I wanted to create a thread dedicated to discussing movies from the 1970s.
I'm of the view that the two best eras in film-making history were the 1920s and the 1970s. In-between these periods was the replacement of the husband-and-wife movie-making partnership standard with the modern studio system and its focus on spectacle over substance, marked by advent of "talkies" and of color and the expensive musicals and unionization and other developments that, cumulatively, simply priced the ordinary person out of the process. The traditional small-time filmmaking team simply could not compete with the budgets, the elite actors, and the advanced technologies that emergent studios could churn out; especially not during say the Great Depression. Censorship came in during this period too here in the United States with the advent of the Hays Code of 1934 banning all sorts of themes and content (e.g. same-sex relationships, adultery, nudity, childbirth, 'blasphemous' swear words like "hell" and "damn" and "Jesus", depiction of illegal drugs, you couldn't portray Christianity in a mocking way or criminals in a positive light, etc.) and the Hollywood purges and blacklistings of Marxists both real and well mostly imagined -- left wing voices and content in general -- during the late 1940s amidst the paranoia that went along with the onset of the Cold War. In the 1950s you saw sort of the peak of studio film-making in the U.S. for a time with Hollywood fending off the emerging threat of television with Biblical-themed epics of unprecedented scale (and therefore spectacle) like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur. Although there were many, many exceptions to this rule, in an overall sense it was a conservative era in American film, defined by shallow spectacles that didn't challenge traditional perspective.
By the 1960s though, such a large majority of the population had come to own television sets, and increasingly color TVs at that, that it became simply impossible to Hollywood to fend off the challenge of television any longer. Inevitably, people began spending less time at the drive-in and more time in the comfort and convenience of their homes in front of their TV sets. Studios began to lose huge sums of money trying to keep buying audiences with enormous sets and casts. The status quo wasn't working anymore. Something had to give.
Amidst their decline -- and declining revenues -- Hollywood studios were forced to start making films with smaller budgets again and, seemingly fresh out of ideas and increasingly desperate for a breakthrough, they began to hire a new, angstier generation of directors. They Hays Code was abolished and replaced with something like the modern age-appropriateness content rating system. The "Marxist traitors" were un-blacklisted. The 1970s in film-making were the result. It was a time of honesty on the big screen, above all else. Often brutal honesty.
It was the time of the Vietnam War (which was a real war, as in the kind involving conscription and affecting far more than 1% of the population), of social upheaval, stagflation, record-high crime rates, daily terrorist attacks, latch-key kids, rapidly changing social roles between the sexes, major American cities going bankrupt, Richard Nixon becoming the first American president to resign, Gerald Ford becoming the first American president elected by no one to assume the office (just in time to commemorate the nation's 200th anniversary), and an increasingly prevalent overall sense of malaise. By the end of the decade, polling data found that the majority of Americans now believed the Soviet Union would ultimately win the Cold War and colonize them. As you can imagine, the new generation of movie-makers, maturing into their adulthood in this context, had much to say about the human condition. Dark, angry films, often without heroes or happy endings, became commonplace, if not the rule. The artifice of the previous era was gone, happily for younger people who were desperate for content that conveyed a more genuine sense of their lived experience, with all of its complexities and challenges (and occasional victories). I love so many of these movies for precisely these very reasons. There just hasn't been another time in movie-making like it since. I mean conservative, family-friendly themes and spectacle in film-making began to make a huge comeback with the release of the original Star Wars in 1977 and of course Superman the following year, among other examples. That was sort of the beginning of the end of the '70s in movie-making and also just in general really, running parallel to analogous developments in the larger culture, like the founding of the Christian Coalition and Moral Majority and other developments that led up to Ronald Reagan's era-changing election in 1980. But for a time, earnest movies, often without large budgets, sold the most tickets and won the awards. It was like an age of indie films prevailing and being the most popular sort and variety. Others weren't successful in their own time, but have deservedly become cult classics since.
Four of my favorite movies of all time specifically hail from the period between 1970 and '72. In chronological order of release, those are: Patton, Wanda, Harold and Maude, and Solaris.
