Five Easy Pieces

Culture Warrior

A week and a half ago, Anthony Hemingway’s Red Tails was released. On the surface, the film breathes Hollywood oxygen through-and-through. It’s a WWII era action film that uses its setting for broad family-friendly cheese-banter and CGI-heavy eye candy rather than an opportunity for a sober interrogation of history. Red Tails looks and feels like any Hollywood film geared toward as mass an audience as possible. But the studio that’s distributing it – 20th Century Fox – didn’t pay a dime to produce it. The reported $58 million cost to make Red Tails came solely out of the pocket of producer George Lucas, who had been attempting to get a film about the Tuskegee Airmen made since the early 1990s. He was continually met with resistance from a studio system that saw anything less than the biggest guaranteed appeal to the largest possible audience as a “risk,” including a heroic true story about African-American airmen. The ideology that closed the doors on George Lucas of all people reflects the same business mentality that inspired Jeffrey Katzenberg’s lengthy warning to other studios in a memo written during the same years that Lucas was first trying to get Red Tails financed.  In the memo, Katzenberg warned studios regarding their practice of exponentially centralizing all their resources in a few very expensive projects, resulting in high risk, little room for experimentation, and an increasing reliance on that coveted monolith known as the “mass audience” (which, to make things even more complicated, now includes […]

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Culture Warrior

As much as I admire the incomparable films made during the era, New Hollywood (the term referring to innovative, risk-taking films made funded by studios from the mid-60s to the mid-70s) is a title that I find a bit problematic. The words “New Hollywood” better characterize the era that came after what the moniker traditionally refers to. Think about it: if “Old” or “Classical” Hollywood refers to the time period that stretches roughly from 1930 to 1960 when the studios as an industry maintained such an organized and regimented domination over and erasure of any other potential conception over what a film playing in any normal movie theater could be, then if we refer to the time period from roughly 1977 to now “New Hollywood,” the term then appropriately signifies a new manifestation of the old: regimentation, predictability, and limitation of expression. Where Old Hollywood studios would produce dozens of films of the same genre, New Hollywood (as I’m appropriating the term) could acutely describe the studios’ comparably stratified output of sequels, remakes, etc. What we traditionally understand to be New Hollywood was not so much its own monolithic era in Hollywood’s legacy, but a brief, strange, and wonderful lapse between two modes of Hollywood filmmaking that have dominated the industry’s history.

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Criterion Files

Bob Rafelson’s highly underrated The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) works as something of an unofficial sequel to his beloved previous film and the rightful centerpiece of the BBS Story, Five Easy Pieces (1970). After the “farcidelia” of Head, Rafelson’s second film could not be further from its opposite in tone, aesthetics, and overall relation to the counterculture, whose narrative absence is used to great effect in the latter film. It wasn’t until Rafelson’s third film as director that his identity as a filmmaker started to solidify through his continued exploration of themes shared between films. Like many filmmakers of the New Hollywood generation, Rafleson possessed symptoms of the self-conscious auteur, but the similarities between Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens go far beyond surface connections that denote a consistent cinematic personality behind the camera in terms of themes and style, but instead point to a rare kind of filmmaker altogether during New Hollywood or any era.

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Criterion Files

As I argued in my introduction to our coverage of the BBS box set, this major Criterion release both celebrates New Hollywood and complicates the master narrative informing the way in which the era is typically remembered. Alongside classics of the era like Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show, the set also includes films that were received badly or misunderstood in their time like Head and The King of Marvin Gardens which can now be reassessed with the benefit of hindsight. But perhaps the most interesting juxtaposition to the canonized works of New Hollywood here is the presence of the absolutely obscure, the completely forgotten, the movies that up until now were lost in time and memory. This set marks the first time Jack Nicholson’s Drive, He Said (1970) and Henry Jaglom’s A Safe Place (1971) have been released in any home video format. These films are, in a sense, correlated with New Hollywood because of their themes, narratives, characters, and their temporal and economic contexts, but unlike the three heavy-hitters in this set, watching them now is, by comparison, to see a film with a forty-year-old blank slate – a unique and rare experience when one contrasts watching these films to, say, Easy Rider, a movie inseparable from an ongoing and reiterated forty-year-long conversation about what it meant then and means today. Separately, these are interesting films on their own, but together, Drive, He Said and A Safe Place point to the fact that there’s […]

