So this is the third and final Jack Nicholson post. You know the deal. I’m going to move into the films quickly because there’s going to be some wrap up at the end.
“The Shining” (1980)
I really like “The Shining” and Jack Nicholson is an undeniable force of nature in it. It’s an iconic role and an iconic film. I genuinely don’t think anyone else could have done what he did here and I think everyone who has played a manic and sinister character since “The Shining” has probably ripped something out of Nicholson’s Jack Torrence. It’s hard to put a finger on what is so good about his performance as opposed to what is so definitively him about it. He manages to create this character that seems menacing, but also kind of beaten down. He’s got a smarmy, everyman cheeriness that hides a shitty husband and a disconnected father.
My memory of it before rewatching it this week was of a less supernatural film. I remembered it as purely psychological piece. It is very open in it’s flirtation with the supernatural and it is quite obvious that something else is at play and I really enjoyed that this time around
“About Schmidt” (2002)
“About Schmidt” is a good film and Jack Nicholson is very good in it, but I really don’t like his character and I think it shaped the way I think about Jack Nicholson as a man when I saw it first. His Schmidt is a nightmare of a character. Just a helpless bastard. I guess in my mind, I felt that it was probably an easy role for Nicholson to play because he was starting to look like his character in real life.
So I’ve watched a bunch of Jack Nicholson films and I think it has changed my opinion of him. I didn’t get the hype and now I do. Even though there were films of his that I had always enjoyed, I didn’t really give him the credit he deserved. In particular, “The Shining” and “Chinatown” are two of my favourites. He has played some great roles and put in some iconic performances. Wikipedia claims he’s considered one of the greatest actors of his generation and I’m not going to disagree with that. He obviously had some misses and I think his really good performances seem to trail off towards the end of his career, but I give him credit for retiring when he did. There’s an honesty to not making films for the sake of it.
So Jack Nicholson passes my test. If there are any good Jack Nicholson films that I missed, I would love some recommendations, or if there’s terrible films that might are so bad they might change my mind, I’d like to hear about those. I’d also be interested to hear suggestions on other actors who should be put to the same test.
So I took a weekend off for my birthday accidentally. I hadn’t planned to. I feel like the older I get, the less important I think birthdays are, but then I also feel that I need to make the most of any chance to celebrate. Twenty nice is a weird age. There’s been a couple of jokes about getting close to thirty, but I think worrying about getting older only makes sense when things aren’t working out. My life is pretty sweet and things are really going to plan for me right now. So roll on twenty nine.
While I did take a weekend off, I want to make up for my skipped longer post. The song of the day posts are important but I can afford to miss one from time to time. I think it’s important to get my weekend long posts in. So I’m back to the multipart from two weeks ago, discussing Jack Nicholson. Just as a reminder, I’m looking back at some Jack Nicholson films to see if I can consolidate the respect he seems to get with my own opinion on the performances I have seen.
“The Last Detail” (1973)
“The Last Detail” is an odd film. It’s slapstick and meandering. Jack Nicholson has the more senior role which was different to “Easy Rider” and “Five Easy Pieces”. For some reason this was one of the first older Jack Nicholson films I watched and I wasn’t completely convinced by him. It’s worth a watch but it’s very much the Jack Nicholson I expected based on the way he is now.
“Chinatown” is a tough film to sell to anyone who hasn’t already seen it. Roman Polanski is an admitted child rapist and his work shouldn’t be celebrated as a result, particularly while he is still alive and can make money from it. However, it is a great film. Nicholson is great. He suffers my favourite film injury. It’s a cool story and it might have been good without Nicholson but he definitely adds to it. I’m very conflicted about liking the film, but it is a win for Jack Nicholson at the very least.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the very good and very much a Jack Nicholson film. I must admit to only seeing it for the first time recently. I think for a long time I was put off by Jack Nicholson. I just didn’t want to watch it. It’s an odd film. There’s a fairly decent sized red flag in that his character is in prison for statutory rape. I think the character is likeable and is intended to be, so it’s a little unsettling for that to have been his crime and for him to be kind of proud of it. He is very entertaining though and he plays it well. There is something very cat and mouse about the conflict between Nicholson’s McMurphy and Nurse Ratched and it’s probably the blueprint for petty tit for tat battles in film from that point onwards.
I have two more Jack Nicholson films to write about so I’m going to end Part 2 of the look at Jack Nicholson there in order to keep these posts as reasonable sizes.
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.