Tuesday, January 3

Movie-Making in the 1970s

Unless I live long enough to see another such decade, for me the 1970s will be the one that produced the most significant change in films.  The end of the 60s certainly brought about some vital considerations (Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Easy Rider, The Wild Bunch, 2001: A Space Odyssey... I mean helllloooo), and as fine and revolutionary as those films were, the industry itself was still operating with training wheels.  By the time the 70s were over, those wheels were not only long gone but we could scarcely catch our breath.

The innocence of the 1950s was also history and the 1940s... what in the hell were they thinking?  What married couple slept in separate beds?  What guy got slugged in the face and said golly, that hurts? People may have perched on barstools and discussed their insurance options but now we were firing up bongs and seeing if we could work up a group to watch Carnal Knowledge or discussing the options to practicing it.

This is unquestionably the decade where adult content loosened up.  Some of us are awfully glad that happened and others of us regard the 70s as when movies all went to hell, lost whatever class they thought they had. How films dealt with sex, language and violence changed forever in the 70s and have never looked back.  How you feel about that is probably aligned with how you feel about the movies.  If you are of a certain young age, you must find the movies of the 30s-mid 60s as being simple-minded and corny.  If you are that person's grandparent, you might think how awful it is that it's come to this.  

Impacting the times and the ever-growing counter-culture were certainly the hippie movement, the Vietnam war, drug use, the music industry, free love, the civil rights movement, changing gender roles, questioning authority and civil disobedience. I thought it was a fabulous time and while I adore the movies of the 40s and 50s more than any other, watching the films of the 70s made me feel good to be alive and be noisy. Like it or not, there were no more Rock Hudson and Doris Day comedies and it had been some time since anyone cared about How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and there was no more innocence. When I wanted that, I put my Betamax copy of Old Yeller.

No one seemed to care about mediocre film offerings.  These were turbulent times and filmmakers and the youthful public alike wanted movies to express those times. Hollywood took on freer, more daring risks. As the old moguls were pushed aside or died off, a new breed came to the front of the line and while some moviegoers longed for the old days, a louder cry said it's about time. The result was Lucas, Coppola, Spielberg, Friedkin, Bogdanovich, Cassavetes, Altman, Scorsese, De Palma and a whole host of bold folks who wanted to present dazzling projects which had something important to say and still entertained.  Many were influenced by what Americans thought of as unconventional works of Italian Neo-realists and French New Wave and in fact it was called American New Wave.  There was a great move toward character-driven stories and the independent film took its rightful place in the Hollywood super-structure (thank you, 1970s, thank you).  Cult films proliferated. One statistic worth noting... this decade produced some of the most commercially successful movies ever made.

The 70s gave us blaxploitation movies, ass-kicking war films, buddy films, rogue cop flicks, dynastic corruption, disaster movies, sequels with a vengeance, outer space extravaganzas, fish stories and the resurgence of the musical (John Travolta starred in a couple you may have heard of). We'd like to forget that movies were populated with a lot of polyester.  Who remembers or wore leisure suits?

Woody Allen did his best to reinvent the romantic comedy but the unfortunate thing is so many others jumped in the fire as well (duh) and weren't nearly as tidy.  One of the most successful films of the entire decade,1973s The Exorcist, arguably the most superior horror film ever, spawned several embarrassing sequels and the horror-film genre has tried to top itself ever since and never has.

I don't think I will ever forget the craziness of trying to see The Exorcist.  All of Southern California wanted to invade three theaters. The same might be said of Jaws (1975).  It wasn't a movie... it was an event and in no time at all, became the highest-grossing movie in history.  A mere two years later it slipped from its top spot as Star Wars assumed the mantle.  

The Clark Gables, Gary Coopers, Rock Hudsons and Alan Ladds had been replaced by Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson, new, very different types of actors, ones who capitalized not on pretty-boy looks but on being super thespians, actors' actors who were more character-actor leading men.  What a change.  

By the 1970s movie studios no longer directly controlled production, except for Universal and Disney.  The studios did throw their lessened weight behind distribution but the production end had switched to independent studios and producers.  A huge shift in power came with agents calling the shots instead of simply collecting their 15%. The large studios were bought by huge conglomerates.

