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This may be the only film that actually comes close to capturing on film
essentially uncapturable world of the American college experience of the
late 60s-early 70s. Go ahead, name another movie that even approaches this
one: "Getting Straight"? "RPM"? These are caricatures. "Return of the
Secaucus Seven" has its moments, but that's a retrospective film about
(self-obsessed) individuals more than a film about a time and a place
depicted *in* that time and place. "Drive, He Said" portrays-- with
subtlety and nuance where it should, and a swift kick in the shorts where
that's the only appropriate way-- the anti-draft movement, the ambiguity of
big-time college sports (especially when there's a war on), the sexual
revolution of the period, and the general unreality of the day. Believe
it was like that.
The whole cast deserves commendation (as does the director, of course) but particular praise should be reserved for Bruce Dern, as the basketball coach, and Karen Black, the hero's very unusual-- except for that time-- love interest. William Tepper, as the lead, also rates a real round of applause both for his perfect capturing of the student-athlete of the period and for actually playing real college basketball in the film (remember Anthony Perkins in "Tall Story"? Yikes!).
All in all, a classic of a kind-- and the last film someone currently in 6th grade should be writing comments on ("boring", "repellent"-- um, right, sonny, please go back to your Arnold movies). Why isn't this film available from imdb?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As Jack Nicholson's directorial debut, Drive, He Said displays at the
least that he is a gifted director of actors. Even when the story might
seem to lose its way to the audience (and to a modern audience - if
they can find it, which pops up now and again on eBay - it might seem
more free formed than they think), the film contains vivid, interesting
characterizations. The film tells of two college kids: the protagonist
is Hector (William Tepper, in what borders on a break-out performance),
a star of the Leopards, the college basketball team he plays on. While
he has to deal with a coach (Bruce Dern) who puts on the pressure to
stay focused, and a on and off girlfriend (Karen Black) with her own
emotional problems, there's Gabriel (Michael Margotta), the other kid.
Gabriel, it seems, is just a little more than freaked out by the
possibility to be drafted, and so in his own radical mind-state he does
what he can to keep out. But as Hector tries to find the balance
between his oncoming fame and those he loves, Gabriel is going over the
threshold of sanity.
Nicholson, on the technical side of things, displays a fascinating editing style that keeps things on edge during the basketball scenes, and implements darkness in many other scenes with a documentary-feel throughout. And from Tepper, Black, and even Robert Towne (writer of Chinatown, Last Detail, and Mission: Impossible among others, who rarely acts) he garners some credible acting work. Though in Tepper there is a tendency to downplay his emotions. In some scenes, for example, when he could act brilliantly sarcastic, he doesn't play it for what it's worth. From Margotta, on the other hand, there is a vibrant, twisted force in his performance, and as he descends it's frightening, but perhaps understandable from the times (and what a climax). Dern steals most of his scenes, by the way, in a performance that should have garnered him an Oscar nomination. Every line of his dialog is appropriate, true, and it's never hammed up like in recent coach movie performances.
But what drags down the film is that elements involving the characters aren't explained to the degree one might wish more. The film was based on a novel by Jeremy Larner, who co-wrote the script with Nicholson, and I was expecting that the film to be longer than it was. It's a slim volume with a lot of information, about the times, about the sport, about the underlying feelings that were with those of the younger generation. Nicholson presents us with these characters and situations, and rarely are they shown to what's motivating them (the anti-war protesters not included, their part's understandable enough). Gabriel is perturbed by what's going on in Vietnam, but what else is there? Hector, too, is a guy who has apprehensions about being drafted for the NBA, and he still loves to play, but what's holding him back? This whole atmosphere is intriguing, how the late 60's college/basketball experience was, but that intriguing quality, which does lead to some unconventionality, is kept at a point where it can't go too further. Overall, the effect of the film as a whole is bittersweet, and somewhat memorable for its good points, and not for it's low ones. And, for sure, you can tell who's behind the lens every step of the way. B+
One of only three films Jack Nicholson directed. This film was kind of a dud at the time, which probably explains why Nicholson's secondary career never flowered. I have to say, he did have some talent as a director. Unfortunately, Drive, He Said isn't that good of a film. Well directed, but still a bit of a bore. William Tepper plays a college basketball star (in Ohio, as the whole film is meant to make the audience think of Kent State). His roommate, Michael Margotta, is a hippie activist who is about to be drafted. Karen Black, who made a big splash opposite Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, plays a faculty wife with whom Tepper is having an affair. The big problem with the film is that Tepper is pretty boring and Margotta is extremely annoying. There are some good scenes, but it just doesn't come together. This one is more a candidate for rewatch than A Safe Place (which is on the same Criterion disc), though. I felt like there was something I wasn't getting. I may not have entirely liked it, but it was intriguing.
