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Ken Muldrew

The Conversation has its share of 70s cliches (although I'd go with dramatic ambiguity rather than moral ambiguity--unless you're a fan of the new morality that embraces warrantless wiretapping and all that) but it also has a lot of ordinary 70s backgrounds (crowds, clothes, cars, apartments, trade show, etc.).

Just as an aside, I was in Montreal a couple of weekends ago and through circumstances beyond my control I had to stay on a smoking floor of the hotel that I was at. From the second that I stepped off the elevator, and for the whole time that I was on that floor, I was *in* the 70s. It wasn't like flashbacks or memory triggers, it was a simulation that was indistinguishable from reality--a holodeck of the 70s. For me, that decade is stained with the foul reek of weeks-old cigarette smoke emanating from everything, and everywhere. And I never would have guessed that there was such a strong connection before that experience.

So if you really want to remember the 70s without any nostalgiac overtones, take your DVDs to a hotel with a smoking floor and rent a room to watch them.

BPx3

Although it was released in 1993, "Dazed and Confused," in my opinion, is one of the most authentic 70s movies ever made. Takes me back to my high school "daze." Our unofficial class motto: Drunker than hell, higher than heaven, we're the class of '77.

One of my many fond memories of the 70s is that, during that decade, critical thinking skills were still taught in high school. There really were high school teachers who would say things like:

"Okay guys, one more thing, this summer when you're being inundated with all this American bicentennial Fourth Of July brouhaha, don't forget what you're celebrating, and that's the fact that a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males didn't want to pay their taxes."

El Jefe

BPx3,

Second "Dazed," particularly since it was filmed in Austin, where I spent the better part of the Nineties, occasionally among aging "Headnecks" of that older vintage.

Ken,
Yes, and (was it you long ago who pointed this out? May be) since you drop back x number of years from culture's "the present" as you increase distance from metropolitan areas, in the tobacco belt of North Carolina where I principally grew up, the grey haze carried on right through the Eighties. I'm surprised that I don't have a polka dotting of lung carcinomas just from the weekly dash in and out of Krispy Kreme for a fresh dozen.

Lance,

I would dovetail with your really outstanding list of characteristics for Seventies movies. (Also, can we have a list of common characteristics for the "anti-anti" movies of the period like Rocky and Star Wars and on a more serious level The Shootist where Wayne dies again, or for that matter even fluff like McQ or, God help us, Airport '78 just to scrape the barrel, where a lot of the new conventions were picked up by more traditionally-minded movies and repurposed?)

The dovetail is thsi: just how many major events of the Seventies, in the real world, seem like they could have been lifted from, or first appeared as, a "Seventies movie"? It seems like, even though to each era its art, the Seventies had a higher-than-average correlation. (Even when they went after subject matter from other eras, like Redford's Gatsby, or the first two Godfather films. Very Seventies in most respects, despite their settings.) Hell, since then a raft of them -- "Summer of Sam," "Milk," "Munich," etc. -- have become films about the Seventies that take on characteristics of Seventies films because the events themselves played that way. A few personal highlights:

Watergate -- well, they got right on that one, didn't they? Crusading anti-heroes who are heroic by doing mundane things, who work for people who are probably in on the game but are playing chess about how to handle it (five or ten years before Robards wondering whether to call the AG a crook in print would be backed by stentorian chords in the soundtrack. By then, audiences already thought, "duh.") Lots of anticlimactic victories, and no official sense of closure, just carrying on. And plenty of crazy personalities, hare-brained schemes, conspiracies, shadowy elites, media circuses, and Nixon's final pardon that put the kibosh on closure for real.

Munich Olympics massacre -- Possibly the first proper satellite-feed 24-hour-cycle news opera. Grand political theatre, sudden gory violence, authentic heartbreak, good intentions dashed. As someone who knows a bit about the German side of the process, it looks in retrospect like a classic bit from The Wire (combinations of grandstanding, political potato-passing, and inter-agency turf fights with no regard for the human costs of the actual situation) which is of course itself a love child of Seventies aesthetics since the problems it took on descended from the real Seventies and the Eighties they ultimately birthed (talk about your tragic anticlimaxes right there ....)

Patty Hearst -- Well, it's the C plot thread from "Network," isn't it? Grab a time machine in the mid-Sixties and you could've brought Tuesday Weld or a young Farrow forward to play her. And rife with Southern California cultural politics of the time, from aristocratic privilege gone awry to Bonnie-and-Clyde leftovers to delusions of revolution to yet more media circuses to the LAPD getting an equal-opportunity chance to bash social outcasts of a lighter hue than usual, with the irony that these kids were far more dangerious, deluded, and crazy than the folks LAPD usually beat on.

"Dog Day Afternoon" -- It's like the Seventies on a Mobius strip. Art imitates life imitating art turned into gonzo journalism and back into cinema? Something like that.

The political career of Harvey Milk -- Long before Sean Penn went there, reality went there. The little guy who happens to be gay fights city hall, wins, becomes city hall, and gets killed by another piece of city hall (a reactionary ex-fireman doing the same kind of elected job) for his trouble. That, like DDA, probably runs all your changes and gets a special prize.

