Sometimes it takes me months, sometimes years, and in this case, decades before I catch up on a movie I didn’t see on its first, second, third, bargain theater fun. But last night I saw two.
“Five Easy Pieces.” Upon conclusion, this automatically went into the category of one of my favorite movies of all time. Visually brilliant, brilliant writing, brilliant acting. And one of the best endings of any movie I have ever seen. Jack Nicholson was wonderful. There was Ralph Waite looking like the pudgy-face self righteous yet vacuous Mr. Success Story whose lights you’d like to punch out; and then two years later, he’s Papa Walton, mussed hair and overalls, that you love. Fine actor. I have to say of all the women in the this story the only one I liked was Robert’s sister. If I were to analyze Robert’s character, I would these observations. Those around him thought he was a loser; he didn’t share their ambitions; his own opinion of himself as one who leaves when things get unpleasant was a personal put-down. But this was my take on Robert: he wasn’t a phony, he wasn’t pretentious, and the truth of his own innate honest reflected the culture changes that were going on then, and he couldn’t find his place. The way he confronted that pompous windbag psychoanalyzing everything as though she were a deity, all of her lofty superiority and superfluity of words cut beautifully short by Robert’s cry to her, “You’re full of shit! You’re all full of shit!” showed a nobility in him, and a huge disgust.
He wasn’t a loser at all but he was surrounded by them.
And, toward the end, when his nauseating girlfriend keeps pecking his cheek in the car singing to him…good Lord, I would have done exactly what he did to escape that. That was such a perfect, perfect ending. But I honestly think at that point his disgust with everything hit the breaking point and he turned his back on all of it.
Now, “Easy Rider.” Watching this movie, I kept retreating into the thought processes that reflected a lot of discussions I had as a teenager back then. The word, “existential” kept popping into my mind, among other things. Two dudes scoring a big drug deal at the beginning of an airport runway who set off for freedom. How free were they, really? Stoned the entire time on their Harleys or by the campifre, where was the quality of life. Yet, they were both gallant and noble in their way. Peter Fonda had a compelling screen presence and his character seemed almost mystical. I’m surprised that, to my knowledge, Fonda didn’t go on to write more films and Hopper direct more. There was so much allegory in this story and foreshadowing, such as the acid fest in the graveyard. I almost started to say, “heavy.” This movie has haunted me all morning long, I think it is in a class by itself, and just about the best film I’ve ever seen that captured the culture of the sixties. I think it’s culturally significant, a dark work of genius with an incredible soundtrack. They don’t write songs that like anymore.
And, there was Melancon’s Cafe in Morganza. That one brief stop when I was seven with Mom and Daddy at sunset, cold December afternoon driving to pick up my brother from the country because Christmas vacation would end soon and flooding had stopped the trains from getting through. I remember the booths with the little mirrors in them; and the way the sunset glittered on the gold CAFE sign in the window.
A brilliant movie.