Thursday, June 15, 2017

My 1978 Problem

I'm still working my way through the films of the 1970s for my Top Ten project, which involves me making sure I've seen at least fifty films for each calendar year in order to help fill in some gaps in my movie-watching experience. So far it's been going great, and I have roughly a hundred films left to go for the decade. I'm taking a much more relaxed approach this time, not going strictly year by year, but just watching new titles as I find them. I've compiled lists of titles that I'm looking for, but haven't been prioritizing any so far. However, I've found a pretty significant problem on the horizon: 1978.

I still need to watch at least eighteen films from 1978, which is more than any other year. And unfortunately, I don't have many films I actually want to see that came out that year. 1976 is the next closest, with sixteen films, but I have a list of a dozen films already that I want to track down. It's not that great films didn't come out in 1978. It was the year of "The Deer Hunter," "Grease," "Animal House," "Superman," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Dawn of the Dead," and art house classics like "The Tree of Wooden Clogs" and "Autumn Sonata." But it was also the year of "Jaws II," "The Omen II," and the improbably named "The Other Side of the Mountain 2."

Currently I have a list of eight 1978 films I actually want to see, three of them old martial arts films, one involving Clint Eastwood and an orangutan. And this list actually took me some significant effort to compile, going through filmographies, "Best of" lists, and box office charts. It's looking likely that I'll have to watch a few things like "Pretty Baby" and "Hooper," that I really have no enthusiasm for. Well, who knows. They might be better than they look. I really, really hope I won't have to resort to the notorious ice skating weepie "Ice Castles" or "Debbie Does Dallas" by the time this is all over. Realistically that won't happen, since I can always fall back on my usual tactics like watching all the Foreign Language Oscar nominees from that year, or watching anything that one of the major directors did that year. Rainer Werner Fassbinder released three films in 1978 alone.

Still, I haven't had to resort to these kinds of tactics for any other year so far. I find it strange that there's such dearth of culturally and critically impactful films from just this one year. Part of me wonders if there was some confluence of factors that caused the drought. New Hollywood and the auteur era were winding down. "Star Wars" would have still been playing in most places, prompting the studios to start eyeing more blockbuster commercial fare. I suspected before that my own viewing habits might play a part. As a kid I watched loads of crummy '80s movies that helped pad out my viewing numbers for some of those years. I shouldn't be surprised that my numbers are lower overall for the '70s. Still, that doesn't explain why I need to see twice as many films for 1978 compared to 1979, 1977, 1974 and 1973.

I want to emphasize that I absolutely am still enjoying this crazy cinematic trip through the 1970s, and the oddity of 1978 will be a good opportunity for me to dig up some old, forgotten gems for reevaluation. Just because I'm not immediately familiar with the titles or the talent involved doesn't mean these movies deserve their obscurity. It's already been proven to me time and time again that it can be as illuminating to watch the films that didn't become well-loved classics as it is to watch the ones that did. And apparently there is no shortage of those movies from 1978.

So bring on "California Suite," "Same Time, Next Year," and "The Buddy Holly Story." Bring on "The Demon," "Violette Nozière," and "Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?" There's bound to be some good cinema in here somewhere. And I didn't embark on this project just to watch the great movies I already knew about.


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