Son of Sam -- Likewise. A few years after "Taxi Driver" and like films, it comes to life as a wierd little nobody living in one of the "ethnic" parts of new york where real humans not named Ivan Boesky or Carrie Bradshaw still lived then goes on a killing spree in an unconscionably hot summer. New York, a decade before still a backdrop for the likes of Sinatra and Nelson Riddle, now gets something that, cultural, looks a lot like a production of "Saturday Night Fever" staged in the depths of Hell.

The Entebbe Raid -- Better than every single "Airport" movie at *being* an "Airport" movie, and hit just about every mid-Seventies "traditional" adventure hot button. Motley crew of murderous international urban guerillas? Check. Ordinary people sucked into a life-or-death adventure in a bizarre locale? Check. Wierd cult-of-personality media events with Idi Amin in a ten gallon hat? So many check marks. Middle Eastern politics? Unless you're covering the global drugs trade, it's the non-Cold War plot line du jour. Wildly improbable Israeli military raid that brings off impossible success but marred by the heroic death of one of the mission's leaders? Check. If that's not a Seventies miniseries for sweeps I don't know what is.

The 1978 World Series -- Like "Bang the Drum Slowly" for the fourth and thus far last golden age of baseball, which had really faded after the '63 and '64 World Series, but found itself oddly transported to an era of wierd sideburns and cruddy vinyl jackets. Dashing heroes, yeoman black players who a generation out from Jackie were fading into the scenery again, wierd nicknames, open-secret gambling habits, dashing little boys in men's bodies, life and death on every pitch, sparks raining down on Fenway, a Big Red Machine that rivaled anything ever built in Manhattan, all in an era that was teetering towards couldn't-care-less for an ancient "all American" pastime. Myth and glory made real yet undermined by a world starting to pass it by.

And really all that's just for starters. But they come right to mind. Sure there's more.

PS: Totally with you on the emptiness of the house and how it sucks. All three girls back to school yesterday here in Oregon.

El Jefe

Forgot Jonestown, too. Big one to forget. And absolutely the type. Howard Beale meets Satan. You even get product placement of a crappy Seventies synthetic "foodstuff" in the most obscene way possible. Plus unredeemable tragedy, big enough it may actually escape the tidy "Seventies movie" envelope.


For actual movies, though my favorite "Seventies" flicks to just watch repeatedly are probably still "Pelham 123" and "Three Days of the Condor."

PPS: There's a photo of me, prized by my parents, of me in my first suit back in the Ford years. Royal blue three-piece. Big lapels. I look like a tiny white George Jefferson headed to kindergarten. We all have much to answer for.

Kevin Wolf

Gee, I got nothing to add after El Jefe's masterpiece of a comment. Didn't they film Entebbe like about five or six times between movie and TV versions?

Me, I watch 70s movies and love 'em just because I grew up with them. I've never felt they reflected my suburban childhood reality. I just like how they look and sound. The Conversation is still a favorite, along with The Long Goodbye, and Pelham 123, The Seven-Ups.

And we must not forget the other strains running through the decade, like blaxploitation pictures and the ABC Movie of the Week. We could go on forever about the 70s, unlike any other decade. Just about Nixon alone!

El Jefe

Kevin,

Yeah, I think there are at least five filmed versions of the events at Entebbe out there, and iirc the first was made for TV. The Conversation still rocks, not least for having young Harrison Ford as an essentially "faceless" villain in That Seventies Style.

Ah, the ABC Movie of the Week, not to mention the Mystery Movies (I remember living in the UK when the pleasant little series "Jonathan Creek" came out, and thinking to myself, "Wait a minute ... isn't this 'Banaceck'?") Let's go on about Nixon and see if we can get Perlstein to belly up to the bar again :)

El Jefe

Kevin,

Oh and -- gosh. Thanks. I thought it was probably too long but I'm very glad you liked it.

merciless

If you want to remember yourself as a teen, I can think of no better movie than the classic Meatballs.

dwgs

Ken,
As a Montrealer I'd be curious to know what hotel still offers smoking rooms. You can't legally smoke in restaurants, bars, or any other business here since about 4 years ago...

Ken Muldrew

dwgs:

The Queen Elizabeth (5th floor), right beside Basilique-cathédrale Marie Reine du Monde. You don't actually have to stay there to get the flashback feeling, just go up to the 5th floor and walk down the hallway. It's a time machine.

Kevin Hayden

My high school daze were entirely different, probably because I'm older. When this came out, I was 15. And life in the US was EXACTLY like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uwNEnh9uaM

muddy

I remember in the 70's we used to say even then that this stuff will never come back around in style, it's just too ugly and shitty. And then a bunch of it did, and it scared the hell out of me! The kids wanted me to break out the old authentic stuff for them, I said I got rid of it decades ago, never thinking anyone could possibly want that crap.

Hey, I have a super 8 projector, and the camera too. My parents bought it in the late 70's. They didn't like these newfangled video cameras. These fads never last... So far as I know it works, at least it never broke, as it was never used.

I'd be happy to donate it to you, I never have cash to donate to the blog and would if I could. I will delve into the depths of the Dark Hole Under the Eaves and haul it out. I will email you in a couple of days with particulars.

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