Criterion releases “America Lost And Found: The BBS Story”

Originally published in the Northside San Francisco in February 2011

Lost and Found

“As for that thorn he feels in his heart, he is careful not to quiet its pain. On the contrary, he awakens it and, in the desperate joy of a man crucified and happy to be so, he builds up, piece by piece–lucidity, refusal, make-believe–a category of the man possessed.” – Albert Camus

“A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere.” -promotional advertisement for the film Easy Rider.

During the mid to late 1960’s, big budget epics and campy comedies made up the landscape of American contemporary film. By the mid 1970’s, films with increasingly complex character driven plots by directors Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and others became the new direction of American cinema. In between was BBS.

BBS Productions was Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Steve Blauner. As young filmmakers steeped in the avant-garde, they sought to represent the world as they experienced it. Influenced by French New Wave and innovative directors such as Kenneth Anger, the films of BBS were downbeat, featuring flawed characters that don’t necessarily prevail. In this new genre, outsiders were winners by virtue of their individuality, not their ultimate fate.

Funded by the money made while producing the television show The Monkees, the first BBS film was an irreverent attack on itself. Head, a dark, postmodern comedy released in 1968, deconstructs the “Prefab Four” Monkees by mocking the artist as commodity and ridiculing the entire concept of fame. As chief Monkee Mike Nesmith says in the film, “You think they call us plastic now, babe, but wait ’til I get through telling them how we do it.” Like many BBS films it was ahead of its time, and Head went on to become a cult classic.

The Criterion Collection’s new release is a seven film box set which includes Jack Nicholson’s directorial debut, Drive, He Said, the shadowy and disturbed A Safe Place, the classic biker film Easy Rider, the misfit loner adventure Five Easy Pieces, the psychedelic romp Head, the bad luck story The King of Marvin Gardens and a tale of a dying town in the middle of nowhere, The Last Picture Show. The careers of actors Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Jeff Bridges, Cybil Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn and others were launched through BBS. This collection includes a gold mine of extras including archival interviews, documentaries, outtakes, screen tests, TV and radio spots, still galleries, trailers and a collection of essays.

What began in obscurity ended in critical acclaim. Time validated the experiment that was BBS. “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story” bookends the revolutionary upheaval that was the late sixties and early seventies as seen through the lens of the counterculture.

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