Richard C. Sarafian's Vanishing Point (1971) is the apotheosis of the Vietnam-era exploitation/arthouse existentialist road movies produced in the wake of Easy Rider. Vanishing Point is about speed and technology, surveillance and control, acceleration and catastrophe, roads, deserts, and perspective. It explores the compression of time through the acceleration of movement and measures the velocity of a counterculture that has “hopped up” the machinery of repression as it approaches final impact. This essay discusses the film in the context of issues surrounding individual liberty and national security which, while historically specific to the moment of production – the late 1960s and early 1970s – are also provocatively contemporary in their identification of the limits of resistance. Vanishing Point is read as a film that refuses the escapism of the road movie genre and instead pursues the logic of maximum efficiency internalized by the film's protagonist. As such the film questions the libertarian rhetoric of the open road and instead proposes that American fictions of free mobility mask the fact of containment by military-industrial imperatives.
Resistance Becomes Ballistic: Vanishing Point and the End of the Road
JOHN BECK TEACHES AMERICAN LITERATURE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE. HE IS THE AUTHOR OF WRITING THE RADICAL CENTER: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS, JOHN DEWEY, AND AMERICAN CULTURAL POLITICS (2001) AND CO-EDITOR OF AMERICAN VISUAL CULTURES (2005). HE IS CURRENTLY FINISHING A PROJECT ON THE MILITARIZATION OF THE AMERICAN WEST POST–PEARL HARBOR.