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Five Easy Pieces: Criterion Collection DVD Review

Five Easy Pieces: Criterion Collection

June 24, 2015

Director: Bob Rafelson,
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Susan Anspach, Lois Smith, Ralph Waite, Billy “Green” Bush, Irene Dailey, Toni Basil, Sally Struthers,

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DVD Review

Jack Nicholson had one of the best runs of any actor during the 1970s and that’s saying a lot when you consider it was at a time when the likes of Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, among others, were doing some of their very best work. Nicholson actually made a big splash with his scene-stealing supporting role in Easy Rider (1969), which kickstarted a fantastic run of films, starting with Five Easy Pieces (1970) and continuing with notable efforts like The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), The Last Detail (1973), and Chinatown (1974) – and this is before the halfway point of the decade! Perhaps his most fruitful collaborator during this period was filmmaker Bob Rafelson whom he co-wrote The Monkees movie Head (1968) and directed Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens.

Five Easy Pieces is one of those complex character studies that typified some of the best American films from the 1970s. Bobby Dupea (Nicholson) is a former piano prodigy who spends his days working on an oilrig with his best friend Elton (Bush). As Bill Murray would later say in Stripes (1981), he’s “part of a lost and restless generation.” He’s someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly which makes one wonder why he lives with Rayette (Black), a nice enough person but clearly not Bobby’s intellectual equal and he barely tolerates her needy behavior. One gets the feeling that Bobby is punishing himself.

He is a restless soul as evident in a fascinating scene where, frustrated at being stuck in a traffic jam on the interstate, he gets out of his car and starts playing the piano on a back of a nearby truck. Bobby wants to fit in – hence the blue-collar employment – but he keeps sabotaging his jobs and relationships with an acute self-awareness and his rejection of familial responsibilities. This is a slice of life film whose story doesn’t begin properly until 30 minutes in when Bobby finds out that his estranged father is ill and decides to take road trip to see him. Nicholson delivers a brilliant, gritty performance that would typify a lot of his work in the ‘70s. He’s not afraid to play an unlikable guy who treats those around him poorly. Bobby is full of anger – at the world, at others and at himself.

Rafelson has said that he saw Five Easy Pieces about a man “condemned to search for the meaning of his life.” Bobby spends the entire film discontented, looking for something he can never find, doomed to spend his life searching for the meaning of it all. Rafelson and Nicholson would work together again several times, but this maybe their best collaboration to date.

Special Features:

This title originally appeared in the Criterion Collection’s excellent box set America Lost and Found: The BBS Story and has the same transfer and extras.

There is an audio commentary by director Bob Rafelson and interior designer Toby Rafelson. Toby points out that the entire film was shot on practical locations. Originally, she didn’t want to do the film but Bob convinced her when he told that he was going to use their own furniture (!). By keeping it under budget and on time, he had final cut and could also cast whomever he wanted. Naturally, Bob talks about working with Nicholson on this engaging track.

“Soul Searching in Five Easy Pieces” features an interview with Rafelson where he talks about the film’s development. He was nervous about doing Five Easy Pieces because it was the first time he worked with actual, serious actors. He had written two screenplays but didn’t like them. He showed them to screenwriter Carol Eastman and she threw them out and wrote her own.

“BBStory” is a 2009, 46-minute documentary about BBS Productions and features the likes of Rafelson, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, and several others. It starts off with the social and political conditions that gave birth to the company. The studio system was collapsing and BBS made films that reflected the times that people were living in.

“Bob Rafelson at AFI” features excerpts from an audio recording of Rafelson speaking at the American Film Institute. He talks about his career and the films he made for BBS.

Finally, there are two teaser trailers and one full-length trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 96%

Website: http://www.criterion.com/films/27529-five-easy-pieces

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