Film, OldVenue

Decades of Film: 1970s

The 1970s was a revolutionary decade for cinema. It not only produced many great films (a lot of beloved Hipster classics), and directors (Coppola, Scorsese, Altman) and actors (De Niro, Pacino) of today but it also shaped filmic conventions. By the end of the 60s Hollywood was disintegrating, 1950s conformist values under the Cold War had been rejected, and the 70s took this subversion of dominant norms in their stride. Furthermore, Hollywood’s attempts to resist being eclipsed by television meant studio execs were pumping more money into (literally) Epic fails. More colour, clearer sound, and widescreen and 3D technology were among the many attempts Hollywood made to revive the individuality of the cinematic experience only to continuously fail at the box office. Classical Hollywood was no longer profitable.

It was then that the ‘Movie Brats’ arrived. Young, ambitious film-school graduates with an expansive knowledge of cinema, initiated a renaissance in filmmaking. In 1967 two films were released that commenced this change; Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Nichols’ The Graduate (1967). They laid the foundation for the counter-cultural change Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969) would actualise and the 70s would dedicate itself to. ‘New Hollywood’ filmmakers fused realism capturing the mundaneness of life with a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll attitude, offering a unique source of identification for the post-1960s disaffected youth. The personnel of ‘New Hollywood’ were often heavy drug users (Hopper and Jack Nicholson), ambitious (Coppola and Cimeno at risk to their careers) and educated. Their films were explicit in language, violence, sex, and substance abuse. They were considered the counter-culture’s response to Hollywood’s, and society’s, conservatism that no longer had an audience. Hollywood’s demographic began to reflect those behind the camera.

The most important thing to remember with these films was that studios were happily backing this American New Wave. They were producing high budget films on controversial topics with writers and directors retaining creative control, much more so than today. Essential films include Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971), Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980), Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1979), Coppola’s The Godfathers I + II (1972, 1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979). Actors embodying cultural resistance and anarchic ideologies were generating box office success.

The best example of ‘New Hollywood’ at work, however, simultaneously illustrates its decline. The factors bringing this heyday to an end tend to be viewed as the directors’ uncontrollable egos, the damaging drug use/dependency and the blockbuster mentality. These former two factors dictated the production of Apocalypse Now. Unprecedentedly over budget, the film bankrupted Coppola, its star Martin Sheen had a near fatal heart attack, the extended chaotic filming on location in the Philippines in addition to the cast and crew’s widespread substance abuse meant the shoot was physically financially and irreparably damaging. After this and Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, the studios realised they no longer needed the problems caused by the unstable artistry of these legendary filmmakers to make a successful blockbuster, as demonstrated by Lucas’ Star Wars franchise and also Spielberg’s departure from the heavy issues typifying the ‘New Hollywood’ style.

Although arguably burnt out, ‘New Hollywood’ introduced a legendary attitude to filmmaking that continues to influence modern day cinema. It was a rare and fleeting period in which film was truly accepted and considered a profound art form. Martha Julier

There seems to be a certain contempt for films that use actors in their mid-20s (or actually mid-30s for a lot of the cast) to play teenagers in high school, but something about the 1978 classic Grease made it an exception. It still stands to be the highest grossing movie musical of all time, whether it be the Pink Ladies’ or T-Bird’s charm, or the fact that they all miraculously know the lyrics and dance to spontaneous songs, the opening song was correct by stating that Grease is the word.

However, the real interest in the musical was the central love story between Danny (John Travolta) and Sandy (Olivia Newton-John). The popular rebel boy being in love with the sweet innocent girl situation didn’t go down well with their friends, but somehow they managed to pull through and achieve their happily-ever-after by jetting off into the sunset in a flying car; the same car the boys were working on in the iconic song Greased Lightning.

The musical also carried its controversy with Rizzo’s teen pregnancy scare, Marty’s fling with an older television presenter and the general rebellious behaviour of the entire cast. The musical gives an endearing message about friendship, especially with the song We Go Together and everybody being friends at the end. Sandy also decides to ditch her innocence and turns into a leather-wearing smoker to finally be the one that Danny wants and be accepted by his friends. However, could this be seen as a negative message about ‘how to get the boy’ or was it just a much-needed bold step to increase her confidence?

A real question to be asked is how true to life the musical was in terms of era. A 1978 film trying to portray the 1950s may not be entirely realistic, and we could only answer this if we were actually alive in America during the 1950s. It is known as the decade where people thought Elvis Presley’s dancing was too sexual, so if they knew that teens were actually having sex (unprotected, in the back of cars, may it be said) there likely would have been some sort of uproar. Then again, the rise of libertarianism in the 50s and 60s gave more people the right to free choice and non-judgement which could be an extremely positive message for the film to have sent. Abi Constable


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July 2021
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