Five Easy Pieces


1h 36m 1970
Five Easy Pieces

Brief Synopsis

A classical pianist who's dropped out of society returns to the family he deserted.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 12 Sep 1970
Production Company
B. B. S. Productions
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures
Country
United States
Location
Bakersfield, California, USA; Eugene, Oregon, USA; Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

Classical pianist Robert Dupea, who comes from a family of musicians, works in a California oil field. Most of his time is spent in bowling alleys, drinking beer in the trailer of his friend Elton, or with his waitress girl friend, Rayette. When he learns that she is pregnant, he quits his job and leaves for Los Angeles where his sister Partita, also a pianist, is making a recording. Partita informs him that their father has suffered two strokes and urges him to return to the family home on Puget Sound. He tells Rayette that he must go to see the old man and reluctantly agrees to take her along. On the way, they pick up Palm and Terry, two lesbians whose constant chatter about ecology increasingly annoys Robert. The four of them are thrown out of a restaurant when he becomes involved in an argument with a waitress who cannot bring his special order. Eventually, Robert reaches his destination; embarrassed by Rayette's lack of polish, he registers her in a motel and goes to visit his father, who is confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak. At dinner that night, he meets Catherine Van Ost, a young pianist engaged to his brother Carl, a violinist; in spite of personality differences, Robert and Catherine become attracted to each other and make love in her room. Meanwhile, Rayette becomes bored at the motel and comes to the Dupea estate unannounced. Her presence creates an awkward situation, but when Samia, a pompous family friend, ridicules Rayette's background, Robert is forced into a fiery defense of her. Storming from the room, he discovers his father's huge male nurse giving a massage to the semi-nude Partita; even more angered, Robert picks a senseless fight with him and is quickly knocked to the floor. After a frustrating attempt to talk with his father, Robert leaves with Rayette. Unable to function in the intellectual world of his family or in the working-class world of the oil fields, he stops at a gas station, abandons Rayette when she goes in for some coffee, and hitches a ride on a truck.

Photo Collections

Five Easy Pieces - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Five Easy Pieces (1970), starring Jack Nicholson. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 12 Sep 1970
Production Company
B. B. S. Productions
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures
Country
United States
Location
Bakersfield, California, USA; Eugene, Oregon, USA; Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Actor

1970
Jack Nicholson

Best Adapted Screenplay

1970

Best Picture

1970

Best Supporting Actress

1970
Karen Black

Best Writing, Screenplay

1971
Bob Rafelson

Articles

Five Easy Pieces


Five Easy Pieces (1970) will forever be remembered as the iconic counterculture movie. Its diner scene did the trick. When Jack Nicholson orders a side of whole wheat toast with his omelet, is told the system doesn't allow sides of toast, then orders a chicken salad sandwich on whole wheat toast -- hold the butter, hold the lettuce, hold the mayonnaise, hold the chicken – the absurdity of rules seemed irrevocably mocked. Less well remembered than this quintessential thumbing-his-nose-at-the-system moment is the fact that he and his uneasy riders are thrown out of the diner after he angrily sweeps the place settings from the table. One of his road companions, a lesbian hitchhiker, congratulates him on his cleverness. But, as Nicholson's refugee from a well-to-do artistic family, submerging himself in redneck working-class life, says, referring to the toast, "I didn't get it, did I?"

Nicholson's roustabout dropout, uneasily returning from California to his dysfunctional family's home on an island in Puget Sound after learning his famous musician father has suffered two strokes, doesn't get much. His conflicts and angers and fears keep him from a committed life. "I move around a lot," he says to the wheelchair-bound father he's not sure he's reaching in a last attempt at bonding. "Not because I'm looking for anything, really, but because I'm getting away from things that get bad if I stay." He ends the film by hitching a ride on a logging truck to Alaska, abandoning his pregnant girlfriend, Karen Black's Tammy Wynette wannabe, Rayette, at a filling station. He ends as he began, betwixt and between, fleeing the pressures of measuring up to his family's rarefied artistic expectations, then fleeing the demands of the working-class life in which he briefly alights. As photographed by the great Laszlo Kovacs -- the eye behind Easy Rider (1969) -- landscape, geography, and the road are major characters in Five Easy Pieces, too.

Underpinning Nicholson's cocked brows, manic eyes and antsy bad-boy persona is the theme of flight through constant motion -- the moving target principle. It's a recurring motif in Nicholson's oeuvre, starting with Easy Rider and most notably and even more opaquely rendered in The Passenger (1975). Producer Bert Schneider, director Bob Rafelson and Nicholson wanted – perhaps a bit too self-consciously – to make a character-driven film more closely modeled on European priorities than Hollywood's, subverting middle-class values. They did and they didn't. Very much of its time, thinking itself existential, ignoring that it was only playing a more self-deludingly pretentious version of the American success game by becoming rich Hollywood personages, it was symptomatic of a generation pretending to live outside the system while merely reshaping it to suit its own appetites.

