Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Five Easy Pieces

Like lots of adolescents in the early 1970s, the only way I got to “watch” some of the classic American films of that era—Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, was by reading parodies of them in Mad Magazine. I still recall poring over that first film’s illustrations of Dustin Hoffman and John Voight and wondering what was supposed to be so dirty that the movies earned an “X” rating.

But the parody that made the biggest impression on my was one called “Five Easy Pages,” which poked fun at what many critics think represented the pinnacle of American cinema at that time, the Jack Nicholson break-out picture, Bob Rafealson’s Five Easy Pieces. And while that probably ws mostly due to the way the illustrator caricatured actress Karen Black’s ample bosom and the effect that had on my 13 year-old psyche, it left me hungry to see the film, an appetite I finally fulfilled last night at the SIFF cinema, where it’s been playing for about a week.

And while there were certainly aspects of the film that felt a bit dated, and while one could certainly complain about its inherent sexism, I thought that overall, it held up remarkably well and certainly seems to deserve its canonical status in the history of American cinema.

I like that it was unabashedly a work of film as art, without being an “art film.” There were plenty of the requisite beauty shots, but none seemed gratuitous. The writing was excellent—subtle, funny, poignant—and the acting was superb.

There was only one scene where I thought Nicholson played it over-the-top—when he’s monologuing to his wheelchair-bound dad—but at least it was authentic, rather the scenery-munching histrionics of his later career.

I thought Hellena Kallioniotes as Palm Apodoca stole the show with her riffs on how filthy human beings are, worse than monkeys, even though they do something in public she doesn’t go for.


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