As TV changed the movie industry in the 1950s, video cassettes brought about another huge change in the 1970s. The one industry that seemed to benefit the most from cassettes and eventually most home entertainment was the porn industry.  In 1976 Paramount became the first studio to release its library on video cassettes and 20th Century Fox followed suit a year later.  

In a real switch from earlier times, location shooting became cheaper than ever before with film studios on wheels and greater ability to rent studios.  If the movie-makers won on that one, so did the movie-going public. Who didn't appreciate the authenticity rather than Hollywood sound stages?

I have concluded the 70s was the last really great decade for movies.  Yes, there have certainly been very good if not brilliant individual movies since but one doesn't usually hear of any decades after the 70s as being a great decade for movies, certainly not like has been said about the 40s and 60s and for me, the 50s.

The reason for that has something to do with those conglomerates running the studios. When that happened, movie leaders were businessmen rather than creative geniuses. It's a shame, too.  We have the independent filmmakers that are shaking things up these days.  

By the way, how the public heard about movies changed in the 70s as well.  The old (and glorious) movie magazines were no more and in 1974 we got People Magazine to tell us all we wanted to know about movie stars... and a lot more. It's still going strong.

In this series of postings on the 70s, you can expect to see three films from director Sydney Pollack and two from Sidney Lumet, two of my most cherished directors of the decade. We've already had postings on those two extraordinary men but we're going to give you something on a dozen more. I want to illuminate some of the talent and bravery I saw in directors from this decade.

The 70s seemed to revisit those all-star casts which I have so dearly loved.  That concept (more stars... more ticketbuyers) has been around for as long as studios could afford all those salaries, but it seemed to be back with a vengeance in this decade.  The disaster movie craze (Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, for two... and no they're not a part of the good 70s movies postings despite my liking both of them) certainly aided in the all-star casts' return.
We will be showcasing three other types of films with such casts.

We are including two musicals.  Well, there were no Rodgers and Hammerstein in 70s movies and since musicals were by now in their drying-out period, it might make one wonder what I could be coming up with.  One of the two might surprise you.  It surprised Hollywood and they seemed to hate it.  And I'm including it in the good 70s movies section. Guess there's no accounting for taste.

That reminds me.  We will discuss 20 movies from the period.  You won't agree with every one of them as being worthy of inclusion in a group of only 20 over 10 years.  Most of you will probably agree with half of them or know that there are certainly those who have lofty opinions of them.  My choices, as always, are not always crowd-pleasers and not always reviewed favorably by some critics. I like films for all kinds of reasons.  Some of the ones you may disagree on may be because they don't hold a special place in your heart as they did for me.  I hope to always say why I liked a film as much as I do and maybe, just maybe, someone will give it another chance or take a chance on it for the first time.

Movies from the 70s that we have already reviewed along with the aforementioned Jaws are Cabaret,The Boys in the Band and Jeremiah Johnson.

To give you an idea of what the Oscars voters thought of 70s films, here are the best picture winners: Patton,The French Connection, The Godfather, The Sting, The Godfather Part II, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Rocky, Annie Hall, The Deer Hunter and Kramer vs. Kramer.

Five performances won Oscars in the 20 films up for discussion.  I was surprised to find three films in the gathering starring Sean Connery, whom I have always very much liked, and four films from Faye Dunaway, whom I have never particularly cared for. I guess when one's in good movies, one's in good movies.

Some of you may have stronger opinions on these films from the 70s, more so than you did from the 40s or maybe even the ones on the 60s because they'll be more age-appropriate for you.  We'll see.  One day we'll do the 80s and 90s as well.

Faithful readers know how crazy I am about film noir and it is a bit sad to leave the 40s since it was the best decade for that genre, although there will be more when we get to the 50s.  But in this decade, the 70s, there will be one film noir that is right up there with some of the best noirs there ever were.  Do you know what it is?

We won't spend as much time in the 70s as we did in the 60s and especially the 40s. But let me say again that films of the 70s are among some of the best ever made. Fabulous. Gutsy. In your face. Definitely reflective of the times. These new postings won't showcase any of the films mentioned here but there's hope you'll find the ones we are discussing as being worth your time.

Next posting:
that first good 70s film

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