- Drive: Journeys through Film, Cities and Landscapes by Iain Borden
Driving in film is not exactly an original topic. There is a vast bibliography on the road movie genre (most recently in European and Latin American film studies), accompanying the growing interest in travel, border crossing, tourism, migration and exile films, as well as in the relationship between film and movement more generally. The automobile has also been a frequently visited subject, inspiring approaches that range from material culture and visual studies to social history. Iain Borden’s Drive: Journeys through Film, Cities and Landscapes acknowledges and, to some extent, is indebted to most of these studies, sharing with them the “mobility paradigm” that has dominated the social sciences and humanities over the past two decades. In the introduction, the author announces a shift of attention away from the car as an object – the focus of Peter Wollen and Joe Kerr’s Autopia: Cars and Culture (2002), also published by Reaktion Books – to driving itself, understood as a rich and pleasurable cultural and social experience that, according to this author, has been largely neglected in the extant literature.
The book is divided into four parts, each corresponding to a different car speed. The first part, “Cities,” is concerned with urban driving at speeds of 30 mph; the second, “Journeys,” rises to 55 mph, as driving moves to the countryside and beyond (i.e., to roads rather than streets); then comes “Motopia,” dedicated to the freeway and motorway (70 mph and higher), followed by “Altered States,” which broaches more dramatic and extreme sensations (including crashes) taking place at over 100 mph. Though not devoid of inconsistencies (car accidents do occur at lower speeds), this structure allows the author to organise the variety of driving experiences considered and to advance the key components of his argument, which aims to sidestep anti-car sentiments and explore the “joys of automobility” (10). In fact, such joys are predicated on the idea that there is a profound affinity between cinema and driving insofar as movement is valued in the former while vision takes centre stage in the latter, or as Borden puts it, “driving embodies film, just as cinema visualizes driving” (13). In spite of this, most of the author’s analytical efforts go into demonstrating the rich array of sensory experiences and “sensual pleasures” (71) that, together with vision, are involved in driving, culminating in the contradictory experiences of the “modern-day sublime,” when high levels of “unruly speed” (168-169) are reached, enabling complex kinaesthetic (and synesthetic) sensations of eroticism, disorientation, serenity, frenzy, transgression, excitement, terror and death – all referred to as “altered states.” Following recent trends in the social sciences (notably, anthropology), no explanations – psychological, psychoanalytical, sociological or other – are mobilised to provide a more complete grasp of the “intoxicating” (9) thrills of driving. Instead, what guides this study is the notion of “non-representational theory,” which values “non-theorized everyday practices” rather than their academic representations (11), and according to which automobility is conceived, first and foremost, as “an enlivened bodily experience” (83).
The book is written in a clear yet subtle prose. Aware of the main theoretical debates, the author does justice to the films’ singular texts and textures, both in individual film analyses and thematic overviews. It is also beautifully illustrated, presenting us with a selection of high definition stills (most of them in colour) that add value to this glossy-papered edition without being merely decorative. In spite of favouring Hollywood productions and picking out for closer analysis some well-known titles (Taxi Driver, The Italian Job, Thelma and Louise, Bonnie and Clyde, Crash), Drive covers a wide range of films from the silent and interwar period up to the 2000s, including early and recent experimental films, Westerns (seen as forerunners of the road movie), film noir, gangster movies, European films and several remakes.
That the author is an architect (Borden teaches at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London) may account for the book’s special attention to space and “driving-related architectures” (7), which is particularly rewarding...