director Peter Weir
Peter Weir made many very good films over several decades, a spectrum of styles and stories from The Last Wave (1977) to Witness (1985) to The Truman Show (1998), there is a lot of range. So maybe it’s not so strange that his debut feature, the 1974 The Cars That Ate Paris, is both obscure and yet influential.
Though it had direct influence on both Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000 (1975) and George Miller’s Mad Max (1979), The Cars That Ate Paris is less well-known and less successful. For which the latter may be the cause of the former.
It’s an art film posing as a trash film. Maybe that’s more in the marketing than in the make-up. The title reckons of drive-in movies, but it’s really metaphorical. This fictional town of Paris in rural Australia does become devoured by their car culture. Of course, their car culture consists of causing car accidents to wayward travelers, then mending the people that survive and turning the wrecked vehicles into proto-punk demolition derby things, fueled by the village’s youth. I guess that is a hard story to market easily.
The tone falls into the cracks between comedy and exploitation action and something more stylish, artistic, and profound. Which is why it’s hard to know exactly how to feel about it.
But it does have this iconic VW bug covered in spikes and more than a few germs of ideas lurking to inspire other future film-makers into something more significant.