Five Easy Pieces 1970

Read the script
Excerpt from Five Easy Pieces

The Story

Directed by Bob Rafelson and written by Adrien Joyce (aka Carole Eastman), Five Easy Pieces is one of the pre-eminent films in the early-’70s cycle of alien­ated Amer­ican art movies. It was nomin­ated for several Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor, and estab­lished Nich­olson as a star.

Once a prom­ising pianist from a family of clas­sical musi­cians, Bobby Eroica Dupea (Jack Nich­olson) leads a blue-collar life as an oil rigger, living with needy wait­ress girl­friend Rayette (Karen Black).

5 Easy PiecesBobby discovers from his sister, Tita (Lois Smith) that his father is gravely ill and reluct­antly heads back to the patri­cian family compound in Puget Sound with a preg­nant Rayette in tow. After a road trip featuring a harangue from hitch­hiker Palm (Helena Kalli­ani­otes) about filth, and Bobby’s ill-fated attempt to make a menu substi­tu­tion in a diner, he tucks Rayette away in a motel before heading to the house.

There Bobby seduces his uptight brother Carl’s cultured fiancée, Cath­erine (Susan Anspach), but Rayette shows up unex­pec­tedly. As Rayette’s crassness collides with the snob­bery of the Dupea circle, Bobby loses patience with both sides. After trying to recon­cile with his mute father, Bobby departs, unwilling to give in to either destiny”. (Adapted from a review by Lucia Bozzola, Rotten Toma­toes)

The decade of disillusionment

Few films of the 70’s ‘new wave’ reson­ated as much with audi­ences as Five Easy Pieces despite its resol­utely down-beat theme and ending. Featuring a memor­able perform­ance from Jack Nich­olson, possibly his best, (before Stanley Kubrick got to him and trans­formed him into the cari­ca­ture “Here’s Johnny” version of himself), this was partly to do with the timing of its release.

In 1970 the sixties vision of an altern­ative society was dying from cynicism and disil­lu­sion­ment and a gener­a­tion was left high and dry. They had rejected the values of their parents (like Bobby) but had yet to find some­thing to fill the vacuum.

Bobby is an embod­i­ment of their frus­tra­tion and sense of betrayal; a grown up Holden Caulfield whose lost his sense of iden­tity.  If the audi­ence bought the exist­en­tial conclu­sion of the film, it was because it seemed to be the only honest way to end it.

David Clough © 2011

The SceneRead the Diner Scene

The first scene in this clip was a seminal one for its day (see the tab). Stop­ping off at a road­side diner on his way home, Bobby tries to order a meal from a small minded wait­ress (Lorna Thayer) and gets involved in Kafka-esque argu­ment.  He cannot win of course, even using the absurd logic of her rules against her, and ulti­mately he erupts with frus­tra­tion. It’s the film in micro­cosm – some­thing with which many could identify.

The second scene is memor­able for completely different reasons. Bobby plays a slow elegaic piece of Chopin while the camera slowly pans over a collec­tion of family photo­graphs. It is meant to be moving and Cath­erine, his brother’s girl, is moved – as are we, the audi­ence  – until Bobby shat­ters the illu­sion with a leer: “I faked a little Chopin … You faked a big response”

We’re used to Bobby’s rude­ness, a predict­able seduc­tion tech­nique, but the scene also delib­er­ately ques­tions the value of art as a way of reaching the truth. Bobby turns his back on music in the same way that the movie rejects easy solu­tions to the hero’s dilemma. A few years before Bobby might have ‘turned on and dropped out’ – now Nixon is on his way to the White­house and those days are over.

Dialogue in the Diner Scene:

Dupea: I’d like a plain omelette, no pota­toes, toma­toes instead, a cup of coffee, and wheat toast.
Wait­ress: (She points to the menu) No substi­tu­tions.
Dupea: What do you mean? You don’t have any toma­toes?
Wait­ress: Only what’s on the menu. You can have a number two – a plain omelette. It comes with cottage fries and rolls.
Dupea: Yeah, I know what it comes with. But it’s not what I want.
Wait­ress: Well, I’ll come back when you make up your mind.
Dupea: Wait a minute. I have made up my mind. I’d like a plain omelette, no pota­toes on the plate, a cup of coffee, and a side order of wheat toast.
Wait­ress: I’m sorry, we don’t have any side orders of toast…an English muffin or a coffee roll.
Dupea: What do you mean you don’t make side orders of toast? You make sand­wiches, don’t you?
Wait­ress: Would you like to talk to the manager?
Dupea: …You’ve got bread and a toaster of some kind?
Wait­ress: I don’t make the rules.
Dupea: OK, I’ll make it as easy for you as I can. I’d like an omelette, plain, and a chicken salad sand­wich on wheat toast, no mayon­naise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.
Wait­ress: A number two, chicken sal san, hold the butter, the lettuce and the mayon­naise. And a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Dupea: 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.
Wait­ress (spite­fully): You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Dupea: I want you to hold it between your knees.
Wait­ress (turning and telling him to look at the sign that says, “No Substi­tu­tions”) Do you see that sign, sir? Yes, you’ll all have to leave. I’m not taking any more of your smart­ness and sarcasm.
Dupea: You see this sign? (He sweeps all the water glasses and menus off the table.)


Read the photostory of Five Easy Pieces

Photost­ories tell the story of a film in strip-form, using stills. They were a feature of early film magazines. This one is taken from an eighties Orbis public­a­tion called The Movie.


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