Bob Rafelson’s cult 1970 film Five Easy Pieces returns to the big screen this month – gloriously restored by Sony Pictures for its 40th anniversary.
Boasting a career best performance by Jack Nicholson in the lead role, Rafelson’s movie is a penetrating study of American alienation and one of the few Hollywood films to explore the question of class distinctions in the US.
Nicholson’s self-tormenting drifter Bobby Dupea awkwardly straddles America’s class divide. He comes from the kind of self-consciously cultured family that would give their son the middle name ‘Eroica’ after Beethoven’s Third Symphony, yet he’s turned his back on a once promising classical music career to work as a redneck oil-rigger. In flight from middle-class rectitude and responsibility, he now lives with clingy girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black), a waitress who worships Tammy Wynette rather than Beethoven.
That he’s equally uncomfortable in both worlds is borne out throughout the movie, but especially when goes to visit his family on learning of his father’s stroke, accompanied by Rayette.
‘I move around a lot,’ he tells his paralysed father, ‘not because I’m looking for anything really, but ’cause I’m getting away from things that get bad if I stay. Auspicious beginnings, you know what I mean.’
The film’s enigmatic ending is a classic, but so too is the famous ‘chicken salad sandwich’ scene in which Nicholson memorably spars with an unbending waitress when he tries to order an off-menu breakfast in a diner.
Five Easy Pieces is on limited release from 13th August, including an extended run at BFI Southbank.