Highways, girls and drugs: Richard C. Sarafian’s Vanishing Point pays homage to the B-movie. Released in 1971 in the USA, the film ran in the same year in the FRG under the title Fluchtpunkt San Francisco but it was only in 1975 that the film showed as Grenzpunkt Null in East German cinemas. It left on viewers an indelible impression that remains fresh to this day. Grenzpunkt Null was cult in the GDR and thanks to the hero’s white wheels, a Dodge Challenger (1) it continues to make its mark amongst racing car freaks in united Germany. (www. famouscars.de )
The film’s main protagonist is Kowalski (Barry Newman), a Vietnam War veteran, ex-cop and ex-racing driver in one: an archetype of American cinema. He drives cars all over the States, occasionally laying bets on the time he’ll need to cover one route or another. On his last journey to California the police begin to follow him. But the blind radio-DJ Super Soul (Cleavon Little) helps out by intercepting police radio and sending tips about the pursuers to Kowalski via his show or telepathically. Whilst everyone who helps Kowalski to dodge the police – the bikers, hippies and the Black DJ – symbolises opposition in the USA, Kowalski himself comes over as a pretty a-political hedonist, even though it was his courage that first brought him into conflict with the police force – all members of which are shown to be harrowingly racist, by the way. Why does a fascination with the film persist to this day among fans in their mid-40s, who grew up under the GDR regime?
(1) The Hamburger Abendblatt identifies clear reminders of Vanishing Point in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proofs whilst others even, pay tribute: the Spiegel refers in its review to the white Dodge Challenger as the same “dream vehicle” as in Vanishing Point. And the taz has Kim, a heroine of Death Proof, give the same reply as in the film: “Most women don’t know ‘Vanishing Point’.
Richard C. Sarafian, U 1971, 94min