Greil Marcus on The Desperation of Road Movies (1989)

“We’re all familiar with road movies: not Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney in Two For the Road, but two men on the lam from this or that, lots of chase scenes. The geography of the country is always a good setup, good visuals, you can fill an hour and a half without trouble. The fact is, I can’t remember the title of the last road movie I saw, the one with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, the one where all the money runs out but in the end the rich guy pulls a few hundred thousand out of his secret money belt and gives it to the poor guy. That isn’t what road movies were like in the 30s. As the road song was being invented, the ‘road’ in road movies went nowhere, as in The Grapes of Wrath or Wild Boys of The Road, a Warner Brothers film about scared teenagers looking for comradeship when they had no reason to expect anything but death. That’s why the road songs of the prewar period always carry a sense of going down – not exactly of failure, because success is not even a possibility, but of disaster, or surrender, an acceptance of the fact that you can’t do whatever it is that you want to do, that you can’t be whatever you want to be. You can’t even begin to imagine what you’d really like to be, where you’d really like to go. On that road, with no money, no family, no one to meet, every place is just like the last place, and the last place is just like the place you’ll be next.”

(Excerpted from Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings, 1968-2010)

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