Last Friday night, I went back in time. I did it without the help of H. G Wells or Doc Brown. All it took was a trip to Leicester Square.
After a long, increasingly sweaty, work week, I hopped along to the Prince Charles, via several unneeded detours. The old-school schedule banner greeted me and immediately, I was a little in awe. With a pair of crisp tickets rustling in my hand, I stumbled downstairs with my partner in film and life, out of the sunshine and into the darkness. We were to see Five Easy Pieces, an early Jack Nicholson film about a classical pianist who rejects his craft and upper-class background, opting for a blue-collar existence with his girlfriend, Rayette (Karen Black). That is until he hears of his father’s worsening health and old wounds open afresh.
I’d never heard of this “photo-play” before sliding down the PCC’s schedule, but was convinced by other half that this was the film for us. She was right. Full of strained laughter and Nicholson’s roguish charm, Five Easy Pieces is a surprisingly poignant delight. Nicholson’s innate charisma oozed from his every pore, permeating every scene and interaction. You can’t take your eyes off him.
But it was not The Shining star’s early promise that had me bound to my seat: I didn’t want to lift my feet off the floor for fear of floating off into a time that was not my own.
On screen I had been transported to 1970s America, swaying slowly among working-class labourers, those listening to Tammy Wynette and eating white bread sandwiches to survive the daily grind. Nicholson’s wanderer is out of place whenever he takes off his boots, thinking himself above the oil field but too realistic to go anywhere else.
The dialogue of his friends and lover(s) are in common-tongue but feel as foreign as the BFG’s Gobblefunk. Rayette, Nicholson’s devoted companion, is especially alien. Her intonation and word selection causes a strange fascination, like watching a slow-motion car-crash that you know can only end in tragedy. She is submissive, waiting for affection that is never going to come. Female roles are rarely painted with such a combination of vulnerability, naivety, acceptance and charm.
From here we are invited into the house of a wealthy family from which Nicholson’s Robert originates. He is, as I was, just as uncomfortable here; the property and conversation practically creaks with every antiqued movement. His struggle between his inborn-class and his rejection of such wafty intellectualism comes to a head when Rayette enters the home and worlds collide. We float alongside the friction as a passive, judgmental observer, but in 2016, an observer to whom the situation is as distant as Klingon.
But this Tardis time travel is a multi-sensual experience. Away from the messages of the projected pictures, the reality of one’s own personal situation is far from regular. Sitting in the lowest seats in the PCC puts you in a deep curve, sloping upward toward the screen. The screen fills the area’s stage, sound ricocheting like scattering billiards around the room. Your seated position, with neck craned ever-so-slightly, puts you in an immediate position of passivity; your body given to the room, the atmosphere and the experience awaiting you.
Others in the crowd are feeling something similar too. Bums shuffle, heads bob up from seats, and people change places, all symptoms of the irregular circumstance. The sound is not the crisp Dolby audio of a cineplex. Quips are lost in the air before they reach your ear and insults spat with their backs to the camera stay hidden. Dots and smudges litter the picture, dropping holes into our overly-perfect expectations. You can practically feel the ’70s smokers filling your view with a deadly haze and hear the reel rattling as it passes through the projector on its high-speed, short-distance journey. People laugh around you, visceral cackles, as natural as if they had burst out of their very diaphragms.
This is not the Odeon experience. This is time-travelling for under a tenner.
Images courtesy of Park Circus/Sony. I am now a part of the Park Circus Ambassador Network. Get in touch with any q’s.