I’ve had an idea for about six months about a concept that I’ve been referring to as cultural consciousness. It’s probably not the correct terminology but it seems like what I would intuitively call it. The idea is that there’s an age at which a person becomes aware of culture – art, music, film, on a larger scale. At that age there are concepts that are already established and others that are developing. I think the age at which this happens is probably different from person to person and the concepts will be different for different generations. The elements of this that I find interesting are ideas of respect or consensus and then contradictions or inconsistencies within those. So, like all things on this blog, I’ve been thinking about this in relation to my own little brain. I reckon my point of cultural consciousness was around the year 2000 when I was 8. Everything to this point has been very abstract so I’ll move onto my first example.
One of the established concepts that I felt existed at my point of becoming culturally conscious was that Jack Nicholson was a big deal as an actor. In my lifetime, Nicholson’s career wound down and he apparently retired in 2010 with “How Do You Know”, but he never looked great. In my lived experience, he’s always looked hungover and pretty confused and the films he’s made in the time that I’ve been aware of him have all seemed pretty lame. I hadn’t seen a lot of his films but his reputation and my perception of him didn’t really add up. So over the last while I’ve been working through his filmography based on recommendations and what I felt were considered classics to see where I would stand on Jack Nicholson having given him a fair chance.
“Easy Rider” 1969
“Easy Rider” is terrible and fantastic at times, but the big thing that I feel having watched it is that Jack Nicholson lifts it for the time that he’s in it. It’s mostly nonsense. I like the idea that Peter Fonda was involved in writing the film and how in every scene women are falling in love with him. Dennis Hopper’s direction is odd and his performance reminds me of Noel Fielding’s Spider Dijon character in the Mighty Boosh. The two are riding motor bikes from California to New Orleans and encounter Jack Nicholson’s character. He’s a mad character. He wears a big American football helmet while on the back of a motorbike. He’s very entertaining. He might be elevated by being the highlight of an otherwise strangely thrown together film, but he does a good job with what he’s working with and his absence is felt in the latter part of the film.
“Five Easy Pieces” 1970
“Five Easy Pieces” was one of the first films I watched in the earliest incarnation of this idea. I wasn’t thinking about the conflict of my own perception and what I saw as the common consensus at that time. I was just curious about Jack Nicholson. He plays a terrible bastard. He’s terrible to his girlfriend and his family. As a story, it’s similar to lots of stories from the middle of the 1900s, talented man is unfulfilled and treats women badly. Jack Nicholson is good at that though. You can see how unpleasant he is in the famous diner scene. By the end Nicholson manages to change the audience’s view of his character from seeing him as a prick to seeing him a a man who is angry on the outside and sad on the inside and the final scene is quite powerful.
This is going to be at least a two part post so check back next week when I’ll be writing about some more Jack Nicholson films that helped me arrive at a conclusion.