Wednesday, June 18, 2014

#505: Five Easy Pieces

Directed by: BOB RAFELSON
1970, TSPDT Rank #369

Five Easy Pieces is a simple, yet extremely powerful film. It seems that it must have been quite groundbreaking when it was released, being a character study with an open-ended plotline and poetic visuals of bleakly beautiful American landscapes. This was a new kind of film that was emerging in American cinema at the time, so this film and its fascinating leading man (Jack Nicholson) must have made quite an impression on people who happened to go out and see it in 1970. I remember seeing parts of it on TV when I was about 11 or 12, and it definitely made an impression on me. Despite the fact that I didn't really understand what was going on in the film at that age, certain images (the brother in the neck brace, the mute father with the piercing gaze) and scenes (particularly the final shot) were burned in my memory, and flooded into my mind whenever I heard about this film later on. Seeing the film now, I found it just as vivid and haunting - only with the shattering impact of understanding. With a film like this one that has so many powerful moments and well-drawn characters, understanding the context and the "big picture" isn't entirely necessary in many respects, but with the extra layer the experience can be just that much more meaningful and effective. And that was certainly the case for me as I revisited this film from the perspective of experience.

Five Easy Pieces is one of the most potent portraits of restlessness, yearning, and disaffection that I've seen. But these feelings are mainly present in Jack Nicholson's main character, Bobby Dupea. The true brilliance of this film is in the richness of the whole - the structure, the flow, the superbly-acted supporting characters, the cinematography, and most importantly how it shows the effects Bobby's actions have on the people around him. He is a misfit wherever he goes - even in his own home. He tells his estranged father that he moves around to prevent the situations he finds himself in from getting worse. He sabotages nearly every relationship in his life because he can't come to terms with his place in it. This is a rare example of a film in which the effects of the main character's actions toward those around him are as deeply felt as his own "inner feelings", and this results in an experience which evokes many complex emotions yet provokes none. Once you've taken in the details, and sat through the progression of the story, there are still no easy answers. You can feel that the film could continue for countless miles in any direction and still be just as rich and engrossing. It's the type of film that Robert Altman strived to make, and that I feel is the best that narrative cinema has to offer. Not a self-contained storyline, but an open-ended snapshot which adds up to much more than the sum of its parts. While I continue to find endless pleasure in things like horror films and Hollywood melodrama (and think that there is a great deal of artistic potential in that type of material) - it's films like Five Easy Pieces that truly keep my interest and appreciation for film alive and well.

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