Vroom. Vroom. America gets going -- by bus, boat, car, plane, and train. Braking, however, is another event altogether. The catchy chant of the winning young imp in the ubiquitous car commercial says it all: We've zoom, zoom, zoomed through the past century. Accordingly there are few better metaphors than transportation to define us as a culture (sorry, Starbucks!). In conjunction with the "See America!" travel-ephemera exhibition, the Wolfsonian-FIU taps into our road-tripping national psyche with its Reel America Summer Film Series, unspooling most Thursdays in June and July and offering a glimpse into our mythical obsession with motion and the godlike creatures who gave us "wings."
First on the bill is the beloved automotive. Excuse My Dust (sequel to 1919's The Roaring Road) is a silent black-and-white feature from 1920, directed by Sam Wood and starring the era's hugely popular Wallace Reid as "Toodles" Walton. In this romantic racing flick, intrigue ensues as the recently married Walton is hired to test-drive a new engine for one race-car company while a competitor tries to steal the top-secret design. In real life, actor Reid also was on the fast track: A train-wreck victim, he subsequently became addicted to morphine and died in 1923 at age 30 after making about 185 movies.
Two experimental films accompany Excuse My Dust. Len Lye's Rhythm, a spot commissioned by Chrysler Corporation in 1957, shows a minute of car manufacturing (edited from an hour and a half of footage) set to African drumming. Although stuffy Chrysler rejected Lye's final product, the New York Art Directors Club awarded it first prize in its television-advertising category that year (later disqualifying the win because the spot never aired). The other short that will screen, Shift, made between 1972 and 1974 by Maya Deren Award-winner and San Francisco Art Institute professor Ernie Gehr, turns a bird's-eye view of a busy city street into the four-wheel equivalent of a corps de ballet.
Now with gas prices on the rise, your drive to drive may be stalled, but at least onscreen you can still get your engine revving.
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