Out of the Blue (1980)
Written by Leonard Yakir and Brenda Nielson
Directed by Dennis Hopper
As we close out our series on American Disillusionment in the 1970s, our eyes return to Dennis Hopper, who we last saw in The Last Movie. That was the last film he directed before this picture. Out of the Blue is a transitory film, moving its focus from the boomer generation’s self-involved anxieties to see what happened to Generation X in their parents’ emotional absence. It’s a painfully nihilistic film that continues Hopper’s career-long struggle with wanting the American mythologized to him while seeing that it is falling apart before his eyes. His take is expectedly reactionary and therefore unable to provide a fully coherent point, but the emotions that underlie the story are genuine. It’s the story of a generation already lost before getting on their feet.
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Written by Walon Green
Directed by William Friedkin
Fate or free will? It’s a question that will likely be debated until the sun’s heat stops shining on this planet. Do we choose our path in life, or do we follow a series of steps before us? What about people who meet early, gruesome ends? If Fate is actual, then what was the point of their lives? To die, to be a supporting player in someone else’s story? We’re born into a world where many institutions and systems are already in place. We have no say in their operation save for being allowed to vote for a few representatives every few years that are funded chiefly by those same institutions. The only power we seem to have is the ability to make people in the same economic class miserable through our actions, letting our personal grievances dictate our global philosophy. It’s bleak as hell, the powerlessness of existence.
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Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
Written & Directed by Richard Brooks
The 1970s saw the Sexual Revolution occur in the United States. Like everything in America, this was more complex than it first appeared, and Americans overindulged to the extent that it did cause some harm to themselves. Sex is good, people should have more of it, but Americans have never been able to engage healthily. It’s either the most insane chaste abstinence or hyper-indulgence in near comical fetish. It should come as no surprise that film & television about sex have just never managed to get anything right because they become so caught up in the specter of Puritanical thinking in which the country is rooted. Looking for Mr. Goodbar was a mainstream attempt to make a movie about women’s liberation and the sexual revolution, and I cannot say whether or not it worked. The biggest problem is that it was written & directed by a man who seemed utterly uncomfortable with what was happening.
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Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfield
Directed by Sydney Pollack
The CIA is one of the most evil and chaotic institutions in the United States. The formation of the CIA in the wake of World War II amounts to a political coup by the business class. Anticommunist sentiments were running high in the Truman administration in the wake of the war. The Soviets were gaining ground in a Europe attempting to heal from fascist destruction. However, the United States ushered many “useful” Nazis across the Atlantic to help build a new world order that put America at the top of the heap. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was the CIA’s precursor, scheming to undermine any communist growth in the world. The OSS would eventually hire a group of wealthy and educated white men who saw this as an opportunity to turn the world into their playground, become the secret agents they’d read about in a growing & popular genre of literature at the time, and for some (the true believers) they operated with religious fervor to destroy communism. These agents turned global politics into a deadly game they played against people trying to survive and make their nations better and amongst each other, games within games.
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The Long Goodbye (1973)
Written by Leigh Brackett
Directed by Robert Altman
“There’s a long goodbye/And it happens every day.”
So go the lyrics of a song you will hear many variations of while watching The Long Goodbye. To say this film upset many people, both critics & the general audience, would be an understatement. The character of Phillip Marlowe was a highly revered cultural icon to the adults of the 1970s. In tandem, Humphrey Bogart, forever connected to Marlowe, was seen as the epitome of the movie detective. You cannot watch any American detective film or television series without it being profoundly influenced by that ur-text. So when iconoclastic director Robert Altman released his adaptation of The Long Goodbye, it was not initially well-received. However, The Long Goodbye would be re-released in the same year with a new marketing campaign and find an audience that truly loved it.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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