Thursday, November 7, 2019

Super Seventies Movie Month

Like every October, the Luminous Mrs. V. and I watched spooky (But not too spooky this past Halloween season. Her acceptability level for such things is much lower than mine.) movies. This year, she suggested we dedicate November to seventies movies. I quickly agreed. It's the era in which we both grew up and both saw a ton of movies in the theater, though, she way, way more than I. There are so many movies for both of us from that decade that still hold strongly to our imaginations and memories of our childhoods that it seemed like a no-brainer of an undertaking.

Hollywood, in seeming retreat in the face of declining ticket sales and the continued loss of viewers to TV, tried anything and everything - including loosened standards of sex and violence - to win back their audience starting in the late sixties and on through the next decade. On the higher end, this meant giving a host of directors nearly free rein. The result was lots of amazing, practically art house movies. There were huge movies, like the Bonnie and Clyde (1967, dir. Arthur Penn) and The Godfather (1972, dir. Francis Ford Coppola). Those same two directors also made less-well known films that are more to my liking; Night Moves (1975) and The Conversation (1974), respectively. 

Hollywood's openness to practically everything, allowed idiosyncratic character movies like The Last Detail (1973, dir. Hal Ashby), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, dir. Monte Hellman), and Badlands (1972, dir. Terrence Malick) to get made. Walter Matthau and Gene Hackman were able to become stars. It wasn't a new golden age for actresses in the same way it was for actors, which looking back pretty much bites, still, some, such as Gena Rowlands, Marsha Mason, Faye Dunaway got to make some solid pictures. Until Jaws and Star Wars taught Hollywood that there was gold in a certain style of summer blockbuster, it seemed like any movie was possible.

The best thing about Hollywood's new found artistic freedom was it seeped into everything. It might have come out of desperation, but who cares? It meant thrillers could be tougher and grittier, like Dirty Harry (1971, dir. Don Siegel) and Prime Cut (1972, dir. Michael Ritchie). Comedies could be blacker than almost anything Billy Wilder imagined, like Harold and Maude (1971, dir. Hal Ashby) and Where's Poppa? (1970, dir. Carl Reiner). 

It meant previously unsought-after audiences got attention, as with blaxploitation films. Sure, many of them were written and directed by white directors, but many weren't, most notably Shaft (1971, dir. Gordon Parks) and Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970, dir. Ossie Davis). There were also more confrontational movies like Melvin van Peebles' Watermelon Man and (1970) Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971).

That's only a scratch at the surface of Hollywood's output in this period and only of the most notable ones. There are dozens and dozens of films of in every genre imaginable. While we're going to watch some of the movies I've mentioned, we're also going to watch plenty of lesser ones, ones that hold a place in our memories because of when we saw them the first time when we were young, or they hit us in a particular way. Among others, for Mrs. V. this means Heaven Can Wait (1978, dir. Buck Henry & Warren Beatty) and Take Down (1979, dir. Kieth Merrill), and for me it means The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974, dir. Joseph Sargent) and Sorcerer (1977, dir. William Friedkin). Whatever we end up watching, though, good and bad, this is going to be a blast.

Note: I'll be posting everything we watch on my twitter feed, so follow me if you don't already.