If bourgeois values got the finger in Five Easy Pieces, so did working-class life. The film begins with a shot of the business end of a bulldozer, aggressively dumping a payload of dirt in our laps. It continues to unfold in an ongoing counterpoint of clamor and discord, to the crash of bowling balls meeting pins and steel pipes clanging against one another as they're dropped into position on a barren, dusty oil field. Clash, clash, clash, including Nicholson's Bobby and the world where, we learn, he's an impostor, hiding out. That he's not just one of the good ol' boys we see in a startlingly inspired scene when he and his good-hearted lowlife buddy, Elton (Billy Bush), are stuck in stalled traffic on a freeway outside of Bakersfield, behind a flatbed truck bearing, among other things, an upright piano. In no time, the restless Bobby is out of the car, briefly prowling the freeway, moving from stopped car to stopped car before finally leaping onto the truck, throwing the protective mat from the piano, then brilliantly and unexpectedly unfurling a few bars of Chopin.

Elton is shortly afterward hauled off to jail for a filling station holdup, leaving his wife, Stoney, and infant child behind. The scenes involving Elton, Stoney (Fannie Flagg), Bobby and Rayette seem a parody of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) -- except that Stanley Kowalski's brutish camaraderie is replaced by coed bowling. Not that it does much for Bobby's disposition. He rags on Rayette, driving her to tears. When Bobby indicates to Elton that he might take off upon learning Rayette is pregnant, the otherwise crude Elton takes him to task for his lack of loyalty. But while Elton and Rayette are warm, open-hearted types, Bobby, despite his prickliness, is not without sensitivity.

It's what makes him palatable. His treatment of the rednecks whose company he sought out is at times insufferably patronizing. But when he goes home, and Rayette shows up after he stashed her away in a nearby motel, partly out of shame at the idea of having his family see him dating an unsophisticated woman who can't believe his family doesn't have a TV in the living room, he fiercely defends her against the bitchy putdowns of an aggressively snobbish dinner guest.

Black's career took off after her portrayal of the uncomplicated but likable Rayette. Susan Anspach, direct from the cast of "Hair" on Broadway, had been envisioned for that role. But Anspach wound up playing Catherine Van Oost, the delicate fiancée of Bobby's older brother, Carl (Ralph Waite). Here the film makes a misstep by portraying Bobby's older brother as a caricature. Bobby's full name is Robert Eroica Dupea. Carl's is Carl Fidelio Dupea. Obviously their father (William Challee), an inscrutable monster we wish we knew more about, was a Beethoven fan – although he named their pathetic sister (Lois Smith) Partita. No Beethoven nomenclature for her. Was it because she was a woman?

Feeling chemistry between them – there's none with the buffoonish Carl – Anspach's Catherine opens herself to a tempestuous sexual interlude with Bobby after feeling hurt and angry and emotionally rebuffed after she compliments Bobby on his playing, only to be told by him that he felt nothing. The hitherto closed Bobby realizes he feels for Catherine, but she perceptively tells him they have no future, since he, unable to love or accept himself, can't really love anyone else, either. Kovacs really comes into his own here, using the grayness and wetness of the Pacific Northwest island retreat to reinforce the cocooning yet suffocatingly rarefied and emotionally desiccated world from which Bobby bolted. In the end, Five Easy Pieces is a family portrait of lovelessness, for Bobby and everyone he infects with it as he stumbles away from pain through whatever open door may beckon. Nothing is easy for Nicholson's alienated artist – rootless, adrift, afraid, on the lam – or for the people in his life. Five Easy Pieces, with its title ironically referring to a beginning pianist's manual of practice pieces, is a bleakly indelible thing of clashes and cacophonies and screams, especially the silent ones.

Producers: Bob Rafelson and Richard Wechsler
Director: Bob Rafelson
Screenplay: Carole Eastman (as Adrien Joyce, screenplay) and Bob Rafelson (story)
Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs
Art Direction: Toby Rafelson (interior designer)
Music: Pearl Kaufman (piano)
Film Editing: Christopher Holmes and Gerald Shepard
Cast: Robert Eroica Dupea (Jack Nicholson), Rayette Dipesto (Karen Black), Elton (Billy 'Green' Bush), Stoney (Fannie Flagg), Betty (Sally Ann Struthers), Twinky (Marlena Macguire), Recording Engineer (Richard Stahl), Partita Dupea (Lois Smith).
C-96m.

by Jay Carr

Sources:
AFI catalogue
Jack's Life: A Biography of Jack Nicholson, by Patrick McGilligan
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, by Peter Biskind
IMDb
Five Easy Pieces

