Five Easy Pieces
Independent production company BBS reaped the profits from Easy Rider, and Bob Rafelson, a founder member of the company, cast Jack Nicholson as Robert Eroica Dupea – a middle-class drop-out who has turned his back on the piano career which was his birth right, and now lives the life of blue collar drifter. A subtle character study written by Carole Eastman, Five Easy Pieces doesn’t glamorise Dupea’s disaffection – nor does it cure it. Perhaps that’s why he remains such a memorable character. Nicholson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work here, and has rarely revealed such vulnerability since, though to be sure he became one of the iconic stars of the time (Chinatown and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest also feature in our Ragged Glory: Summer in the 70s series.)
Although it begins in the oil fields of Bakersfield, California, much of the film was shot on Vancouver Island, in Mill Bay, Chemainus, and Saanich.
The title of Five Easy Pieces refers not to the women its hero makes along the road, for there are only three, but to a book of piano exercises he owned as a child. The film, one of the best American films, is about the distance between that boy, practicing to become a concert pianist, and the need he feels twenty years later to disguise himself as an oil-field rigger. When we sense the boy, tormented and insecure, trapped inside the adult man, Five Easy Pieces becomes a masterpiece of heartbreaking intensity.
Unlike the restlessness in a film like Easy Rider, which looks dangerous and cool and a lot like freedom, Five Easy Pieces is about the terrible uncertainty of being unmoored from any kind of satisfying life. The masterful closing sequence, like an elegant short story in itself, leaves the impression that Bobby will never find one, either. It’s possible to see Five Easy Pieces as representing the fallout after a turbulent decade – akin to the “what now?” final shot of The Graduate – but that would deny the specificity of a film that actively resists making statements. If it was representative of anything, it was the potential of what American film could be.
Scott Tobias, The Guardian
Deep down in this film there’s an ear for the nagging call of getaway and escape, of not doing the obvious or the sensible thing, of being American and unknown…
David Thomson, Have You Seen…?
Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Susan Anspach, Billy Green Bush, Sally Struthers, Fannie Flagg, Lois Smith
Nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor
Bob Rafelson, Richard Wechsler
Christopher Holmes, Gerald Shepard
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