Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Movies for a Disco Decade, You Punks

I started this meme the other day, the best film for each year of my life as decided by me. No refunds or exchanges. So here we go with the 1970s....


In our previous entry I worried over the split between the film that meant something to me then and what I feel now is the best film from that year. Most films didn't mean much to me in the '60s cause I was too young to know any better (although I probably should have put down The Happiest Millionaire for 1967 since I remember seeing it in Radio City Music Hall, one of my earliest memories, or maybe I just remember it as I wrote a poem about seeing it, not that my poetry was ever memorable). 1971 does suggest a now/then split, however. For I certainly vividly recall Duel, back when Spielberg couldn't be pretentious as they didn't give him the money and it was merely a TV movie. But boy it packed the thrills, and Dennis Weaver was McCloud, too. Years later I would see McCabe and Mrs. Miller, fall in love with Julie Christie, totally rethink the Western, realize Altman was teaching me a new way to watch, and listen to, a film. Wonderful use of Leonard Cohen, too.


Last time I pointed out this might be the best year for film in my life--certainly the best year up to this point. Nine-year-old me missed most of it, getting "adult" seeing Poseidon Adventure as my first PG film (but I was blase as somehow they let me take out the novel from the public library, and that was even steamier). And my favorite film during that year was definitely What's Up Doc? as I had no idea something called Bringing Up Baby existed and was getting ripped off, however lovingly. That one can say Ryan O'Neal is a better Cary Grant than Streisand is a Katherine Hepburn is damning with feint chin dimples. Still, Madeline Kahn--film never did provide her the plum role she so deserved.

But '72 was the Year of the Marlon as Brando excelled in The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris. And I'm not just buttering him up here. For self-determined intensity, Brando might have been outdone by Klaus Kinski, whose driven performance in that allegory of imperialism Aguirre, the Wrath of God draws everything into it like whirlpools on the Amazon.

And then there's perhaps the most psychologically searing film ever, Bergman's Cries and Whispers. Forget fading to black, scenes fade to red, and the bitter vicissitudes of family never got committed to celluloid more painfully. The death watch scene, and that wheezing. The wine glass scene. Now that's a horror film.


The sound you hear is thousands of piano teacher screaming. For The Sting has made Scott Joplin popular and everyone wants to learn "The Entertainer" (I think I can still pick its beginning out, myself). At 10 I wanted to be Paul Newman, not Redford, which suggests much about my young psyche. At the least I wanted to grow up and be a con man. Look what happened--now I'm in marketing. I won't vouch for the film as much today, but it certainly rides on a terrific supporting cast, from Robert Shaw to Harold Gould. And running with the con man theme, the other best film of this year is/was Paper Moon. Telling that films set in the 1930s were so popular, and that even as I kid I could get swept up in that. Or perhaps it was just my nascent love for old movies getting redirected into something possible for a pre-teen two years before even Beta tapes and 11 before AMC.


Please turn up the speakers on your computer while I broadcast a very low range rumble, for this is the year of Sensurround and Earthquake. In New Jersey the perils of LA seemed quite remote, so to watch it crumble upon Charlton Heston was mostly a romp, except when Joe DePirri got surprised by one rumble and tossed his giant popcorn all over our row at his brother's birthday party. Everything was a disaster that year, as it also offered the sublimely all-star studded ridiculousness of The Towering Inferno (OJ saves the cat--good thing he wasn't married to it). But of course now I know I was watching the wrong Los Angeles film, and should have stuck with my 1930s obsession. Forget it, George, it's Chinatown. (Doubt it would have made sense when I was 11.) Remember when Nicholson didn't just do Nicholson shtick? If you don't, watch this again. And my god, nothing is more scary than John Huston as Noah Cross.


