Sunday, 28 February 2016

Duel - Script to Screen

Man versus machine with a hint of supernatural prowess, Steven Speilbergs, 1971 ‘Duel’  is a simple premise of a paranoid American man who is teased and tortured on the open road by a menacing eighteen wheeled articulated truck that seems to breath polluted fumes and a roar  with the intent to consume its prey for no apparent reason. With no real monologue and only seeing the truck drivers Cowboy boots and elbow “Duel” could of been a silent film with the real stars being the truck and Plymouth Valiant. ‘’building excitement from the most minimal ingredients and the simplest of situations”. (Maslin, 1983)

From start to finish ‘Duel’ is a highway roller-coaster of tense cat and mouse action, dominated by the aggressive truck that always seems to fill the screen (Fig. 01), with low camera angles (Fig. 02) and wide focal lengths, the truck dominates “an invader of the frame” (Muir, 2010), there is always a intense presence that this is not just a truck but a primevil hunter, a living possessed creature - how else can a oil smoking truck posses  so much pace. “Is the truck driven by the Devil?  Is it purely and simply Evil on 18-wheels”? Mann. (Fig. 03)

Speilburgs camera work diminishes the presence of David’s Winy weak powered Plymouth Valiant  that in itself has been stripped of all its masculine attributes. 

(Fig.01)                                              (Fig.02)                                          (Fig.03)

The characters seem to be second thought in this film, little is made clear about David’s background and what he is doing, but we do know that this guy has serious Man issues. He seems to be battling with his masculinity from the very beginning As David pulls into a gas station after his first encounter with the truck, the attendant refers to his request with “your the boss” and Mann’s simple response back “not in my house i’m not”.  Also when Mann enters the gas station to use the telephone he takes a very Masculine stance in shot (Fig. 04), but this seems to be stripped away by the use of compositional choice and the Laundry room aesthetic that he is in. “Mann’s exaggeratedly masculine pose is  suddenly and totally eclipsed by a symbol of domesticity (and again, stereotypical “women’s work)”. (Muir, 2010). Enhancing this man in a womans world, a females hand opens the washing machine framing David in the bubble of the door totally framing him in domesticity (Fig. 05).  The film consists of powerful subtext about the state of masculinity in 1970s America, at the rise of the nascent women’s liberation movement.
                                    (Fig.04)                                                                 (Fig.05) 

David’s masculinity is also challenged in a Roadside Diner that is filled with the typical “All American man” - Cowboy boots in force, moody stares and sweaty men that could clear the best of backstreet bars. David’s Anxiety overwhelms his senses, forcing him to question his purpose and confront his problems. This is true for David’s problem with the truck also, as he tries to hide in his Plymouth and wait it out , as soon as his wheels hits the tarmac, the Truck is there laying in wait ready to ambush at the first chance it can. forcing David to finally “Man-up” to the truck and in a western style suit-up scene, face his fears and the ultimate enemy head.

But with the small monologue of this film, we never see the driver and or if he survived, cementing the fact that the stars of the film are infarct the vehicles and you are left with the dieing 18 wheeled beast.

Thomas, W. (2009) Empire Essay: Duel At:
Muir, J. (2010) Duel (1971) At:
Maslin, J. (1983) Duel Review At:

Illustration List:
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