The paper analyzes the ways in which Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963) and Steven Spielberg’s Duel (1971) draw on and challenge selected road movie conventions by adhering to the genre’s traditional reliance on cultural critique revolving around the themes of rebellion, transgression and roguery. In particular, the films seem to confront the classic road movie format through their adoption of nomadic narrative structure and engagement in a mockery of subversion where the focus on social critique is intertwined with a deep sense of alienation and existential loss “laden with psychological confusion and wayward angst” (Laderman 83). Following this trend, Spielberg’s film simultaneously depoliticizes the genre and maintains the tension between rebellion and tradition where the former shifts away from the conflict with conformist society to masculine anxiety, represented by middle class, bourgeois and capitalist values, the protagonist’s loss of innocence in the film’s finale, and the act of roguery itself. Meanwhile, Anger’s poetic take on the outlaw biker culture, burgeoning homosexuality, myth and ritual, and violence and death culture approaches the question of roguery by undermining the image of a dominant hypermasculinity with an ironic commentary on sacrilegious and sadomasochistic practices and initiation rites in the gay community. Moreover, both Duel’s demonization of the truck, seen as “an indictment of machines” or the mechanization of life (Spielberg qtd. in Crawley 26), and Scorpio Rising’s (homo)eroticization of a motorcycle posit elements of social critique, disobedience and nonconformity within a cynical and existential framework, hence merging the road movie’s traditional discourse with auteurism and modernism.
In this paper I discuss the ways in which Bruce Baillie’s Mass for the Dakota Sioux (1964) and Quixote (1965) evoke Native American Indian heritage and western-hero road poems by challenging the concept of the American landscape and incorporating conventions traditionally associated with cinéma pur, cinéma vérité, and the city symphony. Both pictures, seen as largely ambiguous and ironic travelogue forms, expose their audiences to “the sheer beauty of the phenomenal world” (Sitney 2002: 182) and nurture nostalgic feelings for the lost indigenous civilizations, while simultaneously reinforcing the image of an American conquistador, hence creating a strong sense of dialectical tension. Moreover, albeit differing in a specific use of imagery and editing, the films rely on dense, collage-like and often superimposed images, which clearly contribute to the complexity of mood conveyed on screen and emphasize the striking conceptual contrast between white American and Indian culture. Taking such an assumption, I argue that although frequently referred to as epic road poems obliquely critical of the U.S. westward expansion and manifest destiny, the analyzed works’ use of plot reduction, observational and documentary style as well as kinaesthetic visual modes and rhythmic editing derive primarily from the cinéma pur’s camerawork, the cinéma vérité’s superstructure, and the city symphony’s spatial arrangement of urban environments. Such multifaceted inspirations do not only diversify Mass’ and Quixote’s non-narrative aesthetics, but also help document an intriguing psychogeography of the 1960s American landscapes, thus making a valuable contribution to the history of experimental filmmaking dealing with Native American Indian heritage.