Monday, August 14, 2017

The Top Ten Project Update: Greetings From the '70s

Last year, around October, I had just finished watching eighty films from the 1980s, in furtherance of my goal to watch at least fifty movies from each year as far back as I could go.  At that time, I needed to watch over 160 films to get through the 1970s, and I've been steadily working to bring the number down ever since.  Well, I just hit a pretty significant benchmark - I've just reached the halfway point with eighty-three films.  I think it's high time for an update.

As with the 1980s, I've taken the opportunity to patch a lot of gaps in my knowledge of movies, both highbrow and low.  So far, this has included watching every Best Picture nominee I was missing from the decade, and every Hal Ashby film.  However, I also took the opportunity to track down all the  James Bond and Dirty Harry I hadn't seen yet, and to watch '70s kung-fu movies, blaxploitation movies, and a lot of the gorier samurai films of this era.  I think I understand Quentin Tarantino's work much better now, having seen so many of the films he referenced in "Kill Bill" and "Jackie Brown."

Speaking of Dirty Harry, if there has been one creative force who has dominated my viewing choices so far, it's Clint Eastwood.  I think I've inadvertently managed to watch just about everything he directed or acted in during the 1970s.  He starred in several of the important revisionist westerns of this period, like "High Plains Drifter" and "Joe Kidd."   I wanted to watch "The Beguiled," since Sofia Coppola is remaking it this year, and had no idea that he was the leading man.  By the time I got down to titles like "Every Which Way But Loose" and "The Gauntlet," I was watching them because Eastwood had proved dependably entertaining.

In addition to Hal Ashby, I took the opportunity to watch some early Dario Argento, Paul Verhoeven, Werner Herzog, and David Cronenberg films.  Also, two later films from John Huston.  It was more difficult to focus on particular auteurs because I was familiar with fewer of them that were active during this decade.  Those that were active, like Francois Truffaut and Akira Kurosawa, were ones with filmographies I'd already picked over pretty thoroughly.  The availability of certain titles has also been an issue, making me very grateful for the efforts of Criterion and other classic film distributors.  I'm still trying to track down the "Mishima" documentary.

So far, the best film I've discovered so far has been Jan Troell's "The Emigrants," starring Ingmar Bergman regulars Max von Sydow and Liv Ullman.  The sequel, "The New Land," is one of the next titles I need to track down.  It's one of the best takes on the American immigrant story I've ever seen.  Other new favorites include "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin," "Deep Red," "Rollerball," "The Duellists," Werner Herzog's take on "Nosferatu," and the Bollywood classic "Sholay."  I'm still debating whether "High Plains Drifter" is a good film, or if I should just count it as a guilty pleasure.  And then there's the absolutely fascinating cultural artifact that is "Pumping Iron" with a young Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The one major disappointment so far has been the "Lone Wolf and Cub" movies.  I watched the first three, and decided to skip the rest.  The first film was decent, but the series quickly became repetitive, and the more exploitative elements increasingly distasteful.  I can definitely understand why various filmmakers have been trying to remake this property for years, but there are elements like the sexual violence and high-pressure bloodletting that really haven't aged well.  A number of prestige pictures also fell remarkably flat for me, including "Julia" and "Midnight Express."

I'll save the discussions of the wider cultural trends I've noticed in these movies for my next post, after I polish off the next eighty films.  However, I did want to point out that there's a surprising lack of films that address the Vietnam War so far after the inundation of them that I found in the 1980s.  1978's "Coming Home" is the only one from the '70s I've found so far, which along with "The Deer Hunter" and "Apocalypse Now" really kicked off the whole genre.  

But more on that next time.


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