I attended college in the late Sixties, and I wanted to chime in with Titov and others who says that this is one of only a handful of movies that captures the time as lived experience rather than journalistic cliché. I can think of only three or four others: "Baby, It's You"; "Dog Fight"; and to some extent Milos Forman's first American film, "Taking Off." Not one of these films is available on Netflix. I saw each when it came out. "Taking Off" was revived pretty often for three or four years, so there must have been others who liked it as much as I did. The others I haven't seen since they were first in theaters, so I can'be sure of my present reaction. But for 40 years I've remembered the last line of "Drive, He Said," which says something.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Before he became a journalist, Eugene McCarthy's speechwriter, and then an Oscar-winning screenwriter (The Candidate), Jeremy Larner was a successful novelist. His first effort, Drive, He Said (Delacorte Press, 1964) won the $10,000 Delta Prize for best first novel, beating out over a thousand other manuscripts. The protagonist of Drive, He Said is Hector Bloom, "a half-hick, half-Jew, left-handed neurotic basketball player from the green hills of California" who attends a small, upstate New York university on the Hudson River. The book's other protagonist is Bloom's roommate, Gabriel Reuben, a New York City Jew from an affluent family who nonetheless harbors revolutionary political sentiments. Bloom plays great basketball, sleeps with a professor's wife, and confusedly ponders his future with pro recruiters while Reuben plots seditious mayhemand eventually acts out by burning down the campus! Written before America's full engagement in Vietnam, Drive, He Said is more centrally concerned with early 1960s cultural vertigo, the vagaries of American Dream ideology, and arms race anxieties. Scripted just after the Sixties by first-time director Jack Nicholson in collaboration with author Jeremy Larner (and un-credited help from Robert Towne and Terrence Malick), Drive, He Said zeroes in on the radicalization of an All-American college jock during the era of Vietnam War protestswhich were at their height when the movie was being filmed on the campus of the University of Oregon (Eugene, OR). The somewhat chaotic structure of Drive He Said, while off-putting to some critics, nicely enacts the turmoil of the time. Performances are, however, a mixed bag. The redoubtable Bruce Dern is excellent as Hector's mean-spirited coach. Karen Black is equally convincing as Olive, Hector's troubled mistress. Michael Margotta, who plays Hector's roommate, the increasingly psychotic campus radical is also good. Unfortunately William Tepper, an unknown cast as Hector lacks the charisma to carry off the lead role. Filmmaker Henry Jaglom and screenwriter Robert Towne both play professors and David Ogden Stiers and Cindy Williams appear in minor roles. Screened at the 6th Annual CineVegas Film Festival (2004) where Jack Nicholson was honored with the Festival's Marquee Award, Drive, He Said has not been released on VHS or DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Good luck finding this film to even watch - it's not yet released on
tape or DVD. I saw on release in the early '70's, was lucky enough to
catch it via American Cinematheque's preservation efforts, and it still
has some tangible moments that stayed with me for thirty years.
No reason to repeat rwint's accurate comments here. As a come-out Director soon after the soaring success of Five Easy Pieces, Jack N has been said to have managed the low budget effort as best as possible, and it certainly shows in the wandering and meandering that could have used some re-cutting. But it's also a memorable icon for it's time: the all very intense clashes of late 60's college sports, student movements, sexual revolution, and more.
Why see this film? It was probably a ground breaker in some scenes: the frisky male bonding in the after-game showers; Karen Black's scene with Tepper in the car will catch you a little off guard - but it's the first use of a word I hadn't witnessed in film before; and the casual and unexpected use of nudity overall. There are probably others I'm omitting.
Look for a nice surprise of a young Cindy Williams in one of her first films; a thin David Ogend Stiers; Mike Warren fresh out of his powder-blue UCLA uniform and readying for a dark-blue TV uniform; Robert Towne - Actor; and a whole lot of folks simply playing themselves.
