Been watching a lot of movies from the 70’s (and late 60’s) lately, and no matter how many times i watch these films, they never get boring, never seem too dated and never cease to amaze me. The craft of making movies had really reached some sort of a peak at that time, and even if it’s hard to put a finger on what it was that made it so, everything just seemed so perfectly done.. so beautifully lit.. meticulously written .. there was such a love for the art – not just the telling of the story, and these movies really informed a lot of modern film makers. They set the tone.
A great example is The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) dir. by Norman Jewison and shot by the great Haskell Wexler. A fantastic blend of artistic vision, comedy and romance. The innovative use of split screens and multiple focus points was quite revolutionary. Apparently some of the inspiration came from the Christopher Chapman’s film ‘A Place To Stand‘ – another great example of the innovation going on at the time.. this was a film he made for the Canadian Tourism Board, screened at the Expo 67.
Another good one: The China Syndrome (1979) which i (cleverly) recommended to my friend Richard the other day – actually not even realizing the relevance it has today, with all that’s going on in Japan. This film came out only 12 days before the famous Three Mile Island disaster, and in a funny bit of trivia – a well known film critic slammed the movie, using some words i won’t repeat here, to describe the stupidity and shallowness of the film makers, to even suggest such a concept or idea for a film – only to have his piece come out in the paper the SAME day the Three Mile Island disaster was on the front page! (see.. even back then critics were stupid).
Also watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Network (1976). Two fantastic pieces of work. And what do all these films have in common? Well.. nothing directly, but they’re all related – in a six degrees kind of way. See, Cuckoo’s Nest ran on Broadway in the early 60’s – with Kirk Douglas as the lead. He had secured the rights to the film back then but couldn’t get any of the studios to make it. It was not until he’d handed the rights over to his son, that the film was finally made, now with Michael Douglas producing. The cinematographer on this film was originally Haskell Wexler (Thomas Crown Affair), but he was let go early on in the production, due to creative differences with Michael (check out Wexler’s son’s documentary on him.. ‘Tell Them Who You Are’ – painful!). The China Syndrome originally had Richard Dreyfuss cast as the news-cameraman, but he pulled out shortly before filming was to start, so Michael Douglas (also producer on this film) stepped in to play the role. So, side note: it turns out Michael Douglas was actually quite an accomplished producer before he started sucking as an actor in the 80’s – funny how that works.
And Network, you might ask? What’s the connection there? Well, nothing. Except that i just finished watching Thomas Crown, and it too has Faye Dunaway in it.. But no – really, it’s a fantastic film, well worth looking at. It really predicted in a big way the fantastic decline of morals, quality and substance that was around the corner, and is still in full effect in network television programming.
Oh, and by the way – just watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with my 11 year old son, Sid. Flashed back to watching it in the theater when it came out, and remembered thinking to myself at the end: ‘Now that was fucking fantastic, i wish i had seen the first two!’.