Five Easy Pieces

Five Easy Pieces (1970) will forever be remembered as the iconic counterculture movie. Its diner scene did the trick. When Jack Nicholson orders a side of whole wheat toast with his omelet, is told the system doesn't allow sides of toast, then orders a chicken salad sandwich on whole wheat toast -- hold the butter, hold the lettuce, hold the mayonnaise, hold the chicken – the absurdity of rules seemed irrevocably mocked. Less well remembered than this quintessential thumbing-his-nose-at-the-system moment is the fact that he and his uneasy riders are thrown out of the diner after he angrily sweeps the place settings from the table. One of his road companions, a lesbian hitchhiker, congratulates him on his cleverness. But, as Nicholson's refugee from a well-to-do artistic family, submerging himself in redneck working-class life, says, referring to the toast, "I didn't get it, did I?" Nicholson's roustabout dropout, uneasily returning from California to his dysfunctional family's home on an island in Puget Sound after learning his famous musician father has suffered two strokes, doesn't get much. His conflicts and angers and fears keep him from a committed life. "I move around a lot," he says to the wheelchair-bound father he's not sure he's reaching in a last attempt at bonding. "Not because I'm looking for anything, really, but because I'm getting away from things that get bad if I stay." He ends the film by hitching a ride on a logging truck to Alaska, abandoning his pregnant girlfriend, Karen Black's Tammy Wynette wannabe, Rayette, at a filling station. He ends as he began, betwixt and between, fleeing the pressures of measuring up to his family's rarefied artistic expectations, then fleeing the demands of the working-class life in which he briefly alights. As photographed by the great Laszlo Kovacs -- the eye behind Easy Rider (1969) -- landscape, geography, and the road are major characters in Five Easy Pieces, too. Underpinning Nicholson's cocked brows, manic eyes and antsy bad-boy persona is the theme of flight through constant motion -- the moving target principle. It's a recurring motif in Nicholson's oeuvre, starting with Easy Rider and most notably and even more opaquely rendered in The Passenger (1975). Producer Bert Schneider, director Bob Rafelson and Nicholson wanted – perhaps a bit too self-consciously – to make a character-driven film more closely modeled on European priorities than Hollywood's, subverting middle-class values. They did and they didn't. Very much of its time, thinking itself existential, ignoring that it was only playing a more self-deludingly pretentious version of the American success game by becoming rich Hollywood personages, it was symptomatic of a generation pretending to live outside the system while merely reshaping it to suit its own appetites. If bourgeois values got the finger in Five Easy Pieces, so did working-class life. The film begins with a shot of the business end of a bulldozer, aggressively dumping a payload of dirt in our laps. It continues to unfold in an ongoing counterpoint of clamor and discord, to the crash of bowling balls meeting pins and steel pipes clanging against one another as they're dropped into position on a barren, dusty oil field. Clash, clash, clash, including Nicholson's Bobby and the world where, we learn, he's an impostor, hiding out. That he's not just one of the good ol' boys we see in a startlingly inspired scene when he and his good-hearted lowlife buddy, Elton (Billy Bush), are stuck in stalled traffic on a freeway outside of Bakersfield, behind a flatbed truck bearing, among other things, an upright piano. In no time, the restless Bobby is out of the car, briefly prowling the freeway, moving from stopped car to stopped car before finally leaping onto the truck, throwing the protective mat from the piano, then brilliantly and unexpectedly unfurling a few bars of Chopin. Elton is shortly afterward hauled off to jail for a filling station holdup, leaving his wife, Stoney, and infant child behind. The scenes involving Elton, Stoney (Fannie Flagg), Bobby and Rayette seem a parody of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) -- except that Stanley Kowalski's brutish camaraderie is replaced by coed bowling. Not that it does much for Bobby's disposition. He rags on Rayette, driving her to tears. When Bobby indicates to Elton that he might take off upon learning Rayette is pregnant, the otherwise crude Elton takes him to task for his lack of loyalty. But while Elton and Rayette are warm, open-hearted types, Bobby, despite his prickliness, is not without sensitivity. It's what makes him palatable. His treatment of the rednecks whose company he sought out is at times insufferably patronizing. But when he goes home, and Rayette shows up after he stashed her away in a nearby motel, partly out of shame at the idea of having his family see him dating an unsophisticated woman who can't believe his family doesn't have a TV in the living room, he fiercely defends her against the bitchy putdowns of an aggressively snobbish dinner guest. Black's career took off after her portrayal of the uncomplicated but likable Rayette. Susan Anspach, direct from the cast of "Hair" on Broadway, had been envisioned for that role. But Anspach wound up playing Catherine Van Oost, the delicate fiancée of Bobby's older brother, Carl (Ralph Waite). Here the film makes a misstep by portraying Bobby's older brother as a caricature. Bobby's full name is Robert Eroica Dupea. Carl's is Carl Fidelio Dupea. Obviously their father (William Challee), an inscrutable monster we wish we knew more about, was a Beethoven fan – although he named their pathetic sister (Lois Smith) Partita. No Beethoven nomenclature for her. Was it because she was a woman? Feeling chemistry between them – there's none with the buffoonish Carl – Anspach's Catherine opens herself to a tempestuous sexual interlude with Bobby after feeling hurt and angry and emotionally rebuffed after she compliments Bobby on his playing, only to be told by him that he felt nothing. The hitherto closed Bobby realizes he feels for Catherine, but she perceptively tells him they have no future, since he, unable to love or accept himself, can't really love anyone else, either. Kovacs really comes into his own here, using the grayness and wetness of the Pacific Northwest island retreat to reinforce the cocooning yet suffocatingly rarefied and emotionally desiccated world from which Bobby bolted. In the end, Five Easy Pieces is a family portrait of lovelessness, for Bobby and everyone he infects with it as he stumbles away from pain through whatever open door may beckon. Nothing is easy for Nicholson's alienated artist – rootless, adrift, afraid, on the lam – or for the people in his life. Five Easy Pieces, with its title ironically referring to a beginning pianist's manual of practice pieces, is a bleakly indelible thing of clashes and cacophonies and screams, especially the silent ones. Producers: Bob Rafelson and Richard Wechsler Director: Bob Rafelson Screenplay: Carole Eastman (as Adrien Joyce, screenplay) and Bob Rafelson (story) Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs Art Direction: Toby Rafelson (interior designer) Music: Pearl Kaufman (piano) Film Editing: Christopher Holmes and Gerald Shepard Cast: Robert Eroica Dupea (Jack Nicholson), Rayette Dipesto (Karen Black), Elton (Billy 'Green' Bush), Stoney (Fannie Flagg), Betty (Sally Ann Struthers), Twinky (Marlena Macguire), Recording Engineer (Richard Stahl), Partita Dupea (Lois Smith). C-96m. by Jay Carr Sources: AFI catalogue Jack's Life: A Biography of Jack Nicholson, by Patrick McGilligan Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, by Peter Biskind IMDb

