23 August 2004 | bbhlthph
A satirical look at the automobile culture
The obsession of modern society with the ownership of a personal automobile is a very appropriate subject for satire. One could consider the role of private vehicles as one of the important elements in population control (although limited in its value by the associated medical costs!). Alternatively one could assess the role of the automobile in the atmospheric pollution that threatens dramatic changes of climate which will have a devastating effect on the lives of all of us; or one could look at the long term impact of more and more fertile agricultural land becoming sterilized by the construction of wide concrete freeways. There is plenty of scope for the inventive film maker to deal with such major themes. Instead most of the films dealing with this issue which have been released so far, raise only such trivial concerns as the infatuation of teenagers with acquiring ownership of their own vehicle, or occasionally with the problems associated with 'driving under the influence'. The film Honky Tonk Freeway is a noble exception to this collection of triviata. In it, the director John Schlesinger takes a long and very devastating look at yet another aspect of the automobile culture, the need for small towns to be closely connected to a major highway network if they are not to just fade away.
The film features Ticklaw, a Florida town that has become largely dependent upon the income brought in by short stay tourists heading towards the nearby coast. A new freeway under construction does not provide a promised access junction and the long term implications for the town are serious. The story line is the series of increasingly dramatic steps taken by the town to ensure that it remains an attractive stopping off point for through travellers. The film is a comedy with an edge and with very sharp characterisation. Unfortunately much of it is overdrawn to the point where it almost becomes pure slapstick, and for me this detracts a lot from the message of the film. However, although overlong, it remains quite enjoyable to watch; and the sequences showing an elephant being trained to waterski to entertain the visitors are almost etched in my memory. This could have been a really great film, but unfortunately much of it was so overdrawn that I can only recognise it as a near miss.