Serpico (1973) Written by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler Directed by Sidney Lumet
All Cops Are Bastards. That was the commonly accepted stance in most of America for quite a while. Then 9/11 happened, and it was used as an opportunity to militarize police in America to the degree that had never happened before. That was simultaneously happening as cultural worship of first responders was seeded. I definitely think firefighters and paramedics do vital work, but they were pushed aside in the ensuing years or mashed into this current insane “Back the Blue” cult mentality. Information in America is delivered in bursts of overwhelming amounts that no average person can process & parse. This is why most Americans don’t even know about DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (1989), where the Supreme Court ruled that “police have no specific obligation to protect.” But for people that have been awake for a while, they didn’t need that ruling to explain it to them.
The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972) Written by Paul Zindel and Alvin Sargent Directed by Paul Newman
Americans are haunted by their alienation. It begins when you are a child, as your natural inclinations towards curiosity and play are effectively beaten out of you on all fronts. School is one institution that does much of the beating in conjunction with your parents and the Church. Most people learn how to conform and gel with the group so that every chugs along without a hitch. However, there are always some, the ones with the most cruelty visited upon them that they can’t get past it, that remain sunk in the mire of human development. That number grows in times like these, as people increase the rate of everyday cruelty. The callous way so many want to “return to normal” while COVID-19 is still a threat to health, those with disabilities and autoimmune issues are ignored. The increase in public outbursts is another sign of people losing their minds over inconveniences because that’s the only thing they demand out of life, that their treats be easy to access. It’s enough to make you grow to hate the world.
Dirty Harry (1971) Written by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Jo Heims, and Dean Riesner Directed by Don Siegel
We are incredibly easy to manipulate. If you go up to a random person in the United States and ask them about crime in the country, they will inevitably say that crime is on the rise. In general, that isn’t true. Crime has been plummeting throughout the U.S. since the 2000s. If you narrow it to specific crimes, you’ll get spikes in thefts & robberies, but violent crime is declining. That said, the United States still ranks #1 globally in violent crime and incarcerated citizens (there’s a cyclical connection going on there). But we must also consider what is categorized as a crime and what is not. Corporate wage theft is not considered a crime, and it is rampant in every corner of the country. Police violence is placed as the opposite of “crime” when it is one of the most egregious, naked displays of state-sponsored organized crime. The 1970s was an era of high crime, and in typical American fashion, reactionary thought led to dreams of “blow the brains away” of “sniveling punks.” The avatar of this shoot first, don’t even ask questions after mentality is, of course, “Dirty” Harry Callahan.
The Last Movie (1971) Written by Dennis Hopper and Stewart Stern Directed by Dennis Hopper
When I was growing up, Dennis Hopper was King Koopa from Super Mario Bros or the eyepatch-wearing villain from Waterworld. I knew about his role in the 1970s American film scene extremely tangentially and without really realizing it. I think of Eek the Cat’s Apocalypse Now parody (Eekpocalypse Now), where Mittens recreated Hopper’s manic photog. It can’t be glossed over that Dennis Hopper was a Republican at his death, a political view that seemed to clash with the persona audiences came to know. At the time of Easy Rider’s release in 1969, in Hopper’s own words, he was “probably as Left as you could get without being a Communist.” However, by the 1980s, the actor became a Republican and claimed to have strong support for Ronald Reagan and the ensuing Bush regime. In 2008, Hopper openly endorsed Barack Obama’s run for president on the Democratic ticket in yet another seemingly contradictory moment. He would cite the inclusion of Sarah Palin as VP for John McCain as his chief reason for switching. In 2010, Hopper passed away, leaving his body of film work and a lot of confusion over who this man really was.
