Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Finishing The '70s

So, I watched 162 films from the 1970s in roughly a year, including a mad binge of Sam Peckinpah films at the end. I didn't end up finding the "Minamata" documentary or a lot of the more obscure foreign films I wanted to see. I did find Jan Troell's "The New Land," however. As promised, I want to spend this post talking about some of the differences I've noted in these older films compared to modern ones, as well as the overall experience of watching films from my parents' generation.

Firstly, there was a lot of culture clash to overcome, mostly with the foreign films. If I'd had trouble navigating the political and historical references in modern foreign films, it was even more difficult in these older ones. I could admire the cinematography of Wojech Has's "The Hourglass Sanitarium" or the performances of Ettore Scola's "We All Loved Each Other So Much," but the nuances of their social commentary were mostly lost on me. Many French comedies also continue to elude me, like Truffaut's "Love on the Run" and "Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000," but I keep trying.

And the American films? It's breathtaking how different our image of America and the American public was forty years ago. The landscape in '70s films always looks so much more vast and empty, with bigger skies and dustier vistas. The filmmaking was slower, more pastoral and less bombastic. Most of the ordinary heroes were small town and middle American folks, often veterans. Cities were the setting for crime pictures mostly. The action movies of the day almost always involved car chases, so they needed plenty of open road and scenic vistas to navigate. Road movies and chase movies were everywhere, often headlined by Burt Reynolds. There were still a few Westerns too, becoming darker and more morally complicated with each passing year. Sci-fi and fantasy were usually more grounded, simpler stuff.

Social issues were very present, though handled differently. As I noted before, the Vietnam War wasn't really addressed in films before 1978 with "Coming Home" and "The Deer Hunter." Instead, most of the war films of the era were still playing out WWII, with big spectaculars like "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and "Midway." In Europe, Holocaust dramas like "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis," "Mr. Klein," and "The Night Porter" were common. However, there were a lot of films about the generational divide, about race and class and those darn hippies. I loved digging into not just the blaxploitation films, but other films about the African-American experience like "Sounder," "Cooley High" and "Blue Collar." I didn't spend as much time with woman-centric films as I probably should have, but it was nice to get glimpses of the female experience of the decade in films like "Girlfriends," "Smile," and "An Unmarried Woman."

I think I benefitted most from watching the comedies and dramedies of the era. The gentler, more situational humor is much more in line with my tastes than what we see in more aggressive modern comedies. Take "Real Life," Albert Brooks' satire about a man essentially trying to run a reality show before the concept of reality shows existed. The buildup is much slower and there's much more time taken to make sure the audience gets to know the characters first. Even zany stuff like "Silver Streak" and the Mel Brooks movies gave their jokes more time to breathe. Occasionally the slower pacing and more incidental narrative structures were an issue, but not often.

And it was a curious moment when I realized, about halfway through "Catch-22," that I was watching a movie with a cast that included Angelina Jolie's father and Charlie Sheen's father, and I'd just finished "Kelly's Heroes," which had Kiefer Sutherland's father, and "An Unmarried Woman" with Jill Clayburgh, who is Lily Rabe's mother. I'd gotten so immersed in watching these films, it slipped my mind exactly how far in the past they were. A few big stars like Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges are still around, still active, but many of the others are already gone. Carrie Fisher's screen debut was in 1975's "Shampoo." Bill Paxton's was in "Crazy Mama" the same year.

I'm going to be taking a considerable break before I start in on the 1960s, in part because I've worked up quite a list of '80s and '90s films I want to take a look at first, and I've definitely been neglecting more recent films and television. I went a little overboard, as I often do, which is why this latest update came so much quicker after the previous one. However, I definitely feel informed enough to make those '70s top ten lists when their turn comes around. And I'll talk about these films some more then.


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