Drive: Journeys Through Film, Cities and Landscapes, By Iain Borden

The book generally cruises along at an exhilarating speed over scenic routes

You’ve seen the films, now read the book. Well, some of the films: Bullitt with its phenomenal car chase, ditto The French Connection, maybe Mad Max, not to mention Grand Prix, Thelma & Louise and Smokey and the Bandit.

These are some leading examples of the vroom-vroom school of film-making. Iain Borden, an architectural professor whose previous books include Skateboarding, now turns his attention to larger wheels, mainly of the sort that feature conspicuously in petrol-driven movies. 

Although, as often with Reaktion’s intriguing publications, Drive sometimes takes an annoying detour into structuralism-speak, it generally cruises along at an exhilarating speed over scenic routes. This is one of the few books whose chapters are organised by speed limits. Chapter One: urban motoring at 30mph. Two: rural roads up to 55mph. Three: motorways at 70mph. Four: motorway madness at 100mph.

Borden claims to have made an exhausting journey through 450 films, from the 1900 short with the blunt title How it Feels to be Run Over. Many familiar titles have motoring as one of their themes. A billion cars were manufactured during the last century, so it is no wonder that the silver screen shows how they affect our lives – and indeed deaths, as in JG Ballard’s Crash. 

In the high-powered Grapes of Wrath, it is thanks to their Hudson Super Six that the family of Oklahoma sharecroppers can make their epic trek west. Paper Moon is a far-from-depressing Depression yarn in which the protagonists chug along a mere vehicle-length ahead of poverty. As in On the Road, a speeding vehicle can mean freedom and two fingers signalling a U-turn to convention.

Borden gives to The Italian Job (original version) the credit for first showing, via those cheeky Minis in Turin, the wicked joys of urban driving. He clearly didn’t stay for the film’s credits, as he misses off the final part of its creator’s name. When I wrote the scriptwriter’s obituary three years ago, he was called Troy Kennedy Martin.