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Criterion Files

The most difficult thing about watching seminal, groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting movies is that it’s impossible to see them, feel them, or experience them the way they were in the moment, before they became influential enough to seem almost unexceptional by retrospective comparison. It’s difficult to marvel at the audacious camera angles or fragmented narrative of Citizen Kane in an age where Gaspar Noe and Guillermo Arriaga exist, or be shocked by the expertly-crafted profanity of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in a post-David Mamet world. These movies may remain strong and, in other ways, timeless, but even with the very best, the “moment” of greatness is lost by the sheer force of its effect on cinema that came after. Films, after all, aren’t made in a vacuum. They are the constant subject of influence, and rarely anything influences a film more than another great film.

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Criterion Files

For the rest of the summer, Adam and Landon will be focusing on films included in the Criterion Collection released by the legendary BBS Production Company whose anti-establishment films rocked the world of Hollywood in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So dust of your old LPs, set out on the highway, and embrace your countercultural sensibilities with one of the most eccentric and essential stories of New Hollywood. When rummaging through the Criterion Collection’s available box sets, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the serious and traditional role that authorship has played in forming both the Collection and its reputation. Whether it’s five films by John Cassavetes, Sergei Eisenstein’s sound years, or Truffaut’s cinematic adventures of Antoine Doinel, the Collection places the director as the primary author of the text, just as they do when ascribing possession to individual titles (“Orson Welles’s F for Fake,” for instance). Then came the BBS set, which frames authorship to a group of films not because of the signatures of the directors who made each individual title, but as a group effort through the umbrella of a production company. BBS may refer specifically to Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Steve Blauner, but the talent pool that determined the artistic output of this company was hardly exclusive to them, incorporating the then-young talents of Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, and Henry Jaglom. None of these figures solely inhabited clear and exclusive occupational signposts like “writer,” “director,” “producer,” or “actor,” but a combined contributions to […]

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Every day, come rain or shine or internet tubes breaking, Film School Rejects showcases a trailer from the past. Filth is what leads to maggots and riots. It’s true. This trailer is a showcase of Jack Nicholson‘s immense talent, and it’s no wonder why this Bob Rafelson film won so many awards. Check out the trailer for yourself:

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Upon discussion and deliberation between Landon Palmer and Adam Charles (the two primary authors of the Criterion Files column) it was decided that due to the column’s state of near infancy and a small number of articles to choose from they would not reflect upon each other’s incisive works throughout the year of what was considered, or what they felt to be, the articles each were either most impressed by from the other, or considered the most indicative of what the column represents – and instead opted to choose 10 releases of the Criterion company in 2010 they felt most noteworthy of attention.

Delving into each other’s works even if the output was extended to 26 articles each over the course of a full year to choose the favorites from would actually prove to be a much simpler task than what was done for this year’s Year in Review. Trying to narrow down a list of the most significant Criterion Collection releases of any given year to a list of 10 is like…well, trying to list the 10 best of anything of which everything deserves attention. So, take these not as a slight against any of the other releases by any means (please, see every film they include in the library because they’ve selected it for a reason), these just happen to be a consolidation of releases Landon and Adam considered either significant for the availability on home video, marked a trend of the company’s direction of material to include in the library, personal affections, or were simply just incredible works in presentation of the picture previously not able to be experienced from prior releases.

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Imagine for a second that Disney grew weary of raking in piles of cash from the Jonas Brothers. Imagine that, instead of merely cutting them loose (and leaving them to their own disastrous devices, ala Ms. Lohan), Disney went a more subversive route. Imagine Disney casting them in a surrealistic, experimental patchwork of a film that lampooned the vapidity of pop culture and consumerism – and left both the Jonases and their fans feeling totally mindfucked. That’s essentially what happened when Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner – creators of The Monkees – released a film called Head…

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published: 10.30.2014
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published: 10.29.2014
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published: 10.27.2014
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published: 10.24.2014
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