Open wide and say Jaws. Damn it for starting the summer blockbuster idea that Lucas would run with (you won't see any of those films on my list, thank you very much), but what a thrill ride. I'm also completely enamored, still, with Love and Death, especially as it's sort of for me what MP and the Holy Grail is for others, a trove of lines to recite at any provocation. Maybe it's because I'm 50% Ukrainian, which at 12 I thought was Russian (of course it was all Soviet no-goodnik, lefty in training me didn't know). Maybe it's because I'm 100% silly, and the idea of scythe-wielding Death dancing to Prokofiev is too delicious. And there's this priceless exchange, which at that age was probably just getting a firm grip on my imagination:

Countess Alexandrovna: You are the greatest lover I've ever had.
Boris: Well, I practice a lot when I'm alone.


I have to hail Taxi Driver, of course, but I have a soft spot for hokum that overpowers its own corniness (come to think of it, that might be the goal of my entire life), and there's absolutely nothing half-baked about Network, which was satire 32 years ago and more or less a documentary now. All those great performances--Holden, Dunaway, Beatty, Duvall, Straight, and of course Peter Finch. For some of its greatness, go here. 1977 can wait. And I do know Nashville came out this year--it's a close runner-up.


The year Annie Hall broke. I actually like Manhattan more, but what a film this is. Again, my humor has to be at least 92% Woody Allen derived (5% the first year of SNL especially Steve Martin guest appearances, 2% Monty Python, 1% my parents' divorce, which I turned into a laff riot). Which means Amy better never suggest we adopt any South Koreans. (shudder)


Not to get all artsy on you, but the images of Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven pop into my head in the same way the lines of Woody Allen do. Of course that's the argument against the film--it's all pretty pictures--but I think it's after something basic and Biblical as envisioned by Edward Hopper. Not to mention trying to find a good still from it now on line was hard. Maybe that means people just haven't posted the good stuff. Or maybe it means it works only as a movie, and if nothing else it captures time and the seasons better than most films.


Manhattan. In which NYC is even prettier than the young Mariel Hemingway. Plus NYC never got a boob job. Close second has to be All that Jazz, a film I wrote about back when Roy Scheider died.


And the decade closes much more strongly in film than it did in politics. If I may I want to pick a trifecta. First there's Melvin and Howard, Jonathan Demme before he got pretentious. A true American story, capturing our flirts with success and fame and flirting. Then there's Atlantic City, a mix of a bit of everything done somehow right--old time polish from Burt Lancaster, edgy sexuality from Susan Sarandon, some old world new wave from Louis Malle, and poetry from John Guare. Plus the edge of America past the edge of decay.

Last and far from least the longest film on this entire lifetime list, I see England, I see France, I see Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz. OK, that was the silliest intro to a very un-silly film, one more or less humorless, a recipe that might seem deadly for something over 900 minutes long. But the world in the film is so real you get totally swept into it. I got to see this in 1984 or so over a weekend in Baltimore and the experience is still precious to me (one reason years later Best of Youth would also be so rewarding). Build me a world to go live in.

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Anonymous jeff said...

you're way too hard on your own verse, George. I remember handfuls of your poems, admiringly so, thank you very much. Perhaps you meant that it wasn't mnemonic?

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Al Bonowitz said...

You're getting into Starshine territory, which is the highest accolade I can give a writer.

Buttering up Marlon Brando ... Open wide and say Jaws ... Hail Taxi Driver.

Niiiice. Wish I could do that.

(Love "Duel," BTW)

10:22 PM  
Blogger Rickey Henderson said...

Hm, Rickey's never seen "Days of Heaven"... sounds like it's worth a viewing. This is a great cinematic retrospective you've got going here.

5:16 AM  
Blogger George said...

Thanks for the kind words, guys. Guess I've gone from a poet to a punster.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Very nice list of films there. And with a triple shot of Woody, not lacking in fun either.

But: no love for Sleeper in 1973?

7:24 AM  
Blogger George said...

I like Sleeper but don't love it, to tell the truth. Seems realtively hit and miss and a bit draggy, even, when it has to sort of have a plot at the end.

10:18 PM  

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