country blue, paul walker, 70s, cars

Having just returned from travelling through the worst traffic I’ve ever seen on Interstate 5 from Los Angeles to San Francisco, I find it bitterly appropriate that Paul Walker, co-star with Vin Diesel of Universal’s The Fast and Furious franchise, has died as a passenger in a fiery car crash just off the same highway I just travelled.

As cars slowed to a halt near Kettleman City for the umpteenth time on this stop and go journey, a lone silver ’90s Honda barreled past on the shoulder. Running out of gas? Celebrating hitting the over on the Eagles-Cardinals? Or perhaps some sort of doomed tribute to the street racer extraordinaire, born out of frustration?

So many things about Walker drip in irony, or just appear to be taken from one of Philip K. Dick’s novels. Just look at his name, and what he is famous for. Even in his film roles, he has seemed to blink in and out of existence. In Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers (2006), he plays a soldier who helps plant the flag on Iwo Jima, but his image is mistaken for another man’s in the famous photo, and he dies in action before the record can be set straight. In The Fast and Furious franchise itself, his character Brian O’Connor is constantly drifting from one worldy and world-weary locale to another, trying with only limited success to find a foothold. In perhaps the ultimate irony, the one film in the series in which Walker didn’t appear was the third, The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift. After its release, this film actually ended up being set farther into the future to accommodate the subsequent three franchise sequels as its ‘prequels.’ Thus, just in the last few months during the filming of the seventh film was the Fast & Furious universe making its way past the time of Drift. Of course, Paul Walker doesn’t exist now in ‘reality,’ so Brian O’ Connor may never appear in Tokyo.

When I heard of Walker’s death and thought of his work, I was reminded of a performance I saw recently in a film called Country Blue (1973). Jack Conrad wrote and directed this low budget picture, and despite getting great character actors such as David Huddleston and Dub Taylor, the budget was just too low to get actors such as Robert Blake or Jeff Bridges to play the lead, so Conrad took on the role himself. His Southern lost-boy racer/mechanic turned bandit for love has surface differences to Walker’s Brian O’Connor, but many more similarities deep down. Both of their personae were trapped inside their machines, and they could never stop being on the run.

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