Friday, October 30, 2020

ENG 281 Fall 2020 (Week 7: 1975 - 1977)


 The World in 1975:

Film in 1975:

Barry Lyndon (USA/UK: Stanley Kubrick, 1975) [Criterion: "Stanley Kubrick bent the conventions of the historical drama to his own will in this dazzling vision of a pitiless aristocracy, adapted from a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. In picaresque detail, Barry Lyndon chronicles the adventures of an incorrigible trickster (Ryan O’Neal) whose opportunism takes him from an Irish farm to the battlefields of the Seven Years’ War and the parlors of high society. For the most sumptuously crafted film of his career, Kubrick recreated the decadent surfaces and intricate social codes of the period, evoking the light and texture of eighteenth-century painting with the help of pioneering cinematographic techniques and lavish costume and production design, all of which earned Academy Awards. The result is a masterpiece—a sardonic, devastating portrait of a vanishing world whose opulence conceals the moral vacancy at its heart." MB: Stunning cinematography, especially long night scenes lit only by candles. A stunning work-of-art by one of the best filmmakers.]

Dog Day Afternoon (USA: Sidney Lumet, 1975) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Framed by great work from director Sidney Lumet and fueled by a gripping performance from Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon offers a finely detailed snapshot of people in crisis with tension-soaked drama shaded in black humor. When inexperienced criminal Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) leads a bank robbery in Brooklyn, things quickly go wrong, and a hostage situation develops. As Sonny and his accomplice, Sal Naturile (John Cazale), try desperately to remain in control, a media circus develops and the FBI arrives, creating even more tension. Gradually, Sonny's surprising motivations behind the robbery are revealed, and his standoff with law enforcement moves toward its inevitable end." MB: Based on real events. The ultimate sad-sack criminals who can't do anything right. Equal parts drama and humorous. Grandstanding, but stellar acting turn by Al Pacino, and an equally good, but subtle, performance by the underrated John Cazale. A good early example of our society's love of media spectacles.]

The Mirror (Soviet Union: Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975) [Criterion: "A dying middle-aged man reminisces on his own life, in turn reflecting on the past half-century of Russian history. This autobiographical poem from Andrei Tarkovsky is a stunningly sensual odyssey through the halls of memory." Rotten Tomatoes: "Using a nonlinear structure interlaced with dreams and flashbacks, director Andrei Tarkovsky creates a stream-of-consciousness meditation on war, memory and time that draws heavily on events from his own life. Tarkovsky's film alter ego is Alexei (Ignat Daniltsev), a dying man in his 40s whose commonplace interactions with his wife (Margarita Terekhova) and children summon up a host of memories, ranging from his parents' divorce to his time on the battlefields of World War II." MB: Tarkovsky is considered to be the major poet of international cinema and this is considered to be one of his best. ]

Nashville (USA: Robert Altman, 1975) [Criterion: "This cornerstone of 1970s American moviemaking from Robert Altman is a panoramic view of the country’s political and cultural landscapes, set in the nation’s music capital. Nashville weaves the stories of twenty-four characters—from country star to wannabe to reporter to waitress—into a cinematic tapestry that is equal parts comedy, tragedy, and musical. Many members of the astonishing cast wrote their own songs and performed them live on location, which lends another layer to the film’s quirky authenticity. Altman’s ability to get to the heart of American life via its eccentric byways was never put to better use than in this grand, rollicking triumph, which barrels forward to an unforgettable conclusion." MB: A breathtaking feat of ensemble acting and filmmaking.]

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Australia: Peter Weir, 1975) [Criterion: "This sensual and striking chronicle of a disappearance and its aftermath put director Peter Weir on the map and helped usher in a new era of Australian cinema. Based on an acclaimed 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock is set at the turn of the twentieth century and concerns a small group of students from an all- female college who vanish, along with a chaperone, while on a St. Valentine’s Day outing. Less a mystery than a journey into the mystic, as well as an inquiry into issues of class and sexual repression in Australian society, Weir’s gorgeous, disquieting film is a work of poetic horror whose secrets haunt viewers to this day." MB: The costumes and mise-en-scene are gorgeous. One slips into this dreamlike film, coasting along with its languid story, as it slowly becomes quite different and stranger.]

