. I change the oil.

That's why these movies aren't coming back.

Anthony said...

Speaking as a guy who is an old school and a new school gamer (been gaming for 36 years) I also blame videogames for the decline of car movies.

Games like Gran Turismo and Forza not only let people drive incredibly exotic cars, but lets enthusiasts tune them dozens if not hundreds of ways (sims got too involved for me a few years ago).

tryanmax said...

In fairness, those scissor jacks are designed to go in some pretty odd places on some cars. Also, changing the oil is about the only thing you can do yourself on a car anymore. Everything else has been modularized. There's no fixing anything in a traditional sense. Just replacement. (This is coming from a guy who changes all his own fluids and makes most of his own repairs.) More than anything, I blame the cars themselves. They're just not as lovable.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, True, it's hard to fix anything on your car anymore. I used to spend weekends trying to keep my cars running in the 1980s, but these days, there's little I can do.

That said, I do love my car! I'm trying to figure out how to prolong its life forever (because I hate the new models). But in fairness, I bought one of the few cars that looks like anything these days -- 2008 Chrysler 300C SRT with the 8 cylinder engine... bright red. Look like this: LINK :D

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I'm amazed when people can't change tires or change oil, but beyond that, cars have become too computer-oriented. Everything needs to be adjusted by machine these days.

tryanmax said...

Very nice! I'm limping my 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. 180000+ miles now. I've needed a 4-door for awhile, but I've had a rough few years. I'm only starting to think I can afford a car payment about now. And it'd still have to be used.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, That's true. I'm a firm believer that video games distort people's view of reality, and I guess that car games are no different.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks! This was my dream car for a few years and when Chrysler looked like they were going under, I bought it. I got a heck of a deal -- almost half price. I love this car! It's the most comfortable, powerful car I've ever owned. It's also unbelievably expensive to maintain, but you can't have everything.

And you wouldn't believe how many drive-thru people comment on my car. I've learned what "dope whip dude!" means. LOL!

Patriot said...

Okay...Nostalgia time..... My cars were in order.....:
1) 1968 Triumph TR250 (precursor to the TR6)
2) 1967 GTO (3 deuces, headers, cam, etc.....)
3) 1969 Camaro SS
4) 1975 Dodge Van (that I did my cruisin' America in for 3 years)
5 and beyond)....Marriage and loss of cool cars!! :-(

My kids inherited my love of cars. In fact my oldest (beautiful young lady) has a 2013 Gottahaveitgreen Mustang 5.0 that won last years SEMA Award for her class. Her fiance' also has a 2013 Mustang and had a 2012 Corvette GT, 1990 Camaro tricked out to 900+ HP. Both her and him have been written up and photo shoots for Muscle Car magazines.One of my son's has a Pontiac GT SS (when it runs) that he works on all the time.

Nowadays I drive a 2005 Lexus LS430 and a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Orvis Edition.

Sure miss my old GTO though.

As far as the homogenization of America I agree. I think it started happening in the Midwest and now it's taken over the South. It is hard to find the Old South of my youth anymore. (Yep, take a left at the old McDonalds and then a right at the CVS and you can't miss the old ballfield. 'Cept they got them soccer ball players there now. Darn illegals!)

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, Mine were a little different:

1961 Ford Falcon
1979 Rabbit
Then I went Japanese until the Chrysler. I'm hoping to never give this one up, but I'm probably cursing myself just thinking it.

On your family, I think a LOT of Americans still love their cars. I see evidence of that everywhere. America's love affair with the car hasn't stopped, even if Hollywood no longer recognizes it. In fact, let me point out that Hollywood still gives their main characters cool cars to make them standout.

On the homogenization, I agree that it came from the Midwest. I think that's because the Midwest had the space and worked out the "ideal" way to build a suburb -- with the box store and the modern strip malls. Once they figured that out, everyone copied it. These days, there's very little "old" left.

In fact, I went to Atlanta about 10 years ago and was told how everything was still old and how Atlanta is surrounded by all these tiny towns that are "like it used to be." Wrong. Atlanta = St. Louis = Denver. As far as the eye could see, it was one huge city with the exact same styles and stores as every other city. And those "small towns" were just political subdivisions of the bigger city.

KRS said...

Well, ... what we're really complaining about are the sensors and computer settings for fuel efficiency and cleaner exhaust. It's a whole new terrain - I remember back in 2000, we calculated that $10,000 of the cost of a new car was environmental technology. There's a lot of it and it's complex.

That said, an altenator remains an alternator, a ball is still a ball joint, etc. In short, the bloody knuckle jobs are still all the same - you just have a lot less room in which to do them.

I have a simple code reader that's useful in deciding whether the job is for me or my favorite certified mechanic - there remain a lot of jobs I can do on the more modern cars, but there isn't as much need. They really are made better overall.

