music friday: 1987
african-american directors series: symbiopsychotaxiplasm: take one (willliam greaves, 1968)

duel (steven spielberg, 1971)

This is the thirty-first film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 31 is called "Cut to the Chase Week":

Quick! What do Watergate, pet rocks, bell bottoms, roller skates, disco, and afros have in common? The 1970s! Do you know what else we got in the '70s? Nothing less than JawsAlienRockyTaxi DriverThe Godfather, and Star Wars, that's what. But there's a little subsection of 1970s moviemaking you might not have thought to consider: The Golden Age of the Car Chase. The '70s was the decade for 'em. More violent, more exciting, and more real (shove off, CGI), the decade's car chases threw around unbelievable amounts of gasoline-propelled metal in raw, exhilarating ways and paved the way for such epic chases as those seen in RoninThe Italian Job remake, the entire Fast and the Furious franchise, Death ProofDrive, and Baby Driver, to name a few. So strap in, rev your engine, and hang on to your mutton chops—this week is gonna be a wild ride!

The challenge this week is to chase down and watch a movie from Karl Janssen's The Golden Age of Car Chase Films (1970s) list.

Pauline Kael once told a story about sitting around watching the Bela Lugosi Dracula with some academic friends. As the post-mortem conversation went:

We had begun to surprise each other by the affectionate, nostalgic tone of our mock erudition when the youngest person present, an instructor in English, said, in clear, firm tone, "The Beast with Five Fingers is the greatest horror picture I've ever seen." Stunned that so bright a young man could display such shocking taste, preferring a Warner, Brothers forties mediocrity to the classics, I gasped, "But why?" And he answered, "Because it's completely irrational. It doesn't make any sense, and that's the true terror."

Duel makes no sense. And that's the true terror.

It's worth noting that Duel is indeed a tense picture, something of a small masterpiece, stripped to its essentials. (This may have been even more true in its original form as a TV movie, since 16 minutes were later added by Spielberg for its theatrical release.) I think its reputation is greater than it might deserve, because it's called Spielberg's first feature and in many ways it is recognizably his. (It ranks #959 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.) Duel is good, Duel is efficient, Duel shows a promising film maker, but his next (first theatrical) feature, The Sugarland Express, is a better movie.


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