Five Easy Pieces (1970) Written by Carole Eastman & Bob Rafelson Directed by Bob Rafelson
The 1970s were a time of significant change and difficulty in America. It was the decade when marginalized groups throughout the United States built on momentum that started in the 1950s expanded civil rights to levels the country had never seen. There was also a lot of disillusionment within America, especially regarding the numerous institutions that had fairly regularly experienced blind devotion from the masses. Despite the recognition of women, LGBTQ people, BIPOC, and other groups, the film industry was still extremely white male-centered. As you’ll see in this series, there’s almost always a white male protagonist. I still believe the themes and sentiments of these movies apply to people who aren’t white and male, but that consistent presence does keep these pictures from sharing the diversity of voices they should have. While the media today is much more diverse on the surface level, it often comes with a catch that BIPOC or LGBTQ representatives espouse the ideals of the status quo, often presenting characteristics from the “dominant” culture; they have to be exemplary rather than just who they are.
Amarcord (1973) Written by Federico Fellini and Tonino Guerra Directed by Federico Fellini
Nostalgia is a hell of a thing, ain’t it? It’s such a powerful hallucinogen. People construct vivid dreams out of fragments of memories that make them yearn for a non-existent past when they were a child and blind to the workings of the universe. Fellini knows it too, and while he wasn’t overtly political (he was a member of Christian Democracy and Catholic but was rather wishy-washy when it came to pinning his personal beliefs down), he clearly was disgusted by authoritarianism. Fellini experienced this in the form of Mussolini’s fascist movement when he was a child, made to participate in the basic compulsory youth programs that never asked for parental permission. Amarcord is the story of fondly remembering childhood but being unable to close your eyes to the evil at the core of quaint small-town life.
The Taking of Pelham 123 (Directed by Joseph Sargent)
From my review: The most fascinating character, in my opinion, is Mr. Blue, the head of this quartet of criminals. The audience will eventually learn he’s Bernard Ryder, a former British Army Colonel who became a mercenary in Africa. We’re never entirely sure how this crew came to be, but we can assume they met in prison or after getting out. Blue is a rotten man, down to his core. He sees no value in human life but is also calculating. He’s not going to run in shooting; he’ll figure out the angles and force his opponent’s hand. Mr. Green, on the other hand, is, as his name implies, not confident in this criminal activity. Green got involved in the drug trade and was arrested in a bust; upon release, he had trouble getting a job of any means. We learn he operates an airport forklift and leaves in a hole of an apartment. One is utterly unsympathetic, while the other will likely elicit empathy from the audience. Green doesn’t want to kill anyone, but he has gone all-in with this crew. Society seems not to have a way to reintegrate these people, leading to the revolving door of crime.
The Cannes Film Festival has kicked off this year. Many new films will be unveiled, from the Hollywood studio ones to small, independent pictures. Forty-eight years ago, the documentary Hearts & Minds debuted at Cannes. However, its distribution in the United States would be held back when a restraining order was issued by one of the interview subjects, National Security Advisor Walt Rostow. Columbia Pictures, which owned the rights, refused to distribute the film to venues. This led to director/producer Peter Davis and his colleagues being forced to buy back their own movie from Columbia. Why would so many people and institutions work so hard to prevent the public from seeing a film? Because it is a searing condemnation of America and the atrocities it committed in Vietnam.
The Phantom of Liberty (1974) Written by Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière Directed by Luis Buñuel
The comedy anthology film is a rare beast but experienced some popularity in the 1960s and 70s. Monty Python’s contributions are notable, sometimes using an overarching plot to structure the sketches or just featuring scenes that exist independently. Most recently, we have The French Dispatch as a prime example. I think these movies come out of the filmmakers having ideas that weren’t big enough for a feature film but not wanting to make short films as those aren’t as marketable. People want to see a movie, so you take all these little ideas, maybe create some links to move from one bit to the next, and release them that way. This is precisely what Luis Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty is.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) Written by Gordon Dawson, Sam Peckinpah, and Frank Kowalski Directed by Sam Peckinpah
The films of Sam Peckinpah are violent and coarse. They were considered so shockingly gory that it led to X-ratings and bans in some places. Although they are relatively tame on a technical level by today’s standards, emotionally, there is still a lot of pain present in the work. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia came at the end of Peckinpah’s most fruitful period, and you can see it in the production quality. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was a box office failure, so the budget is less. Peckinpah was also known to be an alcoholic, and while the technical filmmaking is very tight here, the anger in the script feels like a seething drunk hunched over a typewriter, dripping with misanthropy for their fellow man.