I knew things were bad when, a few years ago, I actually found myself missing the Seventies.
Many, many American movies made during the Seventies share one overarching theme:
America is falling apart!
Tim Dirks’ must-read, 6-part overview of the films of this era begins with this highly-concentrated, perfectly observed paragraph:
Motion picture art seemed to flourish at the same time that the defeat in the Vietnam War, the Kent State Massacre, the Watergate scandal, President Nixon’s fall, the Munich Olympics shoot-out, increasing drug use, and a growing energy crisis showed tremendous disillusion, a questioning politicized spirit among the public and a lack of faith in institutions — a comment upon the lunacy of war and the dark side of the American Dream.
Our own Ed Driscoll has done yeoman’s work chronicling that decade’s “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” leftwing auteur boom: the death of the studio system, and the rise of hot young directors – Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Scorsese — whose visions still inform American film, and the culture at large.
Most recently, Kyle Smith proffered his “10 Best Films of the 1970s.”
My list is different than Smith’s because the “best” films of that era (and I agree with many of his selections) don’t necessarily capture the mood of the times as well as lesser movies.
What follows is a guide for millennials who are forever hearing about “the Seventies,” are living with that decade’s toxic cultural fallout, and who wonder what life during this tumultuous time (although, aren’t they all…?) was really like.
That’s why I’ve neglected to mention anachronistic or overly escapist fare: all the bloated feel-good musicals; anything by Disney, Mel Brooks or Cubby Broccoli; all but one of Woody Allen’s “early funny ones”; sweeping pseudo-period Oscar bait like Barry Lyndon, The Way We Were, New York, New York, The Sting and Funny Lady; and time-less blockbusters like Star Wars, Halloween and Rocky.
(Incidentally: most movies about the Vietnam War were made in the 1980s.)
However, I have included movies about the Seventies that were made later, if they accurately evoke the time period. Note: There are a LOT of these.
Ideally, curious readers should get hold of the ten movies I’ve chosen as exemplars of my ten different themes, then temporarily get rid of their computers and phones (because it’s 1972, and “Ma Bell” still hasn’t shown up to activate your line). Next put on some thick polyester clothing, and eat nothing but Cheesies and Orange Crush for the duration. (The Seventies were VERY orange.)
Close all your curtains to help mimic the sinister, suffocating atmosphere we marinated in.
And press “play.”