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Tim Wilson
Re: 1970's Cinema
on Dec 4, 2013 at 6:36:08 pm

First up, you MUST READ Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation S.... The author points to 67's Bonnie & Clyde and 69's Easy Riders as the foundations, but it's otherwise a breathtaking account of the golden age of 70s indie-spirited moviemaking.

(Note that he includes both Jaws and Star Wars in the book - not cut from the same cloth as your list, Mike, but very much built on an indie ethos -- very young directors, auteur visions, short track records, genres not expected to do much, etc.)

Frankly, anyone who enjoys watching movies OR reading good books should consider this book a must-have. Certainly the best book about movie MAKING I've ever read...and yes, focusing on this amazing stretch of time. You can get it from Amazon for $4 SHIPPED (hardcover copies for a penny, plus $3.99 shipping!!!)

Read it, read it, read it.

Okay, a speedy list of 70s movies, plus of course Bonnie & Clyde:

  • Bonnie & Clyde
  • Alice's Restaurant
  • Little Big Man
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • Serpico
  • Night Moves
  • Dog Day Afternoon


I'm also going to add Reds from 1981, because it strikes me as pretty much the end of this era of filmmaking.

Each of those is worthy of discussion, but let's throw in The Hustler (Paul Newman, 1961) and The Breakfast Club (1985), and you've got a handful of career highlights of editor Dede Allen.

In particular, her 70s movies in the (appropriately) bulleted list. She was THE go-to editor for gritty New York drama for directors like Sidney Lumet and of course Arthur Penn.

One of the coolest things I ever got to do in my gig as a product marketing weasel at Avid was give the speech for a lifetime achievement award that Dede Allen got. In the middle of my speech, I introduced Arthur Penn, who shared some stories from Bonnie & Clyde. I got to hang and chat with both of them, and they were both amazing, delightful people.

When a lot of people talk about the editing of Bonnie & Clyde, they talk about the gunfight in the last reel -- which is the one part of the movie she didn't edit! HER ASSISTANT EDITED IT.

So, for any of you offered assistant editor positions, remember that your work may go down as some of the greatest ever done. The job might also lead somewhere else, as it did for the assistant editor on Woodstock, Martin Scorsese.

Which brings me to my actual list.

Taxi Driver.

I've mentioned many times that this is on my desert island list, and that Travis Bickle is the character in movies that I most relate to. ASTOUNDING score by Bernard Herrmann - not just the best he did, but among the handful of best EVER. But also a compelling, harrowing view of some of the darkest days in what was, at the time, a city synonymous with dark days.

In fact, in general, a lot of the best movies in this era were set in New York, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon among them.

Those are both from Sidney Lumet. Add his Network to the list, and I think you've got a superlative starting point.

Another nice list: John Cazale was the other lead in Dog Day Afternoon alongside Dustin Hoffman, the first two Godfathers, The Deerhunter and The Conversation! He died from cancer at age 42, but every movie he was in can be considered essential viewing.

If you haven't seen The Conversation, you're in for a treat. Not that hardly ANY of these movies is actually enjoyable LOL, but this one is a master class in the power of editing as THE storytelling tool. Audio post alone took a year, and was worth every second.

The greatest one-two punch of the era came from Peter Bogdanovich, whose Last Picture Show (hey Scott, THIS is a black and white movie) and What's Up Doc?, released right on top of each other, as different from each other as it's possible to be. (Back in the days when there weren't many features in release, and they were released slowly, Peter was the first director to have two movies playing in Times Square at the same time.)

The latter in particular features my favorite car chase of all time (set in San Francisco, includes a chinese dragon), and some of the funniest lines ever committed to celluloid. The film debut of Madeline Kahn!!!

It's also the first movie I saw more than once in a theater -- five times -- and the sheer joy I got from it is one of the reasons I got into this business. I couldn't believe my good fortune in having him as a guest on a TV show that I produced and shot (?!?), and got to tell him how much it meant to me. It meant a whole lot.

Madeline was also in Blazing Saddles, which sadly often gets dismissed as "just" a wacky comedy, but it's also a stomach-churning look at the realities of racism in practice.

M*A*S*H is another movie that gets overlooked these days, but at the time, was a really big deal, a stomach-churning look at the blackest humor coming out of war. The TV series is nothing like it (although Gary Burghoff was in both), and is very much worth watching as a mindwarp, but also the first GREAT movie (imo) from Robert Altman.

Not at all humorous, 1971's Johnny Got His Gun. The tagline on the poster was "The most shattering experience you'll ever live," and it's hard to argue. Joe is a WW I soldier who winds up losing all four limbs, and his ability to see or speak, and his sense of smell. He eventually communicates by banging his head on his pillow in morse code, and as bad as all that sounds, it ends even worse. Directed by Dalton Trumbo from his 1938 novel. You want anti-war? You got it, and so much more.


One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is another harrowing essential. I can't overstate how powerful this. Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay -- the first time anybody had run the table. I almost never hear this one brought up anymore, and it's a shame. Absolutely unforgettable. Still gives me nightmares.


To end on a lighter note, if you haven't seen Gene Wilder's 1971 Willy Wonka, you ain't seen nothin'. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory is crazy as all get-out, and while it earned back its money ($4 million, on a budget of $2.9 million -- both as paltry as they sound even now), Paramount didn't see any way to make money with it, so they just let their rights LAPSE! It's anything but dark, gritty or adult, but wow, a highlight of the era, any way you slice it. And hey, if you were a cult movie in the 70s, you were a cult movie by the highest of standards.


Great idea here, Mike.


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