Wednesday, May 25, 2011

America Lost and Found: The BBS Story

I’ve always loved Hollywood movies of the 1970s. It has something to do with my wishing I had been part of the student protests that opened the decade – like the burning of the Bank of America in my home town of Isla Vista, California. Wishing I had been at Woodstock to witness a generation’s high point, and the beginning of its end, also plays a role. Mostly though, it’s a reaction to seeing my parents trembling with hushed tones in the kitchen trying to hide these events from me.

American movies during those times of unrest and Richard Nixon were notable for taking their cameras into the real world, away from Hollywood’s sets and stars. Also characteristic were frank and free explorations of sexuality, downbeat, ambiguous endings, and conflicted characters that left audiences grasping and asking: Was I supposed to like that hero?

“America Lost and Found: The BBS Story,” a rich new box set that combines seven movies released from 1968 through 1972, some well-known – Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show – some not so well known – Head (starring The Monkees), Drive, He Said, and The King of Marvin Gardens – and one forgotten – A Safe Place, feels like a primer on 1970s Hollywood.

BBS Productions, named after [B]ob Rafelson, [B]ert Schneider, and [S]teve Blauner, was born out of the success of two productions: the television series The Monkees and the whirlwind known as Easy Rider. Monkees co-creators Rafelson and Schneider filled their bank accounts with enough cash to finance the Peter Fonda/Dennis Hopper pipe-dream of a biker movie. But first they tried to spin The Monkees into a theatrical movie. They planned to jokingly promote Easy Rider as being “from the producers who gave you Head.”

Now, thanks to this set, we can see Head, a box office disaster that forced one of the greatest taglines in movie history to be abandoned. It’s actually a fun and inventive movie, though far more politically serious than the television show, which explains it failure.

Jack Nicholson was on the verge of hanging up his acting gloves when he was cast as George Hanson in Easy Rider (he also co-wrote Head) and a star was born. He saved Easy Rider which would’ve been deadly dull without him. He owns this set as well, being involved in six out of the seven movies including his fascinating directing debut Drive, He Said. Watching these movies is like watching the birth of a major career that almost never was.

Idiosyncratic director Henry Jaglom seems an odd man out with A Safe Place, his meditation on loving and forgetting, until one notices the threads. Jaglom was the editor who helped simmer Easy Rider down from a four hour mess to a mostly taut 95 minutes. Jaglom and Nicholson made a pact that they would each act in the other’s first movie. Jaglom appears in Drive, He Said, Nicholson in A Safe Place.

Seeming the most out of place though is The Last Picture Show (the one without Nicholson). Its classical storytelling and black and white cinematography harken back to earlier Hollywood times of Howard Hawks and John Ford, but watching it within the context of this set makes it feel perfectly at home at BBS.

Peter Bogdanovich insisted on shooting entirely in the town that inspired Larry McMurtry. The pool party with Jacy stripping on a diving board perfectly captures the era’s freewheeling sexuality, and no ending is bleaker than its encounter between Sonny and Ruth Popper that dissolves into an image of the town’s desolate main street with one forever blinking traffic light.


Anonymous said...

Hi Pals,
Just joined the gang. Hope to have good time here.


Anonymous said...

Top class webpage yours sincerely, Yung Orio