A Man Went Looking For America…

The man who gave us The Monkees, EASY RIDER and the seminal New Hollywood production company, BBS, has passed into the celluloid gates beyond. Bert Schneider was a pivotal figure in the late 60’s and 70’s, a smart, progressive producer who celebrated talent and subversion as his resume proves. With a pilot scribed by Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker, THE MONKEES had the advantage of a perfect faux-band with terrific music by Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, and Carole King, along with a hip sensibility notches above the typical studio rip-off schemes. Schneider and director Bob Rafelson even dropped the laugh-track in the second season, a clear rebuke to network mandates. Testament to The Monkees impact was the fact that The Beatles were vocal fans of the show which resulted in Michael Nesmith being invited to the A DAY N THE LIFE orchestral sessions. The profits from the show allowed Schneider to indulge his film producing jones which he put to use by financing The Monkees amazing, deconstructionist, HEAD (1968), followed by a low-budget proto-biker project called EASY RIDER that AIP had passed on since they didn’t trust Dennis Hopper at the helm. The massive critical and popular success of this archetypal 60’s film led to the formation of BBS Productions (for Bert Schneider, Bob Rafelson and Steve Blauner), whose halycon days cineastes can only dream of — I know I have.

"A Safe Place"

The first time I called up EASY RIDER’s editorial consultant, Henry Jaglom, to discuss SKIDOO (another story), Henry grilled me in his no-bullshit way about my knowledge of BBS Productions, who went on to produce one of the most important series of films in American cinema history. From Jaglom’s oblique mystical A SAFE PLACE (1970) starring Orson Welles, Tuesday Weld and Jack Nicholson to Bob Rafelson’s FIVE EASY PIECES (1970) to Nicholson’s little-seen directorial debut DRIVE, HE SAID (1970) to Peter Bogdanovich’s award-winning THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971) to Rafelson’s under-rated KING OF MARVIN GARDENS (1972), capped by Schneider’s Oscar winning documentary about America’s disastrous Vietnam excursion, HEARTS AND MINDS (1975), BBS produced films that spoke to the 70’s discontent and disillusionment utilizing the era’s best cinema talents. That kind of cynical yet honest center cannot hold and Schneider retired from film-making by the end of the decade. Our friends at Criterion honored this groundbreaking period with one of their greatest releases, AMERICA LOST AND FOUND: THE BBS STORY featuring the above films (minus HEARTS AND MINDS), remastered in glorious Blu-Ray. Bert Schneider’s kind will not be seen again, and this brief Hollywood flirtation with American reality should be studied by every disciple of cinema.

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2 Responses to “A Man Went Looking For America…”

  1. Nice. Yeah, that BBS box set by Criterion is pretty sweet and a very fitting tribute to Schneider and his legacy. He really packed in a bunch of fantastic films in a short time. Even the more dated films in the set (DRIVE, HE SAID) have something to offer and he helped Jack Nicholson create one of THE best runs of an actor in a decade. Man, what a bunch of great films he cranked out in the 1970’s, many of ’em BBS productions.

    • DRIVE HE SAID is exactly my favorite kind of obscure startling 70’s film…And check out that guest list on the HEAD premiere ad…Hopper, Nicholson, Redford AND Ruth Buzzi!

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