Bob Rafelson

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7.2 Five Easy Pieces (1970)
6.9 The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)

Bob Rafelson (1933), who had lived briefly in Japan and played in a rock band in Mexico, moved to Los Angeles to work on television shows and created the TV show that launched the Monkees (1966-68), a band that then starred in Rafelson's first film, Head (1968). He then produced Dennis Hopper's cult movie Easy Rider (1969).

Five Easy Pieces (1970), starring his friend Jack Nicholson, is the character study of a confused rebel.

Robert (Jack Nicholson) is a humble oil rigger with a sexy blond girlfriend, waitress Rayette. He lives a rather uneventful life, bowling and drinking with his friends, notably Elton and his wife. One sunny day he and his friend are stuck in a traffic jam. Robert gets off the car and walks through traffic. He climbs on a truck that is carrying a piano and starts playing the instrument amid the chaotic noise of the car horns. Elton gets arrested for a crime he committed a year earlier, and Robert quits the oil-rigging job. He visits his sister, a professional pianist who is recording an album, and she tells him that their father is dying. Robert decides it is time to drive back to his family's place and announces it to a pregnant Rayette, who starts crying. Robert gets in the car but then he has a fit of rage against himself (or his destiny) and asks Rayette to go on the trip with him. The two pick up two girls who lost their car in an accident. The girls are rude and arrogant. Rayette hates them, but Robert seems to like their attitude. In a restaurant Robert has an argument with a waitress who sticks to the rules and refuses to give him a slightly different omelette. When they finally reach his family's house, located on a secluded island, his family doesn't even recognize him. He leaves Rayette, of whom he is clearly ashamed, in a motel, and has dinner at the house with his sister, his brother (whose neck is permanently injured) and his brother's fiance, cute pianist Catherine. Robert is annoyed by Catherine's patronizing tone: she is shocked that he gave up a promising musical career. He finally accepts to play the piano for her and she is moved by his playing. They end up making love. Suddenly Rayette shows up in a taxi. The family didn't even know that she was parked in a motel. She tells everybody how he dumped her there without even enough money to pay the bill. Robert's brother is kind and welcoming to her, and she is very talkative. Robert is embarrassed by her lack of manners and her dumb chit-chat and eventually leaves the house and sleeps outside by the water. The following morning he tries to clarify matters with Catherine while they are driving in opposite directions at the ferry landing (causing a traffic jam) but they cannot hear each other. An erudite neighbor comes to visit the family and her talk upsets Catherine. When she belittles Rayette's linguistic skills, Robert snaps and insults her. In fact, he insults everybody and follows Catherine. Instead he finds his sister being massaged by a male nurse, and gets in a fight with him out of brotherly jealousy. When he finds Catherine, she calmly tells him that she doesn't like that he has no respect for himself. Finally he confronts his father, sitting in a wheelchair and staring at him silently in an idyllic field of green grass. Robert starts crying. Eventually he leaves and takes Rayette with him. He drives without talking to her, despite her loving attention. When they stop at a restaurant, he goes to the restrooms and stares at himself in the mirror. Then he walks outside and hitches a ride on a truck without telling her.

Then came The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), with another terrific Nicholson performance, Stay Hungry (1976), adapted from Charles Gaines' novel, Brubaker (1980), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), adapted from James Cain's novel, Black Widow (1987) Mountains Of The Moon (1990), which tells the story of how two British explorers searched Africa for the source of the Nile, Man Trouble (1992), Blood and Wine (1997), Poodle Springs (1998), adapted from Raymond Chandler, and No Good Deed (2002), adapted from Dashiell Hammett.

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