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  • Writer's pictureLucas Friesen

1970’s: Hollywood’s Golden Decade

The 1970’s were, so far, the best decade for Hollywood movies. It defined a new era of filmmaking, brought to fruition by ambitious young minds that understood the medium and respected it as an artform. This respect has been lost in mainstream film as of late, but the beauty of film, like music, is that the backlog of history is quite well preserved and open to those who wish to explore.

Some of the best directors of all time made their marks in the 1970’s. Steven Spielberg released Jaws, his 1975 man vs. animal classic. Martin Scorsese rose and fell (only to rise again) in the 1970’s, with hits like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver and the “box-office failure” New York, New York, although I believe it to be a very strong picture. Francis Ford Coppola made undoubtedly his best pictures in the 70’s with The Godfather I & II, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now! Talk about a hot-streak! The 1970’s also birthed presumably the greatest film saga of all time in George Lucas’ Star Wars: A New Hope. Other classics to come out of the decade where Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning picture Annie Hall, as well as Sly Stallone’s Rocky and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

The opening shot to Coppola’s The Godfather

Genre’s like horror, science-fiction, and film-noir were given new life in the 70’s. The Exorcist came out in 1973, followed by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974. Halloween was first released in 1978, and Alien soon followed in 1979. After Jaws, Spielberg released Close Encounters of the Third Kind, an odd but unique and visually stunning picture about encountering aliens. In 1974 Chinatown was released, a film that was directed and co-written by Roman Polanski. Robert Towne and Polanski’s script for the film would become the gold standard for screenplay writing. And the intelligent-man’s noir that blurred the lines even further between good-guy/bad-guy would become the norm that all noir film makers would aspire to (see L.A. Confidential and The Departed).

Acting was something to marvel in this decade, up there with Brando and Douglas in the ‘50s and Gish and Chaplin in the ’10s. Louise Fletcher and Jack Nicholson gave us polarizing performances in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. George C. Scott, seen in such classics as The Hustler and Dr. Strangelove, gave perhaps his greatest (certainly his most epic) cinematic performance in Patton, which was written for the screen by Francis Ford Coppola. How Robert De Niro ever made it out of the 70’s with a sane mind is beyond me, as he took us to the brink of insanity twice with his portrayal of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and Michael Vronsky in The Deer Hunter.

The 1970’s also saw the second (or was it third?) coming of the United Artists company. A company started in the 1910’s by film artists who wanted to produce movies their way, it went through a myriad of changes in its life but the late 60’s and 1970’s saw it restored to what it originally was. Through United Artists, some of the best pictures of the decade were released like Annie Hall, Rocky, and Cuckoo’s Nest. It would all come to a screeching halt in the year 1980, when the film Heaven’s Gate was released, without question the most infamous Hollywood flop in history.

The 1970’s even had some comedies that are still funny to this day; I find comedy to be the toughest genre to age gracefully. Mel Brooks released Blazing Saddles, Monty Python came out with the Holy Grail, and National Lampoon presented Animal House, three comedies considered classics to this day. Cult-classics that dared to change the way we view the human experience were released (example: The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Even the period-pieces were good and, to some extent, challenging. Take Barry Lyndon, for example. An underwhelming title for a surprisingly fantastic movie. Kubrick directed the film and it relies on almost entirely natural light.

I could go on, but that would make the article longer then a full page. I will end by saying again that the 1970‘s are, to this date, the greatest decade for Hollywood cinema. Feel free to try and change my mind…

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