Five Easy Pieces, Bob Rafelson, 1970
A prodigal son story about the alienation of an underachieving upper-class trade-down. The film is a sieve though which partially digested information about class identity and dynamics pours.
It’s possible to feel the director’s life coming through the film from the first shot, with careful nuanced character renderings, subtle dialogue, scene arrangement and cinematography. Odd to think of this director as the creator of the Monkeys.
Rafelson is good with text. The scene where Nicholson sleeps with Sally Struthers ends with a shot of him wearing a TRIUMPH motorcycle t-shirt. In the last shot, where Nicholson abandons his pregnant wife, the blocking includes the word MEN from the outside bathroom for the entire shot.
He's also good with machines and cars, which are picked out and shot with as much care as the people. He likes to put objects between people, like a cigarette machine. Nicholson is immediately handed a sewing machine in the sequence where he and Karen Black give a hitchhiking lesbian couple a ride. In this scene, which is intensely comic, Helena Kallianiotes so commands the manic dirt-obsessed character and takes so much joy in the portrayal that the rest of the movie screeches to a hilarious halt for the entire time she is on screen.
Great sound moment when Nicholson plays the horrendously and beautifully out-of-tune truck piano and it mixes with the horns of the traffic jam.
There is an interesting mix of class languages and scenarios, though there are never any overt questions of class conflict. The estrangement information is only rendered in the small details of an impossible individual escape from a pretentious, bogus upper-class elite to a frustrated, unaware working class. This is a movie about rebelling against pointless rules and not fitting into any class identity that has spilled over into a partial rendering of the general American aphasia of class estrangement.