This is a really hard list to come up with but that’s why I’m opting to come up with it first out of many list style posts I’m hoping to include on my blog now and again. My friend suggested to me I pick my favorite films from a given year, but the example she showed me was 1974 and I thought to myself, I could pick any year and have it be the easier route or I can take the whole decade of the 70’s which is certainly easier for me than a specific year within the decade but still a fun challenge.
So without further delay, my five favorite films of the 70’s in no particular order:
Taxi Driver (1976)
What can I say about Martin Scorsese’s violent and dreamlike masterpiece about a crazed and alienated war vet in the form of Robert De Niro, who wants nothing more than to clean the scum of the city streets in the 1970’s even if by questionable means? It is Scorsese at his early best. It is artful and interesting and never ceases to make me cringe and question so much: is the view of the city subjective? Is it the city or the war or something else all together that has led him to this point? And what about that ambiguous ending, which caps off a finale that feels otherwise quite like fantasy? It’s a neo-noir filled with jump-cuts and repetitions, and my personal favorite moment, a tellingly fluid moving camera that doesn’t even remain easily fixed on our flawed and broken Travis Bickle; as he makes a phone call, the camera pans to a long and empty hallway nearby. It is haunting. There’s just so much that is ripe for the film analysis picking!
It isn’t an easy film in that regard but somehow it is a classic, just as it deserves to be.
Mean Streets (1973)
Hate to put two Scorsese flicks in a row but when I think of the 1970’s and all the alienation and conflict of masculinity present in so many films of that decade, I can’t help but think of this auteur’s work specifically. Mean Streets is another classic and it established a lot of stylistic elements characteristic to Scorsese’s movies for years to come: tracking shots, the color red, and in particular here of course themes of Italian-American relations amongst men in the mob culture of an uncomfortably insular Little Italy, and even between man and God (which makes sense when one considers that Scorsese once wanted to be a priest)
Anyway, this film is less of a story and more of a snapshot– a portrait of Italian life and culture and all the criminality, vulnerability, and mixed allegiances inherent in that. It took me a second viewing for it to strike me as a masterpiece but once I realized how well paced and innovative the film really was, I appreciated it a lot more, plus it’s another movie filled with thematic and stylistic talking points, especially with the epic crescendo-like showdown of sorts that hurdles us towards the end of the movie, achieved through emotionally affective crosscutting.
The Exorcist (1973)
Oh come on, you didn’t really think I would forget this, did you? My mother, an avid fan (I’m talking like, scrapbook making, multiple in the theaters viewing, line reciting kind of fanaticism) showed the film to me at the ripe young age of 12 and it didn’t scare me in the sense that I had nightmares or was scarred by any means. But I feel like to say that about The Exorcist is to admit desensitization to classic horror, and for me that was not the case. I was not desensitized, but I certainly can say I was hardened. In a way, The Exorcist isn’t what started my love of the genre but it is a movie that is so singular, so important, and so scary for its time that it sort of affirmed my love for the genre. It is so well-done, and the kind of horror milestone where watching it now is less of a fright fest and more of a lesson in what it means to frighten and be frightened in the cinema, and how that style of moviemaking has evolved. Now, I would never want my assessment to be misconstrued as to suggest it doesn’t have truly horrifying moments still to this day, many of which were cut out and re-included for the director’s cut DVD. I cringe still when I know she’s about to be holding that crucifix soon and doing far worse with it than just that (and I’ll bet you thought I was going to mention the pea soup, didn’t you). But it is, to me, more of a film history marvel than it is something to create the kind of mass hysteria, controversy and derision that it induced at the time of its release.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder 1974)
When I first saw this film as part of the New German Cinema unit in my film history class, I didn’t know how to feel about it exactly. It was one of those films that is just so odd and makes you feel so separate from the characters (I mean, those long shots of Ali framed within doorways so many yards away from the camera shooting him is a prime example) while also making you feel somehow all too intimate at moments of raw tension. I think this strange balance is due at least in part to Fassbinder’s love of melodrama and his ability to take the melodramatic and present it in the most subtle and banal of manners. And that right there is why this tale of racism in Germany, told in a microcosmic way: through a middle aged woman who falls in love with a young Turkish man much to the chagrin of her grown children, is one of such beautifully awkward poignancy, the likes of which no one else could achieve so harmoniously.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Kubrick, a recognized master of his medium, plays with (ultra-)violence, humor, color, and film language (and spoken language as well, in service to the source material) here in this disturbing and fascinating adaptation. It is twisted and often hard to watch but it is also so well crafted that we can’t help but be sucked into the world it creates and presents. It certainly isn’t for everyone but fans of science fiction or young Malcom McDowell perhaps will appreciate the absurd and cynical dystopia that has given us so many pop cultural icons and images.