The first time Steve Kinsey saw “Smokey and the Bandit,” he was 13 or 14 — the ideal age for a rollicking road movie about fast cars, cute girls and a beer-smuggling trucker.
“It was very much a fun film for a teenager,” recalled Kinsey, audio-visual librarian at the San Luis Obispo City/County Library.
“Smokey and the Bandit” will screen later this month as part of the library’s free screening series “The Me Decade: The ’70s in Film.” Past entries have included “Animal House,” “Annie Hall,” ‘Chinatown” and “Taxi Driver.”
According to Kinsey, the 1970s represented a golden age for filmmakers and cinephiles alike.
“It was one of the best eras for film,” he said, a time of artistic experimentation, raw performances and unparalleled realism. “Everybody was trying something new.”
This month, Kinsey will show two movies inspired by Americans’ love affair with the road: “Two-Lane Blacktop,” screening Saturday, and “Smokey and the Bandit,” screening June 23. In both cases, he said. “The car is almost as big of a star as the actors.”
Released in 1971, “Two-Lane Blacktop” stars singer-songwriter James Taylor and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson as a pair of drifters who travel from town to town in their souped-up Chevrolet challenging locals to street races.
They pick up a female hitchhiker (Laurie Bird) in Flagstaff, Ariz., and encounter the driver of a 1970 Pontiac GTO (Warren Oates) in New Mexico. He challenges them to a cross-country race to Washington D.C.
“It’s kind of a snapshot of that era,” Kinsey said of “Two-Lane Blacktop,” an existential road movie in the vein of “Easy Rider” and “Vanishing Point.”
“Smokey and the Bandit,” released in 1977, stars Burt Reynolds as the truck driver Bo “Bandit” Darville, and Jackie Gleason as his nemesis, Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice.
With the help of trucker Cledus “Snowman” Snow (Jerry Reed) and his dog Fred, Bandit agrees to transport 400 cases of Coors from Texarkana, Texas, to Georgia — flouting the law at every turn. Along the way, he picks up runaway bride Carrie (Sally Field), whom he nicknames “Frog.”
Kinsey described the black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am that Reynolds drives in the film as “the coolest car,” adding that his family’s college-age tenant owned a white version of the classic muscle car.
“He’d drive it around at astronomic speeds on the Los Angeles highways. Of course, I idolized him,” Kinsey said with a laugh.
The screening series continues next month with two musicals, “Man of La Mancha” on July 14 and “Saturday Night Fever” on July 28.