Thursday, March 3, 2011

Five not so easy movies

     Actually, there are seven movies, but five if you want to count those worth watching. I'm talking about of course the new release America Lost and Found: The BBS Story:. When I first heard of this I thought what  is the BBS? It sounds like a new British warship.

   Not so. BBS is taken from the filmmaking crew of Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner, a trio who together put out some inexpensive but wildly influential films. I think the Criterion Collection, which culled these together, pulled a sort of sleight of hand giving this the "so and so series" label because they are not like, say John Cassavetes who influenced an entire generation of movie makers. But it is a good excuse to plug good films, re-package and add some great interviews. A few flicks are quite good but never got the appreciation they deserved.

   Let's go a head and get past Head. That's the movie about The Monkees and the oldest, released in 1968.  No plot, no script, no acting. But the songs in the movie are probably the best ever done by Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork.  The film  is full of disconnected events and psychedelic scenes. The real charm is that they make no bones about being a media creation, actually poked fun at themselves.  I did like the new Head DVD for its extra features: the outtakes, screen tests, interviews and audio commentary. It's a hoot hearing those now-middle age men look back at the time they showed up for a "cattle call" auditions and see young Jack Nicholson hob-nobbing with Peter Tork. Who'da thunk? 

  America Lost and Found has its two blockbusters: Easy Rider (1969) and Five Easy Pieces (1970) Easy Rider: What can we say that would illuminate this iconic movie any brighter? Who can forget the chicken salad scene in Five Easy Pieces? But each movie is a two-disk set with interesting interviews and commentary by Rafelson, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and others involved as well as outtakes and theatrical trailers.

  So what's left? Of the four, two are fabulous films that were overlooked at the time: 
   The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) is an engrossing little flick I saw only a year ago, before this collection was released. It stars the usual suspects of back then: Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn. Nicholson is never better than when he plays it restrained. It forces him to give more. The complexity of characters and their interactions lept my interest piqued and my stomach a bit queazy.

  Last Picture Show (1971). Jeff Bridges was so young. It made Peter Bogdanovich a household name at the time. He shot it in black and white, which was pretty bold for an era when color film making was growing more and more vibrant. It works so well for the mood, time and space. This is also a 2-DVD disk set and the more interesting is the one with the comments from Cybill Shephard, Bogdanovich, Timothy Bottoms and Cloris Leachman. She was one of two Oscar-winners. Most of us probably just remember her as the ditzy doctor's wife in Rhoda but Cloris Leachman is a fine dramatic actress. Ellen Burstyn and Ben Johnson also star.
   The little obscure: A Safe Place  (1971). I don't think there could be a more obscure flick, other than say, The Brain Eaters (1958). It stars Tuesday Weld with Jack Nicholson and Orson Welles. Did I say it stars Tuesday Weld? She's in nearly every single frame. Director Henry Jaglom must have fallen hard for her.  But the pacing and jumping around made me dizzy. There's no plot and who knows what Orson Welles is there for. 

   The other little known film is Drive, He Said Drive, He Said (1970). Jack Nicholson directed this feverish snapshot of a college basketball player who begins to unravel, and his loony roommate. Bruce Dern is great as the coach. He's always playing someone on the edge.

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