From the Monkees to “Five Easy Pieces” and beyond, the collected history of BBS Productions becomes available on DVD Tuesday
In 1969, an incredible film revolution was launched, thanks to the Monkees and nepotism.
Now that brief period is being packaged together in its entirety — except for one film — in a new box set called “America Lost and Found,” which will be released Tuesday.
The collection features deluxe versions of the best-known BBS classics, as well as more challenging work the company released, like Jack Nicholson’s directing debut “Drive, He Said,” and Henry Jaglom’s “A Safe Place,” neither of which has been available for home viewing until now.
It was an absolutely singular and astonishing time in filmmaking history,” Henry Jaglom, whose "A Safe Place" is included in the set, told TheWrap. “Orson Welles told me, ‘Jump at it, there will never be another time like this.’
"I thought BBS would open to the path to an endless new wave of filmmaking, but Orson was right. It was a narrow window.”
“Our efforts focused on setting BBS in a larger historical context, showing the cultural currents that made it possible, and the possibilities it opened up for subsequent generations of filmmakers,” Kim Hendrickson, who produced the box set for Criterion, told TheWrap. “These movies changed the history of Hollywood.”
BBS first came together when Bert Schneider felt his father Abe, then chariman at Columbia, wasn’t letting him move forward in the family business. So he joined up with Steve Blauner, an old friend who worked for Screen Gems, and a similarly ambitious Bob Rafelson, and a six-picture deal was made with Columbia.
Rafelson reportedly came up with the idea for the Monkees, telling Blauner, “I want to make ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ as a TV show.”
The success of The Monkees on TV laid the groundwork for what came next, under a six-picture deal with Columbia: the first BBS film, the Monkees’ psychedelic 1968 movie “Head,” co-written by Jack Nicholson and directed by Rafelson. That was a flop, but not so BBS' next film: Easy Rider,” which cost about half a million and made about $20 million in its first run.
That blew open the door for young Hollywood.
Before “Easy Rider,” it was practically impossible for directors in their twenties to break through to the major studios. Now mainstream Hollywood — whose dated, overbudget spectacles were losing money left and right — was scrambling to find out what kind of movies young America wanted to see.
"Easy Rider' led to “The Last Picture Show,” “Five Easy Pieces,” Rafelson's under-appreciated "King of Marvin Gardens," and "A Safe Place," which gave Henry Jaglom final cut on his first film. It culminated in 1974 with the Viet Nam documentary “Hearts and Minds.” Because of rights issues, "Hearts and Minds" is the only BBS film not included in the Criterion set."
“Each one of these films really represents the artist that made them,” Jaglom told TheWrap. “’Easy Rider’ had the most impact, but for me the most important statement was ‘Five Easy Pieces.’ ‘The Last Picture Show’ was evocative of the great films of the past, and understood the heartstrings of the audience best.”
“We had a unique situation where we had final cut, and nobody could approve or disapprove our films,” said Blauner. “Columbia had no say whatsoever. They never read one of our scripts.”
There was one hitch with the studio, though, late in the game.
“Hearts and Minds,” which documented the war in Southeast Asia while it was still in progress, was to be the last film in the Columbia deal, but as Jaglom recalled, the studio dumped the film under pressure from the government and the banks.
So BBS took it to Warner Bros. Released in 1974, it won the Oscar for best documentary — and it also marked the end of BBS.
By this time, Blauner and Schneider felt they were burned out. They had put everything they had into the movies, and had to pay for the budget overages out of their own pockets, which was always a risky high-wire act.
“You’re under constant tension if you care,” Blauner says. “And we cared.”