Ni­chol­son dines out amid the 70s pieces

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

JACK is back, in a sea­son of three of his lesser-known films from the early 1970s. It’s al­ways a plea­sure to watch the young mas­ter at work; be­tween 1969 and 1980 Ni­chol­son’s re­sume in­cluded Easy Rider , Car­nal Knowl­edge , Chi­na­town , One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shin­ing . His direc­tors were also mas­ters of their craft: among them Mike Ni­chols, Ro­man Polan­ski, Mi­los Forman and Stan­ley Kubrick. Ni­chol­son must have in­fu­ri­ated other ac­tors as he stole most of the plum Hol­ly­wood leads for a decade.

Di­rected by Bob Rafel­son, Five Easy Pieces ( 1970) is a film full of ex­is­ten­tial angst, the story of cul­tured rich guy Robert Eroica Du­pea.

When the film opens he has long ago ditched his af­flu­ent clas­si­cal mu­sic back­ground to work as a rough­neck on Cal­i­for­nian oil rigs, both be­guiled and re­pulsed by gen­tle south­ern beauty Rayette ( Karen Black), a wait­ress and as­pir­ing coun­try singer.

The ABC blurb for this film de­scribes Rayette as ‘‘ a woman of av­er­age in­tel­li­gence, whom he con­stantly in­sults’’.

Yes, Robert is a snob, mean, selfish and ego­tis­ti­cal. He is also ter­mi­nally in­se­cure and a prod­uct of his times, as is Rayette, who adds a touch of masochism to her sub­servient mien, plus big hair and lots of mas­cara.

When Robert puts on a suit and vis­its his ec­cen­tric sis­ter, who is record­ing a pi­ano recital, the gap be­tween his for­mer life and his present one, hang­ing with the trailer park set, be­comes clear.

The film pro­ceeds in a se­ries of in­ter­ludes. Robert and Rayette drive off to his home in Wash­ing­ton state, meet­ing a cou­ple of strange women head­ing to Alaska, ‘‘ where ev­ery­thing

Young mas­ter: Jack Ni­chol­son stole the show in the early 1970s is clean’’. Dump­ing hap­less Rayette in a mo­tel, he goes to stay with his fam­ily.

His home is a peace­ful if smug shrine to clas­si­cal mu­sic and crit­i­cal thought. Nat­u­rally, this drives Robert nuts, so he throws a few tantrums and tries to se­duce his brother’s fi­ancee ( Su­san Anspach), who is a mir­ror­im­age of Rayette.

The film is a re­flec­tion on a trou­bled Amer­ica, at a time when the in­flex­i­ble rules of con­ser­va­tive life were chaf­ing a large part of the pop­u­la­tion.

Thus the fa­mous diner scene, where Robert wants wheat toast but has to or­der a chicken sand­wich on wheat bread, hold the chicken, hold the mayo, etc. All this is un­der­scored by a bril­liant sound­track from Tammy Wynette and Chopin.

Rafel­son leaves many ques­tions unan­swered. We never even re­ally know why Robert is so trou­bled. Will he be­come a Zen bud­dhist or drink him­self to death? Will Rayette ever find true love?

Next week, an­other in­ter­est­ing Rafel­son film, The King of Marvin Gar­dens ( 1972), fol­lowed by Hal Ashby’s un­der­rated 1973 slice-ofmil­i­tary-life The Last De­tail .

Ros­alie Higson

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