Sunday, June 12, 2011
DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE, A
(April 2003, U.S.)
If you were to ask me what my favorite film decade was, I'll likely tell you it was the 1940s. Oh, what it must have been like to see stars like Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis on screen during that "Golden Age of Hollywood". If you ask me what my second favorite film decade was, I'll absolutely tell you that it was the 1970s! It's not even really because I can say I grew up during that era. Hell, by 1979, I was only twelve years old which means that most of my significant growing took place during the 1980s, which I would personify as a culture riddled with iconic movie themes like Ghostbusters and John Rambo. Not that I wasn't having fun at the time watching this and so much more on the screen, but it was a decade that I would hardly call original or ground breaking. The 1970s was not just another time and another place, but a decade that was on the verge of a political and cultural explosion, and it was the talent of young, new film makers who were about to save our asses!
By the end of the late 1960s, the American culture experienced a period of change as the youth movement challenged conventional attitudes towards sex, drugs, politics, and personal gender issues. At the same time, the advancement of the Vietnam War found many American citizens questioning the actions and wisdom of their government for the first time in our history. Costly big-budget blockbusters like CLEOPATRA (1963) nearly brought all the major Hollywood studios to the brink of collapse while smaller and more personal films such as BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) and EASY RIDER (1969) demonstrated that there was an audience ready, willing and able for bold and challenging entertainment on the movie screen. By the start of the following decade, American cinema moved into a truly exciting period of creativity and stylistic innovation, which led to such landmark films as M*A*S*H (1970), THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971), THE GODFATHER (1972), CHINATOWN (1974) and TAXI DRIVER (1976), and with those films came the new freedom for directors and screenwriters like Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese. It was a stange sense of irony, though, that it was a pair of new blockbuster films directed by two students of the new wave of filmmaking, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who gave us two of our all-time favorite smashes, JAWS (1975) and STAR WARS (1977), which brought the studios back to power and put an end to Hollywood's flirtation with offbeat creativity. By 1980, when Michael Cimino all but destroyed United Artists with his over-budget, overlong debacle called HEAVEN'S GATE, the great decade-long honeymoon of independent, orginial, creative film making of the 1970s was all but dead in the toilet! And in my humble opinion, with some very rare and noteworthy exceptions, I haven't seen this sort of dare-to-be-different, try-and-make-some-sort-of-statement film making ever since. Tragic indeed.
During my childhood and my youth, movies were everything to me! It wasn't just about being a child product of screen giants like JAWS, ROCKY, KING KONG, STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, GREASE and SUPERMAN. It was also about discovering the earlier '70's films whenever they were broadcasted on television. I can remember being blown away by a fun disaster film like THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) on the one hand, and being given the opportunity to pause and think for a moment with a film like PATTON (1970) on the other. I was there see to SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) explode with the disco genre itself. I was there to see KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979) expose itself almost exactly at the time my own parents were splitting up for the second time. Yes, it's very safe to say that each decade of films is likely to have a personal impact on each person who is willing to remember those films and how they may have been affected by them. For someone like myself who lived through part of it, and can fondly appreciate the parts he was too young to experience first hand, I can say with great pride that the films of the 1970s serve to generate a single word that spell out not only the culture of the time, but also a word that I haven't been able to safely accuse many films of being ever since, and that word, my friends, is DIFFERENT!
And so I bid a heartfelt "thank you" to all those young film directors of the time who dared to change things. To all those young film directors of today who (hopefully) long to change things while fighting against a Hollywood system whose soleful purpose today is to simply make as much crap in digital 3D as possible, I can only offer you my deepest empathy. You all have a real fucking fight on your hands! Good luck! And finally, thank you Ted Demme for giving us the best documentary on film making I've ever experienced. Rest in peace.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Bruce Dern (to interviewer): "Jack (Nicholson) and I always looked at the business kind of as a generational thing. So Brando, McQueen, Paul Newman - that group of guys was always ahead of us. We, we dismissed them. They were gone. I mean, they were movie stars while we were in high school, and yet they were young guys. So it wasn't about catching anybody. It was just being allowed to audition for the roles they got. Why should they have a corner on the market? We can act! Yeah, we didn't look like they do! We're not handsome like they are! But we're fucking interesting! And we were interesting because we were honest!"