This Friday, moviegoers in select cities (and as Letterman likes to say, I certainly hope your city has been selected) will have the opportunity to see Nebraska, Alexander Payne’s wonderful comedy/drama about a father and a son and the moment when you decide to just let things go. But more than anything, it’s about the wonder that is Bruce Dern, the legendary character actor who worked his way out of the Roger Corman factory and became one of the key on-screen personnel in the “New Hollywood” movement of the 1970s. At 77, he gives the performance of a lifetime in Nebraska (he won the Best Actor prize at Cannes), and after seeing it, you may want to go back and check out some of the films that made him the legend he is (particularly if you live in New York, where BAM is hosting a retrospective of his work). Here’s a few starting points:
The Wild Angels
This 1966 Roger Corman film set off a whole cycle (ha ha) of low-budget biker movies, culminating with the iconic Easy Rider. That film shared the star of this one, Peter Fonda; Dern appears in the key supporting role of “The Loser,” whose death at the hands of the police is the picture’s inciting incident. From this early point, Dern’s utility was established: as the most valuable supporting player, conveying an outlaw spirit and complicated charm. Bonus: Dern co-stars with then-wife Diane Ladd, mother of his daughter Laura.