Feast Fam: The 70s Movies That Defined A Decade
Contentment is the enemy of art. That might have been paraphrased a little. Or it might have been a Facebook motivational quote, overlaying someone sitting on a beach at sunset. Either way, it’s a fitting summation of the decade that spawned film’s most iconic moments: the 1970s.
The decade brought the end to the Summer of Love and left dire consequences and dismay for those who survived it: political mistrust and instability undermined the ‘Greatest Country in the World’; the meaninglessness of war saw peace protests themselves turn violent and the world was horrified by the graphic images pouring into their homes via the TV news.
This all had a huge influence on film. Let the Feast Fam tell you all about it…
The 70s were something of a turning point in the history of American cinema.
It saw the dismantling of the old Hollywood studio system, the birth of the movie brat generation and the beginnings of the Summer Blockbuster. There were sharks, spaceships, green vomit, cars chasing trains and a breed of film star for whom good looks and talent did not have to be mutually exclusive.
Gone are the days when Gene Hackman’s face could bring in the crowds, as gone as the experience of film making that didn’t rely on internet hype and teaser trailers for teaser trailers.
If one film maker epitomised the decade, and the shift in how films were produced in America, then that film maker would be Francis Ford Coppola. Not simply a director for hire, Coppola was, during the 70s particularly, one of the very few true artists working within the medium. Obsessed with the process, Coppola’s films during the decade are amongst the finest to have ever been produced in the US. From The Godfather in ‘72, through to Apocalypse Now in ’79, he tackled the notion of the American dream, of characters caught in webs of their own making, and of paranoia, suspicion and the darker aspects of who we are as people.
A quick look at his IMDb and it becomes clear that no other film maker had as good a run of quality. Between ’72 and ’79 he also made The Godfather Part 2 (arguably the greatest film of the decade), and The Conversation, the best depiction of paranoid obsession yet made.
More fascinating still, is the subconsciously circular nature of Coppola’s filmography during the decade, beginning with The Godfather’s opening monologue, which declared “I believe in America” and ending with the foreign landscape of Apocalypse Now, where America’s presence was personified within the flash of a napalm fireball and the haunting tones of Jim Morrison stating “This is the end.”
The prophecy may have been correct: Coppola, despite some sporadically great work over the next 30 years, would never have a run this good again. It’s a sign of the times, without question and a bittersweet one at that. And yet, the work stands the test of time, something a thousand effects-driven event pictures of today could only dream of.
“The horror…..the horror.”
When it comes to the greatest decade in film, you cannot deny the array of films released in the 1970s. Between 1930 and 1968, the Motion Picture Production Code AKA the Hays Code had denied certain acts to be depicted in film, ranging from the use of weapons to scenes of crime. The code, however, declined by the 1970s and as a result, horror and gangster films ruled the decade. One of the most prolific – and a regular feature in ‘The Greatest Films of All Time’ lists – is the 1972 film The Godfather.
While half of the world may think its 1974 sequel is superior, I am loyal to the first film in the trilogy as it marks the start of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino)’s descent into darkness. Regarded as the black sheep of the Corleone family, Michael tries to distances himself from his family’s criminal activities, but it is this self-imposed ‘exile’ – him being seen as a civilian – that leads him into the hands of drug kingpin Virgil Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) and his corrupt cop McClusky (Sterling Hayden). After the murder of his first wife Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli), he has to face the inevitable – there was no escaping his fate nor his family.
1971’s Klute is the first of Alan J Pakula’s ‘paranoia trilogy’ (together with The Parallax View and All the President’s Men), but it explores a more personal and intimate story than the political thrillers that followed it. Donald Sutherland plays John Klute, a small-town detective hired by a friend to track down a missing person. His investigation soon leads to Bree Daniels, a New York call girl whose confident demeanour disguises the burden of living under the threat of violence. Their love story evolves alongside a whodunit weaving through the city’s seedier corners.
Like many of the best 70s thrillers, Klute is soaked in paranoia and cynicism, but it has a romantic heart and a soulful, bluesy style that helps it stand out from the crowd. Pakula’s sensitive treatment is helped by Michael Small’s spine-tingling, for-the-ages soundtrack. The two lead performances are outstanding, and upend what could have been caricature. Sutherland’s Klute is not the slick, fast-talking detective of classic noir, but a faltering man out of his depth in the big city, easily intimidated by Bree and her street smarts. As for Bree, her bold independence is paried with some surprising therapy scenes, where she displays a depth of self-reflection rarely afforded to such characters in genre fiction.
The 1970s hosts perhaps the very best American cinema, and Klute sits close to the top of that pile.
Have we missed your favourite 70s film? Or are you more about the opulent 80s? Let us know in the comments below!