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by Leonard Maltin
September 27, 2012 1:00 AM
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Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern in Bob Rafelson's  'King of Marvin Garden's'
Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern in Bob Rafelson's 'King of Marvin Garden's'

As the New York Film Festival prepares to celebrate its 50th year, I am reminded of screenings I attended (of movies old and new) when I was a teenager. In 1965 I was present for a Buster Keaton tribute that included his inscrutable Samuel Beckett short Film, the charming National Film Board of Canada featurette The Railrodder, and one of his greatest silent features, Seven Chances. That same year the Festival showed Erich von Stroheim’s brilliant silent feature The Wedding March, which reduced me to tears.

Five years later I had another profound experience: seeing the debut screening of Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces and hearing him speak about it at a press conference afterward. This was one of the building blocks of New American Cinema, and it thrilled me. There is no way to explain how exciting it was to live through this period, when I was still young and impressionable, and witness the flowering of so many great talents. Five Easy Pieces confirmed that Jack Nicholson was one of the most gifted actors to come along in years, and Bob Rafelson was one of the boldest new voices in the filmmaking world. (They have continued to collaborate over the years, and while I haven’t loved everything they’ve done, I’m quite fond of their 1996 noir thriller Blood and Wine.)

Jack Nicholson-Bruce Dern-KOMG-426

Later this week, Rafelson is returning to Manhattan for a “Masterworks” screening of his highly personal but little-seen The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), photographed by the great Laszlo Kovacs, forty years to the day after its debut. Nicholson stars with Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn in this challenging, difficult film about two brothers set against the backdrop of a stagnant Atlantic City, prior to its rebirth as a gambling mecca. Jacob Brackman wrote the screenplay from a story he developed with the director.

If you’ve never seen the film, which is rarely revived, on a theater screen, I encourage you to go. It’s not a “feel-good movie,” but it’s one of the more striking pictures from what is now referred to as the Silver Age of American film, the 1970s. The showing is Sunday, September 30 at the Walter Reade Theater. You can find more info HERE

On the Boardwalk in the 'King of Marvin Gardens'
On the Boardwalk in the 'King of Marvin Gardens'
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  • Stephen M.H. Braitman | October 8, 2012 6:33 PMReply

    "King of Marvin Gardens" - one of my desert-island picks, FYI - is one of the most European of American films. Beautifully, poetically shot, it takes its time, and doesn't explain itself. The film is a marvel of construction and precision. Challenge: Can anyone tell me the one spot in the movie where there is soundtrack music (not "real" music played in the scene) - and, more importantly, why is it there?

  • Kevin Barry | September 27, 2012 6:17 PMReply

    Sorry, my overly punctuated spelling of Mr. Kovacs' name didn't transmit - the sign on the camera read: Laszlo's Violin.

  • Kevin Barry | September 27, 2012 5:38 PMReply

    Wow, two articles in a row that brought back personal memories! I was going to school in the Atlantic City area when a friend of mine knocked on my door shouting, "Mike Nichols is filming a movie on the boardwalk!" Well, my friend had his facts wrong, because when we got there we saw it was not Mr. Nichols, but Jack Nicholson, who was starting on his rise to superstardom. I noticed a camera with a hand-written sign taped to it that read "László's Violin". I didn't even recognize Ellen Burstyn, who I would notice later in The Last Picture Show, but I identified Bruce Dern immediately. The cast was very friendly and accessible, and Nicholson was especially funny and approachable. As I was chatting with him between takes, Bob Rafelson signaled that they were ready for him. Nicholson turned to me and said, "I hope I make it through the shot, I have the wee-wee shivers!" I will never forget it! (That shot, by the way, is the one where Nicholson and Dern meet).

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