Movies of the 70s

by Jurgen Muller

Published by Taschen

234 pages, 2003

Movies of the 80s

by Jurgen Muller

Published by Taschen

234 pages, 2003

 

Movies of the 90s

by Jurgen Muller

Published by Taschen

234 pages, 2003

 

 

The Lure of Immediate Nostalgia

Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum

 

I grew up on a steady and varied diet of movies. My parents adored them, they enjoyed exposing me to them just as much as going themselves, and they tasted better than your average Brussels sprout. The first movie I saw was Mary Poppins, and I was taking in James Bond films by the time I was 10 or 11.

My own cultural life began in the 1970s, when I was old enough to start understanding more of the subtleties of what I was seeing on the screen. I understood early that there were movies, and then there were other things called "films." Sure, you saw them both in theaters -- but they were two very different things. A decade later, as I entered college, I saw movies as often as I attended classes. I studied film, among other things, and my thesis was a screenplay. In the 1990s, I was at the movies constantly, and now that I have two young sons, I do what my parents did: I expose them to as much celluloid as I can. As much as I love the movies we see together, even better are the looks of wonder on their faces and the conversations we have about the movies in the car on the way home.

Three new books celebrate many of the movies I consider personal touchstones: Movies of the 70s, Movies of the 80s, and Movies of the 90s. These well-produced books, better than 700 pages each, are filled with photographs, brief captions and occasionally dry text that places each film in cultural and historical context. Some films get better treatments than others, as well as more lively, not to mention detailed, discussions.

The 1970s were a time of experimentation and revolution in Hollywood. Movies were no longer restricted by the old studio system; in this period, the director of a film was as valuable as its star (for some viewers, it was more valuable). A small group of directors arose in Hollywood that would not just challenge all that had come before, but would also shape much of what would come after. Steven Spielberg became known in the 70s with his second film, Jaws. George Lucas' name was made with his third, Star Wars. There was Stanley Kubrick's symphony of violence and torture, A Clockwork Orange. William Friedkin's The French Connection. Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show. Bob Fosse's Cabaret. Terrence Mallick's Badlands. Francois Truffaut's Lacombe, Lucien. Roman Polanski's Chinatown. Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein.

These films didn't just entertain; they engaged us. They changed how we thought about movies, and in large part they changed how the movies depicted us. The forced us to see, to feel, to confront. Suddenly, movies weren't simply entertainment or even simply art; some were statements.

Think about the ripple effect of movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Nashville, Dog Day Afternoon, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, All the President's Men, Rocky, Network, Saturday Night Fever, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Annie Hall, Midnight Express, Manhattan, Alien, The China Syndrome, Dressed to Kill, Ordinary People, Raging Bull, Diva. A lot is made in movie history books of the year 1939, the year of The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind and Ninotchka and Wuthering Heights, to name but a few of that year's landmark films. But for me, it's all about the 70s. For me, that was the decade of the movies. These movies were events, movies you got jazzed about the moment you saw the first ad for them in the newspaper. Even as a child, I felt the magnetic pull of these movies, and when I saw them they altered me. They opened my eyes and my mind and my world. All the President's Men was about what had just happened in real life. The China Syndrome was about what was about to happen. Close Encounters anchored my dreams, Saturday Night Fever inspired my school dances, and Rocky proved that we could accomplish anything.

In the 80s, Hollywood's new liberation resulted in a decade of diverse movies that pushed every imaginable boundary in every imaginable direction. Body Heat ignited screens with its raw sexual energy and John Barry's sultry score. Reds proved Warren Beatty was a world-class director as well as a movie star. Flashdance became our new Cinderella story, with glass slippers replaced by leg warmers and dance shoes. Once more, these movies changed everything. They went deeper, drilling down into our psyches in a way that none had done before. ET The Extra-Terrestrial became everyone's secret friend. Tootsie became everyone's "girl" friend. Blade Runner showed us a possible future, and we were fascinated by its stark, overbearing bleakness. We shuddered at Sophie's Choice and marveled at the revelation that was Meryl Streep. We watched Madonna's first wave crest with Desperately Seeking Susan; in a certain sense, what Funny Girl did for Barbra Streisand, Susan did for Madonna, bringing her to the mainstream in a way that simply could not be ignored.

But the 80s also loosed upon the world The Terminator, The Breakfast Club, Brazil, Amadeus, A Passage to India, Back to the Future, Witness, Prizzi's Honor, Out of Africa, Ran, Fatal Attraction, Moonstruck, Die Hard, Big, Rain Man, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, When Harry Met Sally, Driving Miss Daisy, Born on the Fourth of July, Dances with Wolves, GoodFellas. Movies that both fed our sense of fantasy and shocked us into reality at the same time. These movies broke through walls to hold mirrors up to us, forcing us to look. Entertainment hadn't died, but come to life in a new way, shifting our ideas about the future, crime, animation, sexual obsession, romance, family and love. If movies in the 70s were about extraordinary things that happened to ordinary people, then movies in the 80s were about larger-than-life people caught up in larger-than-life stories. Each of these films, and many more, had in common their size and scope. They were, each in its own way, epic. The 80s were a time of excess in so many ways, why should Hollywood have been any different?

As the 90s began, this sense of size spilled over, mixed with a decidedly stubborn need to remake -- and attempt to outdo -- what had been done before. The remake of Cape Fear was a bigger version of the 60s original. Oliver Stone's JFK transformed Kennedy's assassination into a massive treatise for conspiracy that all but called for a complete reexamination of the event of 30 years before. Terminator 2: Judgment Day flipped the past when it cast the villain of the first film as the hero of the new one.

Here, again, movies were big and walls were torn down. More than everyday or extraordinary characters, story took center stage, becoming the driving force behind characters' actions. In movies like Thelma & Louise, Basic Instinct, A Few Good Men, Jurassic Park, Philadelphia, Groundhog Day, Schindler's List, The Firm, The Fugitive, Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, Apollo 13, Braveheart, Trainspotting, The English Patient, Boogie Nights, Titanic, Shakespeare in Love, Saving Private Ryan, The Matrix, American Beauty, The Sixth Sense, Gladiator and Almost Famous, story was everything.

Self-discovery, discovery of the world, the world as catalyst. It's a dramatic progression, a widening view, that makes a certain amount of sense. Hollywood, as ever, is both our inspiration and reflection.

Reviewing Movies of the 70s, …80s, and …90s, you'll relive these films mostly by way of the stills chosen for the book. Many of the photographs are grainy, even for recent films, which gives the whole enterprise a sense of nostalgia that's just a little disturbing. Even though many of the films covered in these books are what might be called ancient history, to me they're all still as immediate and fresh as the day they were released. | October 2003

 

Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse. At night he works on another novel and a screenplay. Days, he writes advertising copy in Lawrenceville, NJ, where he lives with his wife and sons.