And, the designers seem to draw for the professional mechanic. Back in the 90's, I had to replace the spark plug cables on my 1993 Dodge Intrepid and I had to remove the air plenum to do it. Other basic items are buried in weird ways. And, with all the extra wiring and tubing for stuff like recirc exhaust, it sometimes feels like your hand has to maneuver through a labyrinth just to turn a nut.

Bottom line - the engine is still an engine and it's still there. Finding it is the trick.

Individualist said...

Funny ... speaking about fixing your car yourself

Today even the mechanics that can fix them are hard to come by. Evidently today's cars are hooked up to computer systems to monitor their activity. Fixing them requires an understanding of computers, electronics and mathematics and it is difficult to get mechanics with those skills. I read an article about it stating that these mechanics could ask 100K a year because they were in such demand.

It seems most kids that are computer wizzes and mathematics experts are not considering a job at the local car repair shop because that is in the minds of the public the domain of the high school drop out with the feel for engines that makes him a mechanic savant genius even though he can't add.

Plus the auto companies make the electronics proprietary. If kids were able they'd be hacking their cars computer systems themselves but you can't because their is no interface that you can buy. Heck my current car does not even have an oil gauge on the dash. There is a light that will only come on if the computer is working correctly.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, Mine is the same way. I have various menus I can flip through that show things like oil, temperature, tire pressure and other settings like if the lights do automatic things or the car beeps when I do something. I really like the gas mileage stuff, like how it estimates how far I can still go before I run out of gas.

That said, their overall computer interface is really weak. They could learn a lot from outsiders on that.

On mechanics, I have no idea what they are paying these days, but I've given up trying to do anything except basic stuff myself.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, Don't forget, there are also warranty issues. Most new cars now come with longer-term warranties that force you to let them handle everything for the first 3-5 years. So most initial owners never really have a need to even look under the hood. Plus, there's the time factor. I can get a complete oil change for $29 bucks. It's hard to beat that on your own.

Also, once you do open the hood, my current car really is like nothing I've ever dealt with before. With my Rabbit, I was constantly messing with the spark plugs, the fuel injector (had to undo what the state required for pollution control), the brakes, the fluids, and sometimes a gasket or two. I did all that stuff -- solenoids, alternators, etc.

These days, I can't even find half that stuff and I have no idea how to tune it to make sure it works with all the electronics.

T-Rav said...

The irony is, all those cookie-cutter, depressing-as-life-itself suburbs and exurbs are all made possible by cars themselves. Any big city is going to have suburbs, of course, and you could see some of this going on even before the Model T came along. But it's because of cars and what they've brought--the interstates, the beltways, the cut-offs, etc.--that people have really had the opportunity to flee the city in earnest and set themselves up an hour or more from downtown.

And I loathe it. It's not just the big cities, either; practically every town with more than ten thousand (and sometimes less) has all these cul-de-sacs springing out with the arboreal street names and the ugly-as-sin houses. You can't get away from it anywhere, unless you live in a very small town or a downtown neighborhood and never venture out into the strip-mall section. And no one does that.

KRS said...

Andrew - Warranty is an excellent point (even my newest car is beyond it). IAnd, as I said, finding the thing you want to fix/replace is the trick - takes a little patience. Helps to be old and ornery.

My most common observation upon opening the hood of a newer car:

"What's that?"

Indi - Modern gearheads actually have been hacking the onboard computer for performance purposes for years. They can dial up horsepower by manipulating the programming (makes the car dirtier, too). I've looked at a few muscle magazine articles on it but whenever I read that stuff, my mental processes degenerate into ones and zeros and I fall asleep.

PikeBishop said...

Actually Andrew on your point about big city sameness, yeah the suburbs and exurbs are all one giant train of Old Navys, Best Buys and for food, Chillis, Fridays, Bennigans etc. but I noticed a point about downtown American cities years ago, especially with cities on the Mississippi River watershed.

Just stand on any random block and look around at the architecture and style. North of Memphis, you could be standing in Pittsburgh, St Louis or Cincinnati, you wouldn't know the difference. Likewise the southern river towns, any random block of Memphis, pretty much looks like a postage stamp of Baton Rouge or to a lesser extent, New Orleans.

Having been to all those cities several times, that is just something I noticed.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I've seen that too in small towns, and it makes me sad. It's also pretty depressing to drive across country these days. It's all the same. The very least these cities could do would be to try to maintain a unique building style, even if they're going to plot them all the same.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I've asked that many a time. "What the heck it that?!" This is often followed by, "Where the hell did they put the ____?"

In some ways, I miss the simplicity of the old cars, but I do love the reliability and capabilities of the new ones.

Patriot said...

I miss the old simplicity of the British Land Rovers. The ones you would see on safaris in Africa. I heard you could fix it with just some bobby pins and duct tape. Must have been a heckuva engineering job to make something that reliable and simple.

Critch said...

