Sunday, March 30, 2008

Humboldt DNA Series, Part I: FIVE EASY PIECES

Okay, today we're starting a new series. We thought we'd do some posts about the films that inspired "Humboldt County." The films we're going to cover in this series of posts all inspired HC in some way - whether in the writing, the visuals, the tone, the acting, the narrative structure.

Here's what would be great. If we ever do a post on a film that you, our beloved LCLs, have not seen, please go and watch it and post a comment about your thoughts on the film. Deal? Great. Nice working with you.

And now, onto the first film in our Humboldt County DNA series: FIVE EASY PIECES.

First a little primer on the film's context:

"Five" was released in 1970 and was directed by Bob Rafelson and starred Mr. Jack Nicholson. At the 1971 Oscars, the film was nominated four times. Karen Black was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Nicholson was nominated for Best Actor, the film was nominated for Best Picture and also Best Screenplay.

The film was the second of three 70s collaborations between Rafelson and Nicholson. They first worked together on Rafelson's first film, "Head" which Nicholson wrote. They would work together one more time in the decade on a film called "The King of Marvin Gardens" which will be another film we discuss in this series.

Many claim that Nicholson had more to do with the end result of "Easy Pieces" than Rafelson but Darren and I have been unable to corroborate that claim.

The film is flat out incredible. First of all, it is beautifully shot by our late friend Laszlo Kovacs (see more info on Laszlo in our post about Peter Bogdanovich). We referenced the visuals of "Five Easy Pieces" quite a bit in our preparation for "HC." The way that Laszlo captured the beautiful Texas vistas in the beginning of the film, as well as the gorgeous greenery of Nicholson's family home directly inspired some of our color palette for HC.

I want to talk about a particular shot, however, that deeply affected the way we decided to tell "HC." That shot is the first shot in the movie. It's only about 10 seconds long. It is a shot of dirt. And then the dirt begins to move, and then you realize that the dirt is actually in a huge construction shovel. It's a simple but engaging first shot because it tells the audience that nothing is as it seems. Dirt isn't merely dirt and Nicholson's character isn't merely a dumb, hard-hat working the oil fields. He, like the film, is much more than that. That first shot summed up the entire film and that's why it is brilliant. Darren and I thought quite a bit about that shot in crafting "Humboldt" - we wanted to do the same thing - let the audience know that everything is not as it seems. Pot farmers are not just pot farmers and stereotypes are often only a starting point to understand our fellow human beings. (If you've seen the film, you know how we achieved this affect with our own first shot. For those of you that haven't, I won't ruin it for you here.) Nonetheless, that one 10 second shot provided, in some ways, the entire approach for our film.

The other major way that "Easy Pieces" affected us was with its subtle blend of drama and comedy. Both elements are rooted in absolute reality. There is very little (except for maybe a scene where Nicholson ends up playing a piano on a truck on a highway) that isn't rooted in a reality that we all know. This comedic/dramatic blend and its deep roots in reality inspired the tone of "Humboldt" more than we even realize, I think.

Over the course of writing and directing "Humboldt" Darren and I probably watched "Easy Pieces" about forty times. There are parts of that movie that I know as well as my own film. There are so many scenes in "Humboldt" that are directly inspired by ones in "Easy Pieces" that to list them here would be to ruin the entire plot of our film for those that have not seen it. So I won't do that now. However, once you guys have had a chance to see both films (hopefully soon!) then we can have a real discussion.

Okay, LCLs, go out and rent "Five Easy Pieces" and let's start a great discussion in the message thread!

Till next time.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Film Professors,

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