Rocky Horror Picture Show (USA: Jim Sharman, 1975) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Rocky Horror Picture Show brings its quirky characters in tight, but it's the narrative thrust that really drives audiences insane and keeps 'em doing the time warp again. In this cult classic, sweethearts Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), stuck with a flat tire during a storm, discover the eerie mansion of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a transvestite scientist. As their innocence is lost, Brad and Janet meet a houseful of wild characters, including a rocking biker (Meat Loaf) and a creepy butler (Richard O'Brien). Through elaborate dances and rock songs, Frank-N-Furter unveils his latest creation: a muscular man named "Rocky."" MB: The most famous and beloved cult film of all time. A fun musical crammed with zany weirdness and performed admirably by its eclectic cast. I remember the first time I saw this film I was in Ocean Beach in San Diego and as we walked up to the Midnight Screening at an independent theater there was a man over six feet tall dressed like Dr. Frank-N-Furter smoking intensely on a 3 ft bong in the middle of the busy boulevard in front of the costumed crowd and a pair of cops who didn't care one bit :)]

The Stepford Wives (USA: Bryan Forbes, 1975) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) moves to the quiet town of Stepford with her husband (Peter Masterson) and children. The town seems perfect -- maybe a little too perfect. There's something not quite right with the suburb's women: they're vapid, unfathomably devoted to housework and completely subservient to their husbands. Joanna teams up with another recent transplant, Bobby (Paula Prentiss), to investigate the mystery of Stepford's wives and makes a horrific discovery." MB: Based on the novel by Ira Levin. Seeing this at 10, it made a huge impact on my developing consciousness as, despite its rather staid direction, it radically subverted my early patriarchal interpellation. This was around the time when there started to be a concerted effort to reverse the gains of the women's movement/feminism ultimately becoming a fully realized pushback during the Reagan Revolution. Still pertinent for our times as we are seeing a similar role back of women's rights and a new attempt to culturally cultivate Stepford Wives . Remade in 2004, but feel free to ignore it.]


The World in 1976:

Film in 1976:

Carrie (USA: Brian DePlama, 1976) ["Carrie is a horrifying look at supernatural powers, high school cruelty, and teen angst -- and it brings us one of the most memorable and disturbing prom scenes in history. In this chilling adaptation of Stephen King's horror novel, withdrawn and sensitive teen Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) faces taunting from classmates at school and abuse from her fanatically pious mother (Piper Laurie) at home. When strange occurrences start happening around Carrie, she begins to suspect that she has supernatural powers. Invited to the prom by the empathetic Tommy Ross (William Katt), Carrie tries to let her guard down, but things eventually take a dark and violent turn." MB: As a constantly disappointed fan of horror, this is a film that hit hard as I identified with the struggle of Carrie (even if I am different and my struggles were different). I remember my friends leaving the theater and I was still sitting slack-jawed in my seat, profoundly stunned. Easily one of the best Stephen King adaptations (along with Kubrick's 1980 The Shining). Remade in 2013, but I never saw it.] 

In the Realm of the Senses (Japan: Nagisa Oshima, 1976) [Criterion: "In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no corrida), by the always provocative Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, remains one of the most controversial films of all time. Based on a true incident, it graphically depicts the all-consuming, transcendent—but ultimately destructive—love of a man and a woman (Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda) living in an era of ever escalating imperialism and governmental control. Less a work of pornography than of politics, In the Realm of the Senses is a brave, taboo-breaking milestone, still censored in its own country." MB: In the realm of startling portrayals of the dynamics/complexity of human sexual desire, this is a masterpiece. It will leave any viewer challenged, but for those that have been gifted (or cursed) with the uncontrollable lust and shared intensity of complete attraction & desire for/with another, you will understand the seismic forces being represented, even if you never took it this far.]

The Man Who Fell to Earth (USA: Nicolas Roeg, 1976) [Criterion: "The Man Who Fell to Earth is a daring exploration of science fiction as an art form. The story of an alien on an elaborate rescue mission provides the launching pad for Nicolas Roeg’s visual tour de force, a formally adventurous examination of alienation in contemporary life. Rock legend David Bowie, in his acting debut, completely embodies the title role, while Candy Clark, Buck Henry, and Rip Torn turn in pitch-perfect supporting performances. The film’s hallucinatory vision was obscured in the American theatrical release, which deleted nearly twenty minutes of crucial scenes and details. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Roeg’s full uncut version, in this exclusive new director-approved high-­definition widescreen transfer." MB: Bowie is perfectly cast at this point of time in his life, emanating a natural alien-state and intense curiosity. His metamorphic personal mythos became forever entwined with the imagery of the film.]