Now: any connection between Harry Gittes last name, Robert Towne, and a certain character in Chinatown and the Two Jakes?
It gets a "7" based on Karen Black. You'll see why.
Poorly developed and fragmented movie about a confused college basketball player with a host of predictably militant and/or cynically unhappy acquaintances characteristic of 1960s academia where the film is set. I'm not sure whether we are supposed to like or even care about the characters or not, but in any event I didn't feel much of either for any of them. Jack Nicholson directed this movie with a taste for profanity and nudity. I guess he thought he was being provocative and progressively mirroring the changing cultural mores of the time. He would have fared better by putting his energy into developing characterization and refining the script that he co-wrote instead. All in all a disappointing movie which left me with a feeling of indifference about it.
Fashionably fragmented, yet infuriatingly half-realized character-study, an examination of the different personalities of two college roommates: a talented but undisciplined star basketball player, and a pot-smoking, womanizing rabble-rouser. We never learn why these young men are friends. They may share confusions about the world and their places in it, but they don't seem to have anything else in common. Making his directorial debut, Jack Nicholson--who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jeremy Larner, based upon Larner's book--doesn't introduce us to the characters with any clarity, nor he does shape the scenes to help us identify with anyone on the screen. There are some very decent performances here (particularly from newcomer William Tepper in the central role), but most of the picture is unformed (perhaps intentionally), sketchy or unsure. Bruce Dern plays the hard-driving basketball coach, Karen Black is the older, married lady Tepper is having an affair with, and Michael Margotta is Tepper's wayward friend (in an off-putting, over-the-top performance). Nicholson fails to set up the sequences with any particular flavor, preferring (I assume) to let the character interaction dominate the film's tone; his script is no help either, and as a result it is unclear whom we're supposed to sympathize with. Small, random moments do work (a supermarket fight between Tepper and Black, Dern visiting Tepper in his dorm-room, all of the scenes set on the court), however the entire third act of the picture is an excruciating mess. Hoping to juxtapose an all-important b-ball game with a sexual assault, Nicholson shows no style at his craft (nor does he earn points for chutzpah, as his staging of these events is squashy and ugly). When a director goes out of his way to humiliate his actors, one has to question his motives in doing so. Perhaps if "Drive, He Said" ultimately made some sort of powerful statement in the bargain, audiences could forgive the filmmaker for his lapses in judgment and taste. Unfortunately, the perplexing closer is as dumbfounding as is much of the rest of the movie. *1/2 from ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jack Nicholson directed this story of a college basketball star coming to grips with the fact that world is a miserable place. William Tepper is exceptional in the lead role, strung along by his would-be girlfriend (Karen Black) and badgered into being a "good boy" by his win-at-any-cost coach Bruce Dern. The fact that Black is also the girlfriend of one of Tepper's professors really complicates things. Disillusioned and, as he says, feeling disengaged, Tepper personifies an entire generation of late 60s/early 70s youths mired in angst. His roommate is played by Michael Margotta. Margotta is slowly goes mad with paranoia, anger and a pretty sad determination to avoid the draft. The film is melancholy but with a lot of touches of humor, particularly involving Dern's hyperactive pep talks. Black is fine and writer Robert Towne plays her boyfriend. Henry Jaglom, David Ogden Stiers (who, as a professional basketball team owner, has a pretty amusing exchange with Tepper during a contract negotiation), and a silent Cindy Williams are in it too. Nicholson's solo directorial debut is a stunner. He would never direct again with such a sure hand. The great cinematography is by Bill Butler.
Drive, He Said (1971)
** (out of 4)
Jack Nicholson's directorial debut is a confussing mess but here goes. The film deals with a troubled basketball star (William Tepper) who's caught in an affair with a teacher's wife (Karen Black). The only person trying to make him go straight is his coach (Bruce Dern) but outsiders keep stepping in the way. The film was also co-written by Nicholson and most of the blame can start right here. The film is all over the place and it seems there are enough story lines for at least five other movies. There's also a subplot with a friend who's trying to dodge the draft, which goes no where and leads to some pretty over the top, wannabe serious moments. The one thing going for the film are some pretty good performances, although it appears Dern is trying to give a Nicholson impersonation. Nicholson's direction hits a few good notes but in the end this seems like something that would have only been shown on TV. Needless to say it's never gotten an official release on home video.
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