In a lot of ways, film can be best described as a journey.
Filmmakers are perennially searching for new and evermore creative ways to carry their stories from A to B. As the audience travels along that linear plot, clever settings and themes will shape the road through character twists and transformational arcs along the way.
With the vehicle as the motif, we are strapped in the front seat with the protagonist. The audience becomes the passenger, the filmmaker sets the pace, shifting gears as the script unfolds.
La Strada (1954)
Throughout Federico Fellini’s illustrious career as a master filmmaker, three familiar settings regularly appear in his work: The church; representing rules and conformity. The circus; a symbol of youth and childhood innocence. The road; a personal voyage of self-discovery.
All of Fellini’s work seems to flow from the ticking heart of a bustling Italy: the sights, the aromas, the conversations, the passion. It was with La Strada however, that his more personal contribution to cinema came.
In his own words:
La Strada or The Road is ‘a complete catalogue of my entire mythological world, a dangerous representation of my identity that was undertaken with no precedent whatsoever’.
La Strada follows circus brute Zampanó (Anthony Quinn) and his gentle, juxtaposed partner Gelsomina (Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina) as they roll from town to town through the roads of a rural post-war Italy.
Developed from his own screenplay and co-written with Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano, the film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1956 and remains to be one of the most influential films of all time.
The Wages Of Fear (1953)
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s tightly-packed explosive dynamo still wields as much force on today’s audience as it would have in 1953.
Politicised drama, nerve-wrenching thriller, action-infused adventure. The story seems to tip-toe along a convoluted precipice… the dialogue frog-leaps from French, English, Italian and Spanish. The location set somewhere in Latin America, but otherwise nowhere in particular. The various characters like wandering nomads with no map out or means of escape – a sort of Tennessee Williams-esque Camino Real if you will.
Clouzot introduces us to this dusty outpost setting as if we have hitched a ride there ourselves…
We meet several wanderers like Frenchmen Mario and Jo, the former a lady’s man and adventurer, pinned on the wall by his bedside what he refers to as ‘the crown jewels’… an old one-way metro ticket out of Paris his only reminder of home. The latter an ageing ex-con, now clearly out of place under a relentless sun in a 3-piece suit.
When a destructive blaze threatens to incinerate the profits of a nearby oil-field, the directors of the U.S conglomerate S.O.C hatch a plan to transport tanks of highly explosive nitroglycerine precariously through the winding roads and up into the mines in order to cap the leaking fuel. Their attempt to lure those in the town as drivers with an offer of $2000 US dollars upon return from this dangerous mission gives those trapped individuals some hope of escape.
It was not surprising that Hollywood viewed the themes of Anti-Americanism and Globalisation in The Wages Of Fear tantamount to retrograde, and as a result several scenes were omitted from the U.S release.
Nevertheless, Clouzot would be awarded both the Golden Bear and the Palme d’Or in 1953 at the Berlinale and Cannes Film Festival respectively.
Thieves’ Highway (1949)
A year before director Jules Dassin would be informed by bigwig Darryl F. Zanuck on his lot at Fox that he would be blacklisted from Hollywood, and in turn banished from the United States for his political beliefs, came the fantastic noir film Thieves’ Highway…
Teamed up with the talented screenwriter A.I Bezzerides, and based on his novel Thieves’ Market, the film boldly encapsulates the working class lives of ‘long haul boys’… those drivers that deliver goods to America’s markets.
Praised for it’s location shooting and accurate depiction of market life, the film was mostly shot around produce markets in the San Francisco area and many workers were used as extras.
Upon his homecoming from the war, Nico Garcos (Richard Conte) learns that his elderly, immigrant father has been crippled as a result of the unethical dealings of produce dealer Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb). With a heavy heart intent on revenge, he drives a truckload of apples down to San Francisco to confront Figlia, but this is only the beginning of the heartbreak and tragedy for our sentimental protagonist who will risk all to restore his family’s honour.
Despite Jules Dassin’s subsequent disapproval of the altered, happier ending scenes, he would be by that time working on Night & The City offshore in London amid the political lunacy of the McCarthyism witch hunt.