Rocky (USA: John G. Avildsen, 1976) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a small-time boxer from working-class Philadelphia, is arbitrarily chosen to take on the reigning world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), when the undefeated fighter's scheduled opponent is injured. While training with feisty former bantamweight contender Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith), Rocky tentatively begins a relationship with Adrian (Talia Shire), the wallflower sister of his meat-packer pal Paulie (Burt Young)." MB: Stallone hit all the beats with his screenplay for this film and fully fleshed out the archetypal role he was seemingly born to play. The popularity of this timeless story and the continuing cultural impact is demonstrated by its continuous rebirth (now as part of the Creed films).]

Taxi Driver (USA: Martin Scorsese, 1976) [Rotten Tomatoes: "A must-see film for movie lovers, this Martin Scorsese masterpiece is as hard-hitting as it is compelling, with Robert De Niro at his best. Suffering from insomnia, disturbed loner Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes a job as a New York City cabbie, haunting the streets nightly, growing increasingly detached from reality as he dreams of cleaning up the filthy city. When Travis meets pretty campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), he becomes obsessed with the idea of saving the world, first plotting to assassinate a presidential candidate, then directing his attentions toward rescuing 12-year-old prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster)." MB: Three filmmakers hitting their early peaks at once: Paul Schraeder's dark screenplay about a disillusioned and alienated vet disgusted by what he sees as the grime of the city. Martin Scorsese, most known for his gangster films, portrays a sociopath of another sort and puts his manic camera style to great use in portraying a constantly moving story. Robert DeNiro, transforms a role that could have been relegated to B movie ham-fisted, silliness like the Charles Bronson Death Wish  reactionary revenge films. DeNiro literally embodies the toxic nature of entitled white male alienation and elevates into one of the most intense characterizations ever. The continuing influence of this film is clearly demonstrated in the recent controversial Joker (2019)]

The Outlaw Josey Wales (USA: Clint Eastwood, 1976) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Recreating the essence of his iconic Man With No Name in a post-Civil War Western, director Clint Eastwood delivered the first of his great revisionist works of the genre. Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) watches helplessly as his wife and child are murdered, by Union men led by Capt. Terrill (Bill McKinney). Seeking revenge, Wales joins the Confederate Army. He refuses to surrender when the war ends, but his fellow soldiers go to hand over their weapons -- and are massacred by Terrill. Wales guns down some of Terrill's men and flees to Texas, where he tries to make a new life for himself, but the bounty on his head endangers him and his new surrogate family." MB: This was a startling film for Eastwood to make as he was most identified with the hyper-violent, no-nonsense, hyper-individualistic, amoral killers of the Sergio Leone Dollars Trilogy (1964-1966), American westerns like High Plains Drifter (1973) and reactionary police revenge thrillers like Dirty Harry (1971). While Josey is clearly a "man-of-action" and on a revenge-seeking mission, what is unique is the surrogate family that becomes attached to him throughout the narrative and becomes more important to him. You never saw Eastwood's libertarian fanatics identifying/bonding so closely to a diverse and un-traditional family set, it was almost as if the character had a sense of empathy and recognized the benefits of strong collectives! We would see glimmers of similar representational work in Unforgiven (1992),  Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Gran Torino (2008).]


The World in 1977

Film in 1977:

Annie Hall (USA: Woody Allen, 1977) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Filled with poignant performances and devastating humor, Annie Hall represents a quantum leap for Woody Allen and remains an American classic. Comedian Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) examines the rise and fall of his relationship with struggling nightclub singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Speaking directly to the audience in front of a bare background, Singer reflects briefly on his childhood and his early adult years before settling in to tell the story of how he and Annie met, fell in love, and struggled with the obstacles of modern romance, mixing surreal fantasy sequences with small moments of emotional drama." MB: A masterpiece of the modern romance/comedy. Woody Allen is the most unlikely romance star, but pulls it off convincingly (in a nebbish way), Diane Keaton was so effective in her role she set off a fashion trend based upon her unusual outfits.] 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (USA: Steven Spielberg, 1977) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind is deeply humane sci-fi exploring male obsession, cosmic mysticism, and music." IMDB: "Two parallel stories are told. In the first, a group of research scientists from a variety of backgrounds are investigating the strange appearance of items in remote locations, primarily desert regions. In continuing their investigation, one of the lead scientists, a Frenchman named Claude Lacombe, incorporates the Kodály method of music education as a means of communication in their work. The response, in turn, at first baffles the researchers, until American cartographer David Laughlin deciphers the meaning of the response. In the second, electric company lineman and family man Roy Neary and single mother Jillian Guiler are among some individuals in Muncie, Indiana who experience some paranormal activity before some flashes of bright lights in the sky, which they believe to be a UFO. Roy becomes obsessed with what he saw, unlike some others, especially in some form of authority, who refuse to acknowledge their belief that it was a UFO in not wanting to appear crazy." MB: Easily one of the best films from the most consistently popular directors of the 20th Century. It seized upon the contemporaneous obsession with the possibility of alien visitors and injected intelligent characters/dialogue and vibrant images/soundscapes.]

