Monday, 6 July 2015

~1967 - 1974~

A modern Golden Age of ground-breaking cinema. For my money, it's the most fertile, exciting and challenging period in film-making since the medium began and all took place within a mere eight years. My aim with this blog is to write in celebration about many of the seminal movies of that era: the masterpieces, the guilty pleasures and to shine a fatal ray of sunlight on a few of the undead stinkers that should never have seen the light of day. It's an actor's unashamed appreciation rather than an academic's drier approach. There'll be no footnotes or appendices here, but sometimes some geek trivia for those of us who enjoy that sort of thing, capping mini-essays written with a critical bent and some amusement but no less love for all that. Along the way, it's also my attempt to learn about the themes and examine connections between them.

 If you examine the breadth of amazing work done in this brief era, it's mind-blowing how many great actors, directors and writers arguably did their best work in these few brief years or at least began their careers with often their bravest or most distinctive early films, Rock concerts became cinema in their own right with WOOSTOCK and GIMME SHELTER amongst others. Pop and drug culture's colours and counter-culture ideas filled the screen courtesy of young film-makers such as Dennis Hopper and Bob Rafelson who were allowed to helm their own unique vision to the perplexity of studio heads but the ringing endorsement of a new young audience hungry for change. Clint Eastwood's directorial debut PLAY MISTY FOR ME opened in 1971, not to mention the most enjoyable first two of his DIRTY HARRY films between 71-74). (The huge popularity of his right-wing Angel of Death amidst the leftist vibrations of these years is just one of many pleasing paradoxes of the time) In 1974, David Cronenberg opened his account with his first body-horror feature SHIVERS, beginning his left-wing horror theme that evil is not just outside us but within us - the body revolts internally as well as on the streets. In that same year Mel Brooks produced the sublime satirical double whammy of BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN ( His own writing/director debut, the classic THE PRODUCERS, came at the beginning of this period in 1968). William Friedkin scored his greatest successes with the 'Frog-chasing', child-possessing duo of THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST in 1971 and 1973 respectively. Peter Bogdanovich gave us his nostalgic best in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, WHAT'S UP DOC and PAPER MOON between 1971-73, the latter two of those early 70s projects also providing Ryan O'Neal with his best showcases. Equally, Coppola both created and cemented his reputation with the first two monumental parts of the GODFATHER trilogy in this period., Meanwhile in Britain, despite paralysing economic austerity in the early Seventies we somehow found the means to produce almost an industry in itself of (albeit not all welcome) sitcom translations to the big screen from an ON THE BUSES trilogy through STEPTOE, BLESS THIS HOUSE and many more.

One could drown in waves of persuasive statistics that I feel back up my case, yet that does a disservice to what these eight years represent in content. They embody a real spirit in film-making where suddenly in student campuses and out of film-schools, young  people and artists specifically were no longer so accepting of their 'elders and betters' and the establishment they represented. The war in Vietnam for example produced dissent and cynicism in an American generation that previously supported authority more or less unquestioningly -  while in England, the confidence inspired by the satire boom of the early 60s through the growing trade union unrest in the early 70s attacked the institutions that had been thought to render its citizens compliant and docile. Reactions to the old guard were acted out in the introspective escapism of psychedelia on screen, and the outer manifestation of exposing corruption, vulnerability and failure in all the not-so infallible elements of the state. Crooked cops were exposed in SERPICO; manipulated, outwitted cops were burning alive in THE WICKER MAN and burning with obsessive frustration in THE FRENCH CONNECTION. In two seminal films of this era, vigilantes within and outside the law took matters into their own hands in DEATH WISH and DIRTY HARRY. A new pessimism was rife in the clandestine political puppetry shown in THE GODFATHER films, THE PARALLAX VIEW and THE CANDIDATE. Even the safe haven of the family was no longer safe when THE EXORCIST was called to free cosy domesticity from the devil's invasion. It was also a time of great experimentation with the freedom of the BBS studio and it's respect for a director's vision, the emergence of the 'movie-brats', a reductive label attributed to film-school graduates De Palma, Spielberg, Milius, Scorsese and Lucas as they took over the system from the aging movie moguls. Each was to produce raw thrilling signature work in the years before JAWS changed the landscape in 1975, inventing the summer studio blockbuster and gradually causing the industry to lose it's nerve once again...

I don't claim that the films made between 1967-1974 had all the answers, but they asked some vital questions of our society and allowed huge creative expression and risk - two qualities sorely lacking today.

~ Ian ~

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