As the New York Film Festival prepares to celebrate its 50th year, I am reminded of screenings I attended (of movies old and new) when I was a teenager. In 1965 I was present for a Buster Keaton tribute that included his inscrutable Samuel Beckett short Film, the charming National Film Board of Canada featurette The Railrodder, and one of his greatest silent features, Seven Chances. That same year the Festival showed Erich von Stroheim’s brilliant silent feature The Wedding March, which reduced me to tears.
Five years later I had another profound experience: seeing the debut screening of Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces and hearing him speak about it at a press conference afterward. This was one of the building blocks of New American Cinema, and it thrilled me. There is no way to explain how exciting it was to live through this period, when I was still young and impressionable, and witness the flowering of so many great talents. Five Easy Pieces confirmed that Jack Nicholson was one of the most gifted actors to come along in years, and Bob Rafelson was one of the boldest new voices in the filmmaking world. (They have continued to collaborate over the years, and while I haven’t loved everything they’ve done, I’m quite fond of their 1996 noir thriller Blood and Wine.)
Later this week, Rafelson is returning to Manhattan for a “Masterworks” screening of his highly personal but little-seen The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), photographed by the great Laszlo Kovacs, forty years to the day after its debut. Nicholson stars with Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn in this challenging, difficult film about two brothers set against the backdrop of a stagnant Atlantic City, prior to its rebirth as a gambling mecca. Jacob Brackman wrote the screenplay from a story he developed with the director.
If you’ve never seen the film, which is rarely revived, on a theater screen, I encourage you to go. It’s not a “feel-good movie,” but it’s one of the more striking pictures from what is now referred to as the Silver Age of American film, the 1970s. The showing is Sunday, September 30 at the Walter Reade Theater. You can find more info HERE.