Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Bert Schneider Passes On

Bert Schneider, who was executive producer on The Monkees with Bob Rafelson and produced such films as Easy Rider (1969) and The Last Picture Show (1971), passed Monday, 12 December 2011 at the age of 78 from natural causes.

Bert Schneider was born on 5 May 1933 in New York City. He was the son of Columbia Pictures executive Abe Schneider. He attended Cornell University, but dropped out. He later went to work for his father, who was then the head of Screen Gems, the television division of Columbia Pictures. In 1965 Mr. Schneider left Screen Gems and founded Raybert Productions with Bob Rafelson. Raybert Productions' first project was the television series The Monkees. The Monkees  drew heavily upon The Beatles' movies A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), as well as the Marx Brothers' films, the French New Wave, and other diverse sources. Although The Monkees would not do well in the ratings, the show would prove to be a lasting success.  It would be rerun on both CBS and ABC on Saturday mornings before entering a very successful run in syndication. It would eventually be rerun on MTV in the Eighties, creating a whole new Monkees craze, and would later be released on DVD.

The success of The Monkees would lead Bert Schneider and Bert Rafelson into the motion picture industry. Their first film, Head (1968) starring The Monkees (directed by Mr. Rafelson), would bomb at the box office, but would later become a cult film with its fair share of critical acclaim. Their next film would be both a box office and a critical success. Easy Rider  (1969) was not only a box office success, but proved to be one of the most influential movies of the past forty years.

 Over the next several years Bert Schneider would produce several critically acclaimed movies over the years, including Five Easy Pieces (1970), The Last Picture Show (1971), the documentary Hearts and Minds (1974), Days of Heaven (1978), and Broken English (1981). With Bob Rafelson, Mr. Schneider would win the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series for The Monkees in 1967 and, with Peter Davis, he would win teh Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for Hearts and Minds.

Bert Schneider was one of the mavericks who shook up Hollywood in the late Sixties. Along with such figures as Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader, Philip Kaufman, and others, Mr. Schneider was a leader in "New Hollywood," a movement in the late Sixties and the early Seventies in writers and directors controlled the creative content of their movies. As a result, films produced by "New Hollywood" often dealt with subjects never covered by the old Hollywood studios and even dealt with the counter-culture. In the end the American movie industry would be changed forever. Indeed, while the pioneers of the "New Hollywood" movement generally worked within the studios, the movement would lead to the development of the independent film industry as we know today.

Not only was Bert Schneider a leader in New Hollywood, but he produced some very influential films. Easy Rider, The Last Picture Show, Five Easy Pieces, and even Head would have a lasting impact that is felt today. Indeed, the influence of all four films can still be seen in independent films to this day. All four films told unconventional stories on relatively small budgets, thus paving the way not only for New Hollywood but the independent films of the Eighties, Nineties, and Naughts.

Of course, here it must be pointed that, along side Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider was a revolutionary even when he was an executive producer on The Monkees. Too often The Monkees has been dismissed as a mere imitation of A Hard Day's Night. Not only did The Monkees actually owe more to Help! than A Hard Day's Night, but it would go far beyond either film in terms of surrealism and stylistic touches. The Monkees incorporated touches from the French Nouvelle Vague and often utilised such techniques as slow motion, fast motion, solarisation, distorted focus, and so on. Not only was The Monkees utterly unique at the time it first aired, but there has never been another show quite like it since its debut.  The show would have a lasting impact, particularly in the development of rock video.

Speaking for myself, I have to say I cannot measure the impact Bert Schneider probably had on my life. He produced three of my favourite movies of all time: Head, Easy Rider, and Five Easy Pieces. What is more, he produced my favourite sitcom of all time, The Monkees. Ironically, it is probably The Monkees that had the most impact on me. Not only would the show influence my tastes in sitcoms for the rest of my life, but it had a huge impact on my tastes in music as well. If I am a power pop fan today, it is not only due to The Beatles and The Who, but due to The Monkees as well. I then owe both Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson a good deal for what I am today.

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