So You Want to Start Watching _______is an occasional feature here at Riku Writes. It is a guide to anyone unfamiliar with a particular star, director, genre, or time period in films. After a brief introduction, I will provide a sampling of films to watch. Although I will always strive to include the best possible films for each chapter in the series, I will also look to present representative work. I'll say a little bit about each film, all of which will be provided in chronological order. This is the third of the series. In the first I provided an introduction to the films of Humphrey Bogart and the second was an intro to screwball comedies.
Question: what was the best decade of American films? Answer: that most certainly depends on your taste in movies. Most cinephiles will argue for the 1930's or 1970's. The 1950's has a few supporters, TCM host Robert Osborne likes the 1940's, silent film buffs will undoubtedly extol the 1920's and many of the younger generation favor the last decade. I don't know that the 1980's or 1990's have many advocates.
For my money (what little there is of it) the Thirties has the big edge in quantity of good films but the Seventies boasts an advantage in quality. The 1970's were a perfect storm for films. The studio system had come tumbling down as had censorship. There was a plethora of independent minded directors and screen writers who were getting free reign. Technical innovations had not yet morphed into an over reliance on special effects. And a changing Western Culture was ready for and indeed demanding more of cinematic artists. We've not seen the likes of the 70's in film since and may never.
I could easily recommend dozens of films to get you started exploring the Seventies, but I've simplified the task for myself in the following ways: one film per year, American films only and none of the more obvious films that you're likely already seen such as The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), Cabaret (1972), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Apocalypse Now (1979), Taxi Driver (1976) or Jaws (1975). I've also made a point to give you a variety of film types including horror/sci fi, comedy, gangster, thriller, cops and robbers and the always popular disco film.
The Strawberry Statement (1970) Why not start your tour of 1970's cinema with a film that looks at the 1960's? That is the campus protest movements that helped (as they say in documentaries) define a generation. TSS has held up over time, at least for someone like me who was "there." It centers around one student who simultaneously gets caught up in love (what guy wouldn't fall for Kim Darby in 1970?) and sticking it to the man. TSS features a great soundtrack. Sadly it's not available on DVD and is rarely shown on the telly but you can watch it via Amazon on demand.
The Last Picture Show (1971) To many film lovers of today, Peter Bogdanovich is a frequent talking head on DVD special features and the author of some of the better books on movies. But he's had an up and down career as a director and this was his big up, so to speak. And it was a really big up. It features a great cast including Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Cybill Shepard, Timothy Bottoms and a very young clean shaven Jeff Bridges. It is about the death of a West Texas town in the 1950's, including its lone movie house. Screenplay by legendary writer Larry McMurtry.
The Getaway (1972) It's directed by Sam Peckinpah so you know there's no shortage of blood. It stars Steve McQueen so you know there's no shortage of cool. McQueen is Doc McCoy who gets out of prison just in time to get in on a big bank heist. There's screw ups and double crosses and McQueen along with his lovely wife (Ali McGraw) on the lam to Mexico with murderous accomplices in hot pursuit. No production code to dictate how it all turns out.
Mean Streets (1973) Before they made Taxi Driver, Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990), Director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert Deniro made this terrific film -- albeit DeNiro was not the star, Harvey Keitel was. It is rough, especially compared to the slicker films Scorsese has made recently. But it is wonderfully rough in a manner appropriate to the story of small time hoods in the mean streets of New York. It has a verve and excitement that presages Scorsese's later works. But it is a great film in its own right.
The Conversation (1974) Gene Hackman likes to listen, so much so that he does it for a living. This is one four Best Picture nominees from director Francis Ford Coppola in an eight year span. It is too often the forgotten one. For more see this post of mine from August '09.
Love and Death (1975) This film answers the question: What would you get if you combined Ingmar Bergman with Groucho Marx. I don't know what I can add to that. Although you could check out this post I wrote about the film last Fall.
Marathon Man (1976) Dustin Hoffman is a graduate student who likes to run. But this is the 1970's when any poor schmoe could find himself in the midst of a vast conspiracy in which no one can be trusted. Laurence Olivier is a sadistic ex Nazi dentist who works on our hero's teeth sans novocaine. Ouch. Marathon Man is one of the many excellent political thrillers of the decade.
Saturday Night Fever (1977) Daddy, did they really make a good movie about a guy who danced disco? They sure did. Re-visiting it today one is struck by how dark a film it is. Yes there's plenty of leisure suits, Bee Gee songs and John Travolta shaking his booty, but there's also a story of working class angst and the desperation to escape it. There are also people at war, not the military kind, but the day-to-day grind within families and communities. At once entertaining and thought-provoking.
Animal House (1978) I think its one of the funniest movies ever made. The late John Belushi is the star of a delightful ensemble cast. Watching it today makes one wonder what else he'd have achieved as a comic actor. Animal House the story of a renegade frat house that goes up against the stuffed shirt fraternity and the mentally constipated campus administration. Most of all its good dirty fun.
Alien (1979) My understanding is that 99% of horror and sci fi movies today are suitable only for flushing. "Back in the day" director Ridley Scott created this classic of the genre that sadly has been sequeled and imitated to death. It is an intelligent film rife with tension and it hasn't aged a day. Either this kind of film is hard to make, producers today settle for cheap thrills or Scott and company just hit a massive home run.
Others to consider: Network (1976), Three Days of the Condor (1975), All the President's Men (1976), The French Connection (1971), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), The Last Detail (1973), The Sting (1973), The Exorcist (1973), Serpico (1973), Little Big Man (1970), Play it Again, Sam (1972), The Front (1976), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975) and on and on and on.....