(1970) dir. Bob Rafelson
A few years ago I read Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood his paean to the 1970’s as a great period in American cinema, which seemed due at the time as the Hollywood machine, even under the influence of the 1990’s “indie film”, was more and more a soulless factory of templated blockbusters. According to Biskind’s vision, the 1970’s was a time when the studio system broke apart and individual film authors really changed and challenged what mainstream film could produce until it was essentially killed by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and all their generations that followed.
It was not a great book. Kind of like a decent Rolling Stone article blown into a full-length book. But it did underscore for me how many major films of that era I had never seen. I wasn’t even particularly familiar with Bob Rafelson or had any real context for Peter Bogdonavich or some of the lesser-championed names of the era. And though this was influential on my thinking back when I read it, I didn’t ever actually get around to seeing any of the films really mentioned in that book.
So what made me rent Five Easy Pieces? I recalled it being hailed significantly there and have had a curiosity about it. I think, if I recall, Rafelson was one of the directors with whom I had the least familiarity that Biskind really seemed to love. Anyways, a Netflix rental queue is a weird thing. You can rearrange it ad nauseum and you may never actually see 99% of what’s in there.
So what did I think? I don’t really know. It’s an earnest film and Jack Nicholson is very good in it. It feels very different from other films, in tone, in character, in setting. I was thinking how the location shooting really felt to capture a real sense of place, either in the suburban homes in Texas or the isolated dreariness of the Northwest. I don’t know that I had any expectations, but it wouldn’t have been good to have any because the film really is its own thing. Very naturalistic, sad, and individual. I don’t have a lot else to say about it. I think it’s taking time to process.