Patton is, well, a movie about the famous American General George S. Patton, who was best known for his role in the Second World War. Military service runs in my family. Ritual viewings of this movie actually became a family tradition beginning with my granddads on both sides of the family, both of whom served in World War II. And that fact by itself really speaks to something distinctive about this particular movie: in its own time, it was distinguished from other movies about war by its ability to bridge the generational gap in opinions toward the Vietnam War. My dad served in Vietnam. That's what I'm getting at when I say that it's that kind of an honest and reflective movie; it felt that way to really everyone who viewed it, I think. "All glory is fleeting."
Wanda was a commercial flop in its own time, but has developed a loyal cult following and is much more highly regarded today. It's a perfect example of what you might classify as '70s era feminism at work. It's nothing like the female empowerment-themed movies of today. Our protagonist instead is, simply put, a victim. From beginning to end. That's all. Partly by her own choices, but much more essentially owing to just the ways of a world that has driven her to a place of total apathy toward life. It's about, well, some woman named Wanda from a coal town in eastern Pennsylvania of no means and even less morale (full disclosure: I'm from a coal town myself and have spent my entire life below the poverty line).
The film looks almost like a home movie and features many highly unorthodox, yet highly effective, cuts. Unlike so many other movies of this era, it makes no attempt to romanticize criminality either. Everything is portrayed with brutal, dingy honesty. Director Barbara Loden (a rare example of a female movie director back then) claimed that Wanda "was sort of based on my own personality...A sort of passive, wandering around, passing from one person to another, no direction -- I spent many years of my life that way and I felt that...well, I think that a lot of people are that way." And also that it was also partly inspired by a non-fiction book she'd read about the upbringings of several prostitutes -- one of whom recounted finding joy in her foster mother's severe overbearingness, as she was "the first person who ever told [her] what to do. She appreciated it, even though the woman was mean" -- and by a newspaper story from an earlier time she'd read about a woman who had thanked a judge after he sentenced her to 20 years in prison for her participation in a bank robbery. The bottom line of it to me is that one needs a sense of purpose in life in order to care about it, or about themselves. The bank robber briefly gives her a small sense of purpose even though he abuses her. But all glory is fleeting.
Harold and Maude is another cult classic unsuccessful in its time, yet much more appreciated today. It's a sort of coming-of-age dark comedy-drama about a young man in his early 20s who's obsessed with death, and his increasingly intimate, even romantic, relationship to a quirky, carefree 79-year-old Nazi death camp survivor who thinks nothing of stealing cars, uprooting a tree from a public space to re-plant it, speeding, and parking on a city sidewalk, stuff like this, and gets him interested in art and music. It ends with Harold absorbing Maude's decision to commit suicide on her firm belief that 80 is the proper age to die. I find it bold, heartfelt, frequently hilarious, and an endlessly endearing and unorthodox reflection on exactly the aforementioned purpose of life.
Solaris is a 1972 Soviet art movie that centers on a space station orbiting the fictional planet Solaris, where a scientific mission has stalled because the skeleton crew of three scientists have fallen into emotional crises. A psychologist travels to the station in order to evaluate the situation, only to encounter the same mysterious phenomena as the others. What follows is an in-depth and truly passionate examination of how one goes about navigating loss. The film was director Andrei Tarkovsky's attempt to bring a new emotional depth to science fiction films. He viewed most Western works in the genre as shallow due to their focus on technological invention. It's long. Almost three hours. But that's because it takes the time to develop each of its characters and their relationships such that one becomes deeply attached to them and pained by their sufferings and experiences their compensations. It's a hopeful movie that believes in the ability of the individual to transform their external reality through sheer force of will, and it's the sincerity of this conviction that comes through and makes this such a powerful, affecting movie.
Well, I just wanted to share what I love about the era in movie-making and what I really love about those pictures in particular. Do you like any movies from the 1970s (preferably that aren't just like Star Wars or Superman, but rather that fit more into the distinguishing dynamics of the era)?Last edited by Jaicee - on 17 April 2021