Quotes

I'd like an omelet, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.
- Bobby
A #2, chicken salad sand. Hold the butter, the lettuce, the mayonnaise, and a cup of coffee. Anything else?
- Waitress
Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.
- Bobby
You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
- Waitress
I want you to hold it between your knees.
- Bobby
Fantastic that you could figure that all out and lie that down on her so you could come up with a way to get your toast. Fantastic!
- Palm Apodaca
Yeah, well, I didn't get it, did I?
- Bobby
No, but it was very clever. I would have just punched her out.
- Palm Apodaca
Hey, follow that truck. They know the best places to stop.
- Palm Apodaca
That's an old maid's tale.
- Rayette
Bullshit! Truck drivers are the only ones that know the best places to stop on the road.
- Palm Apodaca
Salesmen and cops are the ones. If you'd ever waitressed, honey, you'd know that.
- Rayette
Don't call me honey, mac.
- Palm Apodaca
Don't call me mac, honey.
- Rayette
You know, I read where they, uh, invented this car that runs on, ummm... that runs on, ummm... when you boil water?
- Palm Apodaca
Steam.
- Terry
Right, steam. A car that you could ride around in and not cause a stink. But do you know they will not even let us have it? Can you believe it? Why? Man! He likes to create a stink! I mean, I've seen filth that you wouldn't believe. Ugh! What a stink! I don't even want to talk about it.
- Palm Apodaca
People. Animals are not like that. They're always cleaning themselves. Did you ever see, umm... pigeons? Well, he's always picking on himself and his friends. They're always picking bugs out of their hair all the time. Monkeys too. Except they do something out in the open that I don't go for.
- Palm Apodaca

Trivia

"Five Easy Pieces" refers to a book of piano lessons for beginners.

The song played by Dupea on the piano in the back of the truck driving down the road is Chopin's "Fantaisie" in F.

When Dupea goes to quit his oil-rigging job, the loud whirring of machines can be heard in the background. This identical sound effect was used seven years later by George Lucas, for the trash compacter scene in Star Wars (1977).

Carole Eastman's original ending had Bobby being killed in a car crash.

Notes

Adrien Joyce is a pseudonym for Carol Eastman.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1996

Released in United States April 2000

Released in United States September 11, 1970

Released in United States September 12, 1970

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1970

Shown at Los Angeles Independent Film Festival (30th Anniversary Screening) April 13-18, 2000.

Shown at New York Film Festival September 11, 1970.

Released in USA on video.

Began production January 1970.

Completed production September 1970.

Selected in 2000 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1970

Released in United States September 12, 1970 (New York City)

Released in United States April 2000 (Shown at Los Angeles Independent Film Festival (30th Anniversary Screening) April 13-18, 2000.)

Released in United States September 11, 1970 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 11, 1970.)