Five Easy Pieces
Following Jack Nicholson's breakout supporting turn in Easy Rider, director Bob Rafelson devised a powerful leading role for the new star in the searing character study Five Easy Pieces. Nicholson plays the now iconic cad Bobby Dupea, a shiftless thirtysomething oil rigger and former piano prodigy immune to any sense of romantic or familial responsibility, who returns to his childhood home to see his ailing, estranged father-his blue-collar girlfriend (Karen Black, like Nicholson nominated for an Oscar) in tow. Moving in its simplicity and gritty in its textures, Five Easy Pieces is a lasting example of early 1970s American alienation.
Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces premieres on Blu-ray in Criterion’s America Lost and Found box set on a dual-layer disc and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p/24hz.
Similar to the other transfers found in the set the one for Five Easy Pieces has been done by Sony (who were originally working on the set) and it looks very good. I noticed what looked like mild edge-enhancement during some of the opening shots and a couple of moments during the end, but otherwise it’s a consistently stable and film-like presentation. Film grain is perfectly rendered, looking natural and never heavy. Colours are strong and at times quite vibrant (my previous experiences with the film presented colours that looked dull so I was fairly surprised by the colour presentation here, but I am guessing this is how they’re supposed to look since Kovacs did oversee the transfer.) There are a few minor marks in the source materials used but nothing significant, and despite some moments of softness the image overall is sharp.
Overall it has some minor issues but it’s still a fantastic looking presentation and it hasn’t looked better.
Five Easy Pieces comes with a linear PCM mono track that is fairly average but the film, which is very low key, doesn’t call for much. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the music, whether it be Nicholson’s character playing the piano or Tammy Wynette on the soundtrack, has some range and the volume levels are decent.
Criterion’s America Lost and Found box set is basically a complete history lesson on BBS Productions and the supplements found on each disc in this set are primarily about the production company as a whole, though each disc still contains supplements that focus primarily on their respective films.
First the audio commentary included here features director Bob Rafelson and interior designer Toby Rafelson (Bob’s ex-wife) who were both recorded separately in 2009. Together the two deliver a very involving and thorough track, covering the production of the film. They both offer plenty of praise for screenwriter Carole Eastman, cinematographer László Kovács, and of course Jack Nicholson, and then offer anecdotes from the set. Bob probably has the bulk of the track, talking specifically about certain sequences and recalling how they came about, even offering up information on alternate scenes that originally appeared in the script. Toby talks about setting up some of the scenes, but also has some recollections about how certain scenes came about or their inspirations. And also, for those still unsure, Bob does offer an explanation for the title. In the end I was incredibly surprised by it and it may be the best commentary track to be found in the entire set.
Next up is a short, obviously Sony produced featurette called Soul Searching in Five Easy Pieces, which runs about 9-minutes. Despite some decent comments from Rafelson and Nicholson (the former recalling the initial mood on the set, and both on the famous diner scene) this is an incredibly fluffy piece that doesn’t offer much insight into the film. Though Jack is of course a great interviewee; it’s a shame he appears sparingly throughout the supplements in the box set.
Next up, and a little better, is another Sony produced feature called BBStory, a 47-minute documentary on BBS, its short history, and its impact on Hollywood. Some of this material is of course covered on other supplements throughout the set but it’s nice to have this all-encompassing one, but it’s unfortunately too brief and makes its way through its material too quickly.
It starts with how the production company was formed, which was during a time where Hollywood was having trouble keeping audiences, and then their success of Easy Rider (after the failed Monkess movie Head, which meant they couldn’t use the tagline “from the producers who gave you Head”for the advertising of Easy Rider) and then the doc goes through each film found in the set. The documentary features interviews with Rafelson, Henry Jaglom, Nicholson, Karen Black, Peter Bogdanovich, and many others involved with the production company and its films in one way or another, and they recount each film quickly, unfortunately only spending a few minutes on each one (almost completely skipping over Drive, He Said and A Safe Place, which is a blip.) Though a decent documentary about the production company (which contains a lot of spoilers, so make sure you’ve seen each film in the set before watching this) it really does move very quickly through its material. Thankfully supplements on the rest of the set at least expand on the material covered here, offering a clearer picture of BBS, its people, and its films.
The final big supplement on here (and I’m sure Criterion’s addition to the disc) is Bob Rafelson at AFI, a 49-minute Q&A with the director performed in 1976. Audio quality is questionable and low, and at times it’s hard to make out everything being said, but Rafelson covers his career from his early days at Shochiku Studios while in Japan to what would have been his newest film at the time, Stay Hungry. In between he of course talks about his other films and the state of Hollywood when BBS came to the scene. Rafelson’s an incredibly engaging speaker and can be frank, and his appearances thtoughout this set are overall very welcome, but despite the interesting material covered here he does actually drone on a bit. But it’s another excellent interview with him overall and I’d least recommend using the index (with 8 chapters) to jump to what would be the most interesting material for you.
The disc then closes with two teaser trailers (though one feels like a full trailer) and then a 3-minute theatrical trailer. Interestingly one of the trailers bleeps out the word “crap”, though I suspect it’s to make it sound like Bob Dupea (Nicholson) said a worse word.
The box set overall offers some wonderful supplements, providing a comprehensive history of BBS Productions and the films they released (the set even coming with a 111-page booklet) and it may be one of Criterion’s more comprehensive collections. The supplements for Five Easy Pieces are overall fairly good, but a little fluffier in comparison to some of the other discs. But the audio commentary is one of, if not the best one to be found in the set.
America Lost and Found is one of the more fascinating box sets to come from anyone, offering a comprehensive look at one of the more important and interesting production companies to ever get into the business, making an impact that can still be felt today.
The supplements are pretty good, though I do wish the one “documentary” wasn’t as fluffy as it is. But the commentary is excellent, and the film’s transfer is very pleasing. On its own it’s still a fairly strong edition.