Archive for the ‘1970’ category

50 Essential Films from the 1970s



Grit, music, misogyny, feminist, family, mayhem, horror, disillusionment, loneliness, etc.  These are 50 essential 1970s films that I have actually seen and in random order.  Notice huge gaps like All That Jazz, Dawn of the Dead, Manhattan, or Solaris or films that I haven’t seen enough times like Apocalypse Now and The Godfather (perhaps they aren’t on the list for a reason?).




Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970)



Jack Nicholson plays Robert Eroica (named after Beethoven’s beloved 3rd Symphony) Dupea, a gifted pianist from a family of gifted musicians.  After originally dedicating his 3rd symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, Beethoven later changed the title to Sinfonia eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire d’un grand’uomo (“heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man”).  The great man in this film is Dupea’s father who has suffered through two recent strokes.  This forces Dupea to go home to the family spread in Puget Sound to face an upper class world he has since rejected.

He struggles with his talent and keeping any kind of consistency in his life.  In the opening act we see Dupea working an oil rig and spending a good deal of his time with Rayette (Karen Black), a pretty, insecure and clingy diner waitress.  Dupea also hangs out with friends who are not, as the filmmakers want us to think, on the same intellectual or cultural playing field as Dupea.  This conceit allows one of the primary plot elements to move forward – Five Easy Pieces is a film about class structure.

The middle act of the film is a little road movie that follows Robert and Rayette across the Northwest towards Puget Sound.  As they make their journey they pick up two female hitchhikers, Palm and Terry.  For about 15 minutes, Palm rambles on and on from the backseat of the car in the sort of elocution one would hear in Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner in London.  Palm’s elocution is how “the man” is out to screw us all.  To me, this is quiet denunciation of Dupea’s obvious misogyny.

The last act reunites the family in Puget Sound.  Dupea’s father (William Challee) has indeed declined to a demented state and his brother (Ralph Waite – John Walton of the treasured 1970’s CBS television series) and sister (played wonderfully by a luminous Lois Smith) have continued their life in music.  Dupea, in an act of pathetic cruelty, doesn’t allow Rayette to visit the home initially and has her put up in a motel.  Dupea makes a move on his brother’s girlfriend (another pathetic act) that is consummated and generally acts like an ass in front of his family.  What emerges is Dupea as a manic-depressive, prone to both quiet reflection and explosions of violence.  Rayette, bored out of her mind, eventually makes her own way to the Dupea estate unannounced but not for long as Robert decides that a one-week visit with his family is long enough.

Five Easy Pieces is a very complicated film about some of the downsides of being an artist in that it is difficult to integrate supreme talent in a rational world.  Dupea’s talent, class struggle, misogyny and apparent mental illness paint a rich character for Jack Nicholson to play.  I never have seen such a complex performance from the man.  Its also a richly rewarding film.

**** 1/2 / *****