Imagine a world where the symbol of freedom and individuality we all yearn for is embodied in a single movie, Vanishing Point of 1971.
A high-speed road trip where the protagonist is the legendary Kowalski, a former pilot and disgraced ex-cop who now makes his living as a hired driver for any kind of job.
The adventure begins in Denver after one of his long trips. Tired but determined, Kowalski relies on benzedrine to stay awake and accepts a new assignment: transporting a white Dodge Challenger to San Francisco.
Like a bolt of lightning, Kowalski sets out speeding past the police who try to arrest him, but the mighty muscle car is too fast to be stopped.
His quest captures the attention of the hippie and biker community across the United States, fueling his fame with the charismatic deejay Super Soul supporting his exploits.
Behind him, the Dodge Challenger leaves a trail of shattered cars of cops trying to chase him, always inevitably ending up defeated by his driving skills.
Led by Super Soul’s voice over the airwaves, Kowalski makes his way to California. Still, the authorities don’t like the deejay’s intromission at all and inflict a harsh lesson on him, devastating his station’s headquarters.
Now without his radio guide, however, Kowalski is not alone but can rely on the help of a series of strange individuals who admire his true American courage.
Approaching the final road of this adventure, an army of police officers is ready to give him battle. But Kowalski, driven by the thirst for freedom and challenge, prepares to encounter the outcome of this breathtaking fable without any fear or hesitation.
Seeking the meaning of life one mile at a time
In the nearly 30-year career of director Richard C. Sarafian, between ups and downs in cinema and television, Vanishing Point of 1971 is undoubtedly his most successful, beloved, and best-remembered movie among the public.
It came when the echo of the epochal Easy Rider still resonated in theaters during an era of rebellion where both these masterpieces explored the same themes through a wild ride across America.
The Polish protagonist, Kowalski, stands out as a bastion of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture. Stubborn and indomitable, he embodies the restless spirit of that period, fighting mightily to escape a society that cannot understand him.
And so, we wonder: does this kind of America still exist? Or is Vanishing Point perhaps the last free journey to the West, a nostalgic testament when the horizon seemed endless, and the desire for freedom was an unstoppable force?
Equally unforgettable is the soundtrack’s explosive blend of rock, soul, and blues during this madcap ride with songs by the legendary Bobby Doyle, Jimmy Walker, and Jerry Reed.
Each note is a cry on behalf of all the forgotten outsiders in America, rising all together as powerful and angry as the roar of the engine of Kowalski‘s Dodge Challenger.
The Myth of Vanishing Point transcends the nostalgia factor of the glorious 1970s, becoming a journey through the collective memory of an era reflected in the present.
There is no denying some gaps in the plot and narrative, despite this only reinforces the essence of the hidden details of the characters and the beautiful landscape that merge into a single work of art.
Every turn, every acceleration, every thrill of speed in the spectacular chase scenes catapults us into a titanic struggle between the individual and the oppressive forces of society that seek to control him.
Becoming famous, if only for once
After this movie, a new star shone in the cinematic firmament: Barry Newman.
This should have been the moment of consecration, the stepping stone to the Olympus of Hollywood actors, yet the actor would never again play such an important leading role.
Nevertheless, his honest and friendly face remains etched in our memories as an unforgettable icon of the golden age of cinema.
The fight Newman brought to the screen in the role of Kowalski was not dripping with malice but rather with an untamable fury, a burning need to press the gas pedal and speed to the max to leave behind a painful and troubled past.
This past was marked by the dark days of the Vietnam War, the wild rides as a race pilot, and the life as a cop, hated by his colleagues for daring to expose their filth.
Just as iconic as the adrenaline-fueled run across the desert is Cleavon Little, playing the charismatic Super Soul.
With his magnetic voice, this deejay, blind as the blindfolded goddess of justice, serves as a narrator for us viewers, offering a point of view that transforms Kowalski’s enduring exploits into an epic adventure.
Indeed, he is precisely the one who defines him as the last American hero in a world where heroes seemed to disappear, fighting for freedom and self-determination of his destiny.
This type of character is a narrative gimmick later replicated masterfully by Walter Hill in his 1979 cult hit, The Warriors.
In that case, a mysterious female deejay guided/threatened the protagonists through their night of violence and survival on the streets of New York City.
Finally, we mention the last major character in this story, the legendary white 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T homaged in a multitude of other movies since Vanishing Point.