I loved Vanishing Point and Gone in 60 Seconds (the original). I have an idea, a movie about me in high school,,,did you know you could get an entire cheerleading squad into one '64 Impala...? I've done it...About 20 years after I got out of high school I got pulled over by a state rod up near St Louis...he looked at my license and told me he was a young trooper once in my hometown and he remembered my grey '64 Impala...he also remembered giving me a ticket then also.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, I love Vanishing Point as well. It still perplexes me though, just what it's supposed to mean.

I had no idea you could put a cheerleading squad into the back of a 64 Impala, but I'm not really surprised. There used to be some awesomely huge cars. A friend of my had a late 70's Thunderbird and you could have fit a cruise ship in that thing. Fun car!

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, You should have seen the engine in my Ford Falcon. It was so simple it was almost at the Flintstones' level. But repairs were really easy.

Individualist said...


There was an article in the paper about two years ago regarding it. This is not a job for all mechanics. There are still those that replace ball bearing joints because as KRS says "a ball joint is a ball joint".

These were the specialists that are skilled at reading the computer diagnostic on the car once they plug it into a machine they can decipher what is wrong with it. That skill set takes some engineering mathematical skills from what the article states.

KRS... my first car was my Dad's hand me down Plymouth Satellite. Car had no major repair work till 175 thousand miles. Had a V8 engine with a single barrel carb. In North Florida it would be 50 degrees in the morning and 100 degrees by noon in the fall. The timing on the old beast was a little off and I would have to adjust the carb a quarter an inch to get it to start in the cold morning but by noon it would idle at 45 mph and I'd have to set it back.

Nowadays I would need a Fortran program and proprietary computers to fix it.

Tennessee Jed said...

Death van on the Highway: check it out while downloading the song "cars & girls!"

Commander Max said...

There is something else, old cars are no longer cheap. Back in my high school days you could pick up an old Bug for a couple of hundred of bucks. Hop it up for cheap, rebuild the engine in an afternoon and cruz it around that night.

I had a 74 Blazer, it had enough room in the engine compartment to seat six.
Great for working on until you dropped something. My next car was an 82 Trans AM(I still wish I had it, but it was junk. It would have been worth the conversion to KITT), it took an hour and a half to change a thermostat. Why, all of the emissions crap that was all over the engine.

Cars take time, and patience. For those who want everything now, neither will do.

There still is a car culture out there, but that's not a very PC subject. I consider cars in the cross-hairs of the envirmental movement. Who do not like a mobile society, which is what car culture is all about. Keeping kids on their mobile devices seems to make them far less mobile.

I still drive one of the first cars I ever drove(at 16), a 1982 Mercedes Benz 300TD Turbo Diesel station wagon. It's been in the family since my mother bought it new in 82. It's old but it's solid. What would one used to expect from the brand.
Each I pass a Prius, I like to gun it. Those of you who are familiar with Diesels will know why.

Individualist said...


I think maybe the first Fast and Furious was more than a heist movie in the sense that in order to make us aware of the illegal street racing scene they had to spend a lot of time dealing with the after market, the souping up process of the foreign cars, the American muscle cars of the pre 80's.

At least in that respect they promoted the car itself. But the plot of that movie and all the rest are similar to what you say.. After the first there is very little description of what the cars are at all.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I forgot about it but this Popular Science article may shed some light on things.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Articles like that don't help the cause of Millennials. It makes them look like momma's boys: "Ooh, cars are dangerous... you could have an accident... I'd rather have nothing than have something that could be risky." Shoot me now if I ever think like that.

tryanmax said...

Scott, the problem I have with that guy's article is he's fallen into the popular trap of "if I can imagine it, it must be right around the corner--except some shady businessman is keeping it back."

Where to begin? If he had read the piece about self-driving cars (or, since I suspect he has, been less disingenuous about it) he'd know that the actual cost was $7600, or almost half the price of a "cheap" new car. The $150 estimate is a 15-year projection based on assumptions of widespread adoption, which may be reasonable, but still. And he didn't mention that such a system would keep him in the driver's seat. It only works on roads the car "thinks" it can handle.

On toxicity, all I can say is he'd better not be writing his articles on an Apple. On safe, fast-charging batteries, people have been working on that since batteries were invented. It's not a new idea, just an incredibly hard one.

If he thinks we're going to wind- and solar-power transportation as we now know it, I invite him to erect a turbine in his backyard and cover his roof with solar panels.

I love how he basically finishes by saying "sell me a Tesla for cheap. Now." He apparently was never taught the tenet that you can have anything if you're willing to pay for it. Otherwise, you have to wait.

I'm sorry, but he is a poster-child for the "expectant" generation, a slight he very much deserves. It's fine and good to prod things in a positive direction. But when everything is already going the way you want it, articles like his are the equivalent of sitting in the back seat whining, "Are we there yet?"

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