Jack and Lew

I saw the Monkees' movie HEAD last night, which reminded me that Jack Nicholson once directly made interesting, creative, thoughtful, often personal movies -- RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND and THE SHOOTING with Monte Hellman, THE TRIP with Roger Corman, Nicholson's own DRIVE, HE SAID and THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS. It's always sad when an actor who can write, stops. Not as sad as the prices that the OP DVD of THE SHOOTING are demanding, but still sad.

Lately, I've been thinking about a fairly obscure bit of movie business: After EASY RIDER made a shitload of money in '69, Universal decided the best way to tap that new market was to essentially give a handful of young filmmakers a million dollars, a deadline, carte blanche and final cut. It seems Lew Wasserman may have been "in charge" of the department. From that project came:

Peter Fonda's THE HIRED HAND [1971]
Milos Foreman's TAKING OFF, [his first American movie, 1971]
Monte Hellman's TWO-LANE BLACKTOP [1971]
Dennis Hopper's THE LAST MOVIE [1971]
Douglas Turnbull's SILENT RUNNING [1972]

I haven't really done a lot of research into this semi-independent project -- I'm not even sure it even had a name, unless they really went with "New Youth Division" -- but these three Universal pictures are often included with the group:

Frank Perry's DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE [1970]
John Cassavettes's MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ [1971]
George Lucas' AMERICAN GRAFFITI [1973]

I can easily believe the Cassavettes being one of the post-RIDER projects, but HOUSEWIFE seems much too early and GRAFFITI a little bit late for it. Anyway, I find the whole idea of "NYD" fascinating. These days, an EASY RIDER would never be allowed to reach the multiplexes, and even it was released and was a hit, the studios would just shit out a bunch of RIDER clones in the same way PULP FICTION begat an official flood of ambiguously ironic pastiches with eclectic soundtracks, not a bunch of relatively inexpensive faux-indy but heterogeneous movies. That Universal got at least one [BLACKTOP] or maybe two [MOSKOWITZ] bona fide classics, a bunch of respected dramas, an always appealing sci-fi programmer [RUNNING] and an even-bigger-than-Easy-Rider blockbuster [GRAFFITI] out of the program should be something of a lesson. It's not and never will be, but it should. You gotta wonder how much of a return Universal made off that less than $7 million investment in 1969.