Classic Car Chases

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10 May 2017

Start your engines! A selection of programming options to consider before the release of Baby Driver.

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With the release of Baby Driver looming in our rearview mirror and an accompanying season programmed by director Edgar Wright running at the BFI in June, we're popping the hood on the venerable movie tradition of the car chase.

We've compiled a new collection that gathers together a range of classic pursuits from throughout cinema history, while below we've highlighted a few picks that serve as an essential introduction to the very best wheelmen in the business, all taken from the car chase's original heyday in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Bullitt

BullittChase sequences have featured in film since its earliest stages and cars have been included since motor vehicles became widely available, but 1968's Bullitt was a key point of maturation for the form. Back projection, studio shooting and suggestive editing schemes were out; realism, location filming and long-form montages were in. Advanced filmmaking techniques meant that the movement, speed and space essential to the car chase could be captured more effectively; the set piece had been given a tune-up and was running better than ever.

The Italian Job

The Italian JobJust one year after its arrival, the modern car chase was subject to playful modification, tinkering and subversion. The American muscle car trope established by Bullitt - which would persist elsewhere for decades - was usurped by the plucky British Mini Cooper in 1969's The Italian Job. This quirky crime caper proved that you didn't need a lot of horse-power to have a high-energy chase - it's not what under the hood that counts, it's who's behind the wheel.

The French Connection

The French ConnectionGritty, tough and street-smart, The French Connection is a visceral crime thriller, with a gut-punch car chase to match. Pitting car against train and cop against criminal, the action cross-cuts between a bumper's-eye-view of the street pursuit and a hostage situation in an elevated metro carriage. It's an iconic sequence soundtracked by blaring horns and screeching tyres, and perfectly befitting our ramshackle, rough around the edges anti-hero, Popeye Doyle.

To Live and Die in L.A.

To Live and Die in L.A.A decade after The French Connection, director William Friedkin underscored his mastery of the car chase sequence with another impressive example appearing in To Live and Die in L.A. There's some similarities with its predecessor - maverick cops, plenty of chaos and the use of trains - but also some valuable new additions that moved the form in a new direction. Driving on a freeway against the flow of traffic and showdowns in storm drains would become important touchstones for subsequent car chases.

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