Sunday, October 2, 2022
HomeEntertainmentBob Rafelson, Director of ‘Five Easy Pieces,’ Dies at 89

Bob Rafelson, Director of ‘Five Easy Pieces,’ Dies at 89

Mr. Rafelson and Mr. Schneider bid a perverse farewell to the project with the self-reflexive feature “Head,” which expanded on the concept of the band as “a manufactured image with no philosophies,” as the movie’s rewrite of the Monkees’ theme song put it. With Mr. Schneider as executive producer, Mr. Rafelson co-wrote the script with Mr. Nicholson, who was then a B-movie actor as well as the writer of the psychedelic Roger Corman film “The Trip” (1967).

A freewheeling media satire full of visual tricks and topical references to the Vietnam War and the media guru Marshall McLuhan, “Head” tanked at the box office. But the success of the Monkees allowed BBS to bankroll Mr. Hopper’s “Easy Rider,” in which Mr. Hopper and Peter Fonda played road-tripping bikers who, as the tag line put it, “went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere.”

“Easy Rider” landed BBS a six-picture deal at Columbia Pictures that gave the partners final cut and a 50-50 split on profits provided they kept budgets under $1 million. The company set up an office on North La Brea Avenue, and it became “a hangout for a ragtag band of filmmakers and radicals of various stripes,” as Peter Biskind described it in his New Hollywood chronicle “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.”

BBS followed “Easy Rider” with Mr. Rafelson’s second feature as director, “Five Easy Pieces,” which had its premiere at the New York Film Festival in 1970. With Mr. Nicholson as Bobby, an alienated antihero who flees his patrician clan, along with its famously ambiguous ending, the film came to be enshrined as a touchstone of ’70s American cinema. Written by Carole Eastman from a story by Mr. Rafelson, it is perhaps his most personal film.

The themes of “Five Easy Pieces” — American self-invention, the traps of family and class — would recur throughout Mr. Rafelson’s films, including another BBS production, “The King of Marvin Gardens” (1972), a story of two estranged brothers, played by Mr. Nicholson and Bruce Dern, in Atlantic City. Mr. Rafelson’s working relationship with Mr. Nicholson would span four decades.

True to the spirit of the times, BBS functioned as a collective of sorts: Mr. Nicholson, Mr. Dern and Karen Black appeared in multiple BBS films; the cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs shot several of them.

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