House (Japan: Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977) [Criterion: "How to describe Nobuhiko Obayashi’s indescribable 1977 movie House (Hausu)? As a psychedelic ghost tale? A stream-of-consciousness bedtime story? An episode of Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava? Any of the above will do for this hallucinatory head trip about a schoolgirl who travels with six classmates to her ailing aunt’s creaky country home and comes face-to-face with evil spirits, a demonic house cat, a bloodthirsty piano, and other ghoulish visions, all realized by Obayashi via mattes, animation, and collage effects. Equally absurd and nightmarish, House might have been beamed to Earth from some other planet. Never before available on home video in the United States, it’s one of the most exciting cult discoveries in years."]

Saturday Night Fever (USA: John Badham, 1977) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Boasting a smart, poignant story, a classic soundtrack, and a starmaking performance from John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever ranks among the finest dramas of the 1970s. Tony Manero (John Travolta) doesn't have much going for him during the weekdays. He still lives at home and works as a paint store clerk in his Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood. But he lives for the weekends, when he and his friends go to the local disco and dance the night away. When a big dance competition is announced, he wrangles the beautiful and talented Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) to be his partner. As the two train for the big night, they start to fall for each other as well.MB: A literal cultural juggernaut, it made a superstar out of John Travolta, it set off a disco craze that consumed the nightlife of America (and beyond), and its soundtrack was one of the highest selling releases of the time (also making superstars of The Bee Gees). I remember my mom packing up a car full of 13/14 year olds to see this at a local drive-in. She quite clearly didn't understand how adult this film was and that the film was much more than a simple 'dance competition' film.]

Star Wars (USA: George Lucas, 1977) [Rotten Tomatoes: "A legendarily expansive and ambitious start to the sci-fi saga, George Lucas opened our eyes to the possibilities of blockbuster filmmaking and things have never been the same. The Imperial Forces -- under orders from cruel Darth Vader (David Prowse) -- hold Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hostage, in their efforts to quell the rebellion against the Galactic Empire. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), captain of the Millennium Falcon, work together with the companionable droid duo R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) to rescue the beautiful princess, help the Rebel Alliance, and restore freedom and justice to the Galaxy." MB: For a SF fan like me this is more fantasy than SF, but this initial film by Lucas is brilliant and successful in a way that others can only dream of. Immersing himself in Joseph Campbell's study of world mythology The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), tapping into his film school viewings (Kurosawa's 1958 The Hidden Fortress is the most obvious), observing a fanatical attention to detail and providing an expansive vision for the overall scope of the eventual series, he created the most successful and beloved American movie series. Please you Star Wars fanatics, if you have seen this film, please choose another one ;) If you haven't seen it, wow, you are in for a treat.] 

Suspiria (Italy: Dario Argento, 1977) [Rotten Tomatoes: "The blood pours freely in Argento's classic Suspiria, a giallo horror as grandiose and glossy as it is gory. Suzy (Jessica Harper) travels to Germany to attend ballet school. When she arrives, late on a stormy night, no one lets her in, and she sees Pat (Eva Axén), another student, fleeing from the school. When Pat reaches her apartment, she is murdered. The next day, Suzy is admitted to her new school, but has a difficult time settling in. She hears noises, and often feels ill. As more people die, Suzy uncovers the terrifying secret history of the place." MB: Influential giallo film, stunning visuals and sound build the terror. Remade and re-visioned by Luca Guadagnino in 2018 - if you watch the 1977 version and 2018 version - I would accept a response for each one.]

That Obscure Object of Desire (Spain: Luis Buñuel, 1977) [Criterion: "Luis Buñuel’s final film brings full circle the director’s lifelong preoccupation with the darker side of desire. Buñuel regular Fernando Rey plays Mathieu, an urbane widower, tortured by his lust for the elusive Conchita. With subversive flair, Buñuel uses two different actors in the latter role—Carole Bouquet, a sophisticated French beauty, and Ángela Molina, a Spanish coquette. Drawn from the surrealist favorite Pierre Louÿs’s classic erotic novel La femme et le pantin (The Woman and the Puppet, 1898), That Obscure Object of Desire is a dizzying game of sexual politics punctuated by a terror that harks back to Buñuel’s avant-garde beginnings."]

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