Review: America Lost & Found: The BBS Story DVD

America Lost & Found DVD boxSTUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTORS: Bob Rafelson, Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogandovich, Jack Nicholson, Henry Jaglom CAST: The Monkees, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Tuesday Weld
RELEASE DATE: 12/14/10 | PRICE: DVD $99.95, Blu-ray $124.95
BONUSES: filmmaker commentaries, screen tests and outtakes, making-of featurettes, “BBStory,” short documentary Picture This, “Notes on the New York Film Festival,” more
SPECS: NR | 691 min. | Dramas | widescreen | monaural

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Easy Rider, 1969

An important slice of film history is presented in America Lost & Found: The BBS Story, a deluxe nine-disc set chronicling the production company that created the biggest hit of the late 1960s, Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider, and then went on to make five exemplary independent films with the backing of Columbia Pictures.

Five of the seven films contained in this box had previously been released on DVD (Henry Jaglom’s A Safe Place and Jack Nicholson’s Drive, He Said have been MIA until now), but all of the films — from Bob Rafelson’s Head (1968) to his The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) — have been beautifully restored for this collection. Fans of “maverick era” 1970s American film will thus be interested to not only see what the films look like in their latest incarnation, but also to find out what is contained in the several hours’ worth of special features included in the box.

The supplements contain equal amounts of rare footage, hardcore film history and entertaining gossip, with the line between the last two blurring at points. Although we are not treated to the much-discussed plethora of scenes that were cut from Easy Rider and The Last Picture Show (which initially screened at four hours and 2:20, respectively), we can feast on such rarities as the original screen tests for the Monkees TV series (that find a total of seven actors playing the four band members); Orson Welles in the Central Park Zoo providing many different readings for an eccentric bit of dialog in A Safe Place (1971); and a very rare piece of black-and-white video featuring a drunk Bruce Dern rehearsing a speech for Marvin Gardens.

The film history aspect is addressed in the new documentary BBS Story, which includes present-day comments from, among others, producer-director Bob Rafelson and scripter-director-actor Jack Nicholson. BBS Story and several of the other featurettes supply the trajectory of BBS, from its initial incarnation as “Raybert” (responsible for The Monkees and the cult movie/box-office flop Head) to the success of Easy Rider and the critical acclaim that greeted the first two BBS productions, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show.

An equally fascinating interview with producer Steve Blauner (the “S” in BBS) gives a description of what would have been the last fictional BBS production, a “mountain man” drama from filmmaker Jim McBride (The Big Easy). Blauner supplies one of the only reflections on why BBS ended when he notes that he simply threw in the towel after wrangling with McBride over the film. Oddly unmentioned in all documentaries (and obviously not included in this box) is Hearts and Minds (1974), which was made under the BBS banner.

The gossip aspect of the box is fulfilled quite well by the many making-of supplements and the individual filmmaker commentaries contained in the DVDs. We hear Michael Nesmith referring to he and his fellow Monkees as “preening monsters,” can watch Peter Bogdanovich (The Dukes) and Cybill Shepherd (Barry Munday) discussing the affair they began during Last Picture Show, and learn how director Nicholson (Drive, He Said) kept the police from arresting one of his male leads for public nudity (by taking off his own clothes and offering himself for arrest, while the crew scrambled to have the film processed).

The most interesting source of Rashomon film history, and 1960s drug-era gossip, is, of course, the making of Easy Rider. Although the late Hopper recorded a new commentary track in 2009 for this collection, in which he states categorically that he wrote the film alone and had a clear vision all along (and it is indeed evident that the film reflects his unique visual style), the many documentaries presented in this DVD collection show the film to be one of those “happy accidents” in movie history, where the exceptionally talented group around Hopper tamed his vision and made his film the classic it wound up becoming.

 

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”