Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Imaginary Jack Nicholson Film Festival

by F.T. Rea
Jack Nicholson in "Five Easy Pieces"
On Facebook a musician friend reminded me of a Jack Nicholson film festival that played at the Biograph. He mentioned having seen “Five Easy Pieces” there and went on to say how much he enjoyed going to the Biograph in those days; it broadened his horizons when he was a student. Naturally, it's always nice to hear such remembrances.

Flashing back, there were many good aspects to my job as manager of Richmond's Biograph Theatre at 814 W. Grace St. (1972-83). One of the best was picking the films for double features.

Which isn't to suggest I thought them all up. Not at all. I had bosses in Georgetown. Over the first year, I gradually became more involved with programming the theater. We talked endlessly on the telephone about which movies had the most potential at the box office.

In those early days my decision-making was focused more on the midnight shows. And, once I did start making most of the calls about what to play, as far as the repertory bookings were concerned, I was already blessed with a great staff at the Biograph; their suggestions fed into the mix. Then there was the suggestion box in the lobby that allowed the theater's patrons to weigh in.

Still, the point of this post isn't to rehash the Biograph's sepia-toned history, yet again. What I want to do this time is make up a 12-feature Jack Nicholson film festival. With six double features, let's call it “Jack's Greatest Hits.”

Each twin bill would play for either three or four days. Matinees would be offered on Sundays and Wednesdays. Since the Biograph closed in 1987 (there's a noodle-themed restaurant in that space now), for this imaginary festival I'll just have to dream up an imaginary cinema. Let's locate it in the heart of town and call it The Bijou.

Although, for the most part, the 12 films selected for this game are favorites of mine, I've included two movies I didn't like all that much -- "The Shinning" and "The Departed." Did that because I expect a lot of loyal Nicholson fans consider his performances in those two films to be among his best. Maybe I need to watch them again. 

To make room in the festival for them one of my favorites I had to bump off the list was “The King of Marvin Gardens” (1972). Although I liked it a lot back in the day, I have to admit it's a bit tedious and off-the-wall. Plus, I haven't seen it in a long time. But I remember that some of Jack's fans didn't like him all that much in that role.

Remember, this is an imaginary festival. Its ignores the reality of how booking these particular pairings might not be possible, from a business standpoint. Nonetheless, without further ado, spanning 37 years of his work, here's the Jack's Greatest Hits film festival.

“Five Easy Pieces” (1970) + “Chinatown” (1974)

“Easy Rider” (1969) + “The Passenger” (1975)

“The Last Detail” (1973) + “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” (1975) 

“The Shining” (1980) + "The Departed" (2006)

“Carnal Knowledge” (1971)  + “As Good as It Gets” (1997)

“Prizzi's Honor” (1985) + “The Pledge” (2001)

A year or so from now maybe you'll get to see a repertory festival sort of like this one at The Bijou. It sure would be fun to have a hand in programming such a project.

Jack Nicholson and Billy Snead.
They were pals going back to the early 1950s (long story)
and got together occasionally. Billy (1935-2012) grew up in
the Fan District, played on the Biograph's softball team and
was a regular at Chiocca's for decades.

Anyone have a suggestion for a seventh double feature?


Note: By the way Billy Snead was a good story-teller. He had some good ones about Nicholson. Billy's daughter Sande posted some of the stories he put on paper here.

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