By Matthew Turner
When I think of home, I don’t think of the place I grew up or comfy armchairs and fireplaces. Contrary to received wisdom, I don't even fantasise about somewhere stationary. Trains, boats, cars, aeroplanes are what I dream of; transient places where, for some reason, I feel most rooted.
I have had my most memorable reading experiences and the best thoughts when I have been on the move: my face pressed against a train window; my drink moving magically across a formica table on a rough ferry crossing. It seems that for me there is a link between movement and creativity, as though the turbulence of passing air makes ideas fall into place in unexpected ways, and this in turn makes me feel relaxed and comfortable, content even.
I am not alone in this. Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita in the back seat of his Oldsmobile as his wife Véra drove across the US in pursuit of rare butterflies. They never once owned a house. Anthony Burgess, on his way to self-imposed tax exile in Malta, hammered away at his typewriter in a Bedford Dormobile, also driven by his wife, as they passed through France, Italy and Sicily. He once said that his output from the period “carried the breath of the open road”. Then there is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who took flight in his aeroplane in search of the best atmosphere for reading and writing.
I like transitional spaces because the activities they offer are so limited. You can’t do much else than sit and read or watch a film; you can just do nothing and need not feel guilty about it. It seems the opposite of the hyperconnected world we live in now. Boredom, which was once frustrating, is now a luxury, allowing the mind to drift freely, as it did when we were younger. And unlike in life generally, when you’re in transit you know where you’re going and exactly how you are getting there.
After leaving university and getting my first job, I thought it was only a matter of time before I would own my own house. It would be flooded with natural light, like the interiors in the Barratt home catalogue my parents received in the post. I imagined it being airy, uncluttered, quiet — a place to escape from the stresses of work. Instead, I’ve mostly been arguing with flatmates about whose turn it is to put out the bins. Moving every year, high rents, mould, attempting to create a home at the expense of a deposit you can’t afford to lose — my fantasy is to avoid all that completely, or at least to confront the precarity of life as a non-homeowner without all the expensive artifice.
Could something as fleeting as a journey be turned into a way of life? If so, I would like to make my home in the purple 1974 Cadillac Eldorado convertible with leopard print interior in Tony Scott’s 1993 film, True Romance.
Road movies are always about shedding a sense of home and finding it again, transformed into something more disparate and less tangible. It’s usually not so much about things that can be bought and more about friendship and love. The script for the film was written by Quentin Tarantino, who sold it to fund his directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs. This was a blessing of sorts, because the resulting film, albeit still extremely violent, has a tenderness and warmth that I’m not sure Tarantino is capable of pulling off.
It begins in a Detroit cinema showing The Street Fighter trilogy, where Alabama Whitman (Bama for short, played by Patricia Arquette) spills popcorn on an Elvis- and film-obsessed slacker, Clarence Worley (played by Christian Slater). They get talking, have sex, and Bama confesses to being a call girl hired by Clarence’s boss. The next day they get married. After Clarence, who is provoked by a visitation of Elvis in a bathroom mirror, kills Bama’s pimp and accidentally steals his cocaine, they hit the road to Los Angeles. When gangsters are in pursuit, having a fixed address is dangerous.
On their journey it might seem as if Clarence and Alabama have shed all the trappings of house and home, but the hallmarks are still there, just scattered across the open road. The car is the living room, the pastel interiors of diners are kitchens and dining rooms, and in one particularly memorable scene, a phone booth becomes a bedroom. It’s a grand mansion, an estate, just not in the way you might usually think.
Being in continually unfamiliar surroundings gives road trips a dreamy, untethered quality and True Romance is no different. The couple regularly seem lost in small moments, as if the events unfolding around them are inconsequential. Bama practises cartwheels before Clarence admits to his father that he’s killed a man. The couple make out while their yuppy contact sells 200k worth of cocaine to a film producer. Deep in a drug deal and moments before a shootout, Bama writes a note to Clarence on a napkin: “You’re so cool!”
I’m not sure whether the ending, where we see Bama and Clarence on a beach in Mexico with their son Elvis, having eluded both the gangsters and the law, is a truly happy one. It could be heaven, it could be a fever dream. Most road movies — Bonnie and Clyde, Thelma & Louise, Queen & Slim — end in disaster and it makes me wonder how long it’s possible to resist the gravitational pull of a traditional home. But because I’m not actually running from anything, I think I’ll be just fine, forever cruising down the freeway in my Cadillac, wearing my gold Elvis sunglasses.
Matthew Turner is the author of ‘Loom’, published by Gordian Projects. His work has appeared in Art Review, Frieze and the Architectural Review
Photography: Alamy Stock Photo; Moviestore Collection Ltd/Alamy; Everett Collection Inc/Alamy