Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hold It Between Your Knees

Bert Schneider
When this film producer died a few weeks ago, nobody had heard from him in decades.  I was a little too young to appreciate him in his prime, which coincided with the countercultural movement of the late 60s and early 70s.  Though he was born into the Hollywood establishment (his father was a muckity-muck at Columbia during the heyday of the studio system), Bert did his best to forge a new path. 

He attended Cornell for a time, and was expelled.  His producing career took off when he teamed with Bob Rafelson to create the phenomenon known as The Monkees.  He helped concoct the off-beat sitcom, which concerned a rock group loosely based on The Beatles, and was partially responsible for the group's swift rise to superstardom.  When he produced the band's film debut, Head, people thought he'd lost his.  The stream-of-consciousness style of the film alienated the fans of the Monkees, and the really cool kids would not be caught dead watching anything starring The Monkees.  The film tanked, but is now considered an authentic period piece.

Bert's biggest contributions were in film, where he guided Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and The King of Marvin Gardens, among others, to cult status.  As I said, I was a little too young to appreciate these films, but I've since seen some clips, including that hilarious diner sequence in Five Easy Pieces.  It's sometimes said that this single scene made Jack Nicholson a star.

Bert Schneider's other films of note include The Last Picture Show and Days of Heaven. 

His documentary, Hearts and Minds, was a devastating illustration of the hypocrisy of the Vietnam war, and was the perfect embodiment of his extreme left-wing politics.  It won the Oscar.  Schneider faded from the national consciousness once his style of "in-your-face" film fell out of fashion, and has rarely been heard from since the mid-70s. He died December 12th, at the age of 78. 

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