Is there a better decade for film than the 1970s? Feel free to try to convince me otherwise, but I doubt you’ll have much luck. Taken as a whole, the films of the 70s combine into a dazzling, divergent whole that challenges and delights, devastates and uplifts, while also remaining extremely relevant many years later.
We don’t call “On Food And Film” hyperbolic for no reason.
I’ll admit I fell in love with movies during the 70s. My parents, thankfully, loved movies and we often went to the theatre as a family. In my early childhood, there were three main theaters in my hometown. My favorite was The Village Theatre on Gulfway Drive, which sat over 1100 people! It was a huge, wonderful theatre with an enormous screen. It even had a balcony, which we loved as kids…. and loved even more as high-schoolers. Also a great theatre was The Park Plaza Twin Cinema, which was our town’s first double theatre. The Park Plaza had two theaters flanking a giant lobby with crystal chandeliers and a beautiful concession area. The theaters themselves were large and long, sloping beautifully down to very wide screens. Finally, we had a double drive in, Don’s Drive In, which was classic to a drive-in in every sense. My brother and I loved the drive-in but it was harder to convince my parents to venture there. I did have my first experience with James Bond at Don’s Drive In, a reissue double feature of Goldfinger and Thunderball. I’ve been a Bond addict ever since. And Don’s was where I saw the original King Kong for the first time, an incredible experience on the ginormous drive-in screen.
In many ways, I grew up in The Village and Park Plaza theaters. Some of my most influential moviegoing experiences, which means some of my most life informing experiences, were in those two buildings during the 70s. Jaws, Julia, Rocky, Star Wars, Superman, Halloween, Close Encounters, Young Frankenstein, The China Syndrome, Being There, all the great disaster movies of the 70s… these are just a few of the many movies I saw on these screens, movies that thrilled me in a variety of ways and kept me going back for more.
While The Village was the biggest and best, the Park Plaza was great for our family because we could split up when our tastes diverged. Mom and I loved scary movies, for instance, which my Dad did not enjoy, so one night in the summer of 1976, Dad and my older brother David went to see The Outlaw Josey Wales while Mom and I went to see The Omen. The Omen was the first R-rated movie I saw in a theatre. Before anyone thinks ill of my parents, the Monsignor of our diocese okayed this decision. He loved the movie and told my parents it was thought-provoking and would provide good theological discourse afterwards. The fact it scared me so badly I almost wet my pants and had nightmares for a week never came up.
My favorite time we split up was eight months later when Mom and I planned to see Network (even more brilliant today than it was back then) while Dad and David would go see Slapshot. Both were also rated “R” but the ratings for both movies seemed to stem from language. Given Dad’s vocabulary, R-rated language was not a big deal in our house. That afternoon, however, one of Mom’s friends told her she shouldn’t let me see Network because it had an intense sex scene between Faye Dunaway and William Holden. Mom and Dad decided I would be seeing the sports movie instead. Sure, Slapshot was rated R but it starred Paul Newman… how bad could it be? I was supremely irritated by this decision and grumbled all the way into the theatre. Five minutes in, however, I was gleeful because besides being a terrific movie, Slapshot is one of the raunchiest, lewdest, most profane movies of all time. My Dad was white by the time it was over. When we met back up with my mom in the lobby, me goose-stepping joyfully out of the theatre with a grin of superiority on my face, Dad looked at Mom and dryly remarked, ‘We made a very big mistake.”
1976, by the way, certainly was a phenomenal movie year, wasn’t it? Rocky, All The President’s Men, The Omen, Network, Carrie, Taxi Driver and Harlan Country USA were released in ’76 as were fun populist hits such as The Bad News Bears, Logan’s Run, The Marathon Man, Murder By Death and Silver Streak. This was also the year I discovered Pauline Kael, a fellow hyperbolic, who was hitting a magnificent stride in the New Yorker. My original copy of When The Lights Go Down hasn’t had a binding for years. What an amazing writer, what wonderful films. Such good times.
Why talk about 70s movies? Well, this is a bit of a preface. A teaser, if you will. Some of my upcoming posts will be about my favorites from the decade. Others will involve general discussions of seventies cinema. I have to defend my position. This is a dark, funny, deeply complex stretch of art that moves me to this day and will be fun to dive into with you here.
In case you want to avoid a spoiler or two and want to watch an amazing movie, the next post on the seventies will be:
A Great Movie You’ve Probably Never Seen, Vol 1: KLUTE