Sunday, October 25, 2009

Car Chases in the Movies -- A Brief Review of Jesse Crosse's "The Greatest Movie Car Chases of All Time"

Hi folks -- from time to time in my The Automobile and American Life I make an attempt to include film in my cultural and historical analysis. Trained as an historian of science and technology, I began to bring in film into my classes by the early 1990s, especially to either illustrate the technology I was talking about, or to raise questions about technology and society. One of my favorite essays that I drew on and had students read then was George Basalla's article on Keaton, Chaplin, "The General" (1926) , and "Modern Times" (1936), contained in Caroll Pursell's collection of essays entitled Technology in America. Basalla made one think hard about these two films -- actually, there was a third film included in the essay as well, Keaton's "The Navigator." I have yet to really think hard about what the chase scene means in film and automobile history, beyond the superficial. While Jesse Crosse, in The Greatest Movie Car Chases of all Time has done some good work in this area, much, much, more remains to be thought through and teased out. For example, in what ways are there commonalities between scenes involving horse and stagecoach chases, or on foot chase, and those involving automobiles? How important are the road and the environment to the scene as opposed to the car? What about human facial and body expressions, inside and outside the car? How does new technology involved in cinematography -- and the organization of personnel;, enable enhanced levels of sophistication to result during the filming process. Systematically, how can one explain the evolution of camera angles to the development of realistic scenes? And finally, what are the psychological dynamics that cause members of the audience to react the way they do to such scenes?

Do these scenes make us more wary of technology, or do we become more complacent about the dangers of driving? What does all of this say about controlling technology.

For what it is worth, here are Crosse's list of the to twenty car chase films.

1. Bullitt (1968)
2. Ronin (1998)
3. The Seven Ups (1973)
4. The Italian Job (1969)
5. Le Professional (1981)
6. The Bourne Identity (2002)
7. The Road Warrior (1981)
8. C'Etait un Rendezvous (1976)
9. The Blues Brothers (1980)
10. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
11. Gone in Sixty Seconds (1974 and 2000)
12. Vanishing Point (1971)
13. Taxi/Taxi 2 (1998, 2000)
14. Another Day (2002)
15. The French Connection (1971)
16. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
17. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
18. The Rock (1996)
19. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
20. Thunder Road (1958)

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