Friday, May 11, 2007

Wayback: THE 1970s-- THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE STRANGE at the American Cinematheque

As if Quentin Tarantino’s recent Los Angeles Grindhouse Festival 2007 wasn’t enough, the American Cinematheque is ready to shine a little more light on that much-hashed-over golden age of American movies, the ‘70s. But what makes this series stand out is how programmers Grant Moninger, Gwen Deglise and Chris D. simultaneously respect the canon of masterpieces of the era, but also how they allow themselves to dig deep around the disreputable, tarnished underbelly of what was happening in American movies at the time. “Hollywood” had finally shed the studio system as it had been understood for so many years, and was busily embracing a relaxed attitude toward censorship and pushing the limits of the new freedom to depict sex, violence and coarse, realistic language it had begun recently enjoying. Studios were handing over money to filmmakers, some of whom were busily coloring outside the lines, often ignoring the new rules in pursuit of some new truth that had never found cinematic expression, and some of whom were simply marching in step to the studio’s increasingly desperate attempts to cater to the newly powerful youth market and uncover the next Easy Rider. And some filmmakers were given enough rope to hang themselves with self-indulgent projects that would either prove to be debilitating to their careers or devastating to their studios.

A lot of the movies that came from this period are recognized classics--The Last Picture Show, The Conversation, Shampoo, Chinatown are all going to get the chance to shine on the big screen this month at the either the Egyptian in Hollywood or the Aero in Santa Monica. But what’s exciting is the opportunity presented this month to adventurous filmgoers to revisit some of the tacky, energetic, disaffected, lowbrow, ambitious, pretentious, misunderstood gems, several of which stand ripe and waiting for rediscovery. It is for good reason that the series has been called The Seventies: The Good, the Bad and the Strange-- because many of these movies, some of which haven’t been screened in 20 or 30 years, are good, bad, and strange, and often simultaneously. The series actually began May 4, so please forgive me because the tardiness of this post means that I’ve missed then chance to send out a heads-up about screenings of Bob Rafelson’s The King of Marvin Gardens, Richard Brooks’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Lamont Johnson’s Lipstick, Ulu Grosbard’s Straight Time, Herbert B. Leonard’s Going Home, John Cassavetes’s Husbands, Frank Perry’s Play It As It Lays and Paul Mazursky’s Blume in Love. Just those titles alone would be worth noting.

But The Good, The Bad and the Strange goes much deeper than even the mention of those movies would suggest. What follows is the remaining schedule for the Egyptian and Aero Theaters. I’ve decided to follow the format for my April post about the Grindhouse Fest and keep my comments to a minimum (except where enthusiasm takes over, of course), emphasizing instead the terrific poster art that was so often a part of anticipating and enjoying these movies when they originally screened, many without much fanfare or critical respect, some 30-35 years ago. Take a look (and I mean really take a look) at what the Cinematheque has in store for lucky Los Angelenos in the coming month.


May 11 (Egyptian)
Two brilliant satires of suburbia, and two of my favorite movies, that are rarely seen on the big screen—Albert Brooks’ Real Life (1979) and Michael Ritchie’s Smile (1975). The Cinematheque notes claim that Smile is not on DVD, but it actually is— has plenty of new and used copies. But that’s no good reason to miss this screening.

May 11 (Aero)
It may be time to remember just how powerful this movie can be on the big screen after years of shrunken video screenings-- Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978).


May 12 (Egyptian)
A new 35-mm print of George Schaffer’s glossy soap opera Doctors’ Wives (1971) starring Richard Crenna, Dyan Cannon, Gene Hackman, Janice Rule and Carroll O’Connor, to be followed by another new print of the rarely-seen adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s The Love Machine (1978), directed by Jack Haley Jr. and starring John Phillip Law, David Hemmings, Robert Ryan and (again!) Dyan Cannon.

May 12 (Aero)
Two of the era’s most representative films-- Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971) and Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970).


May 13 (Egyptian)
Paul Schrader’s first directorial effort, Blue Collar (1978), a brutal, angry look at the life of three working men on a Detroit car production line starring Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto and Richard Pryor, along with Doc (1971), director Frank Perry’s underseen, undervalued deconstruction of the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday mythos, starring Harris Yulin, Stacy Keach and Faye Dunaway.

May 13 (Aero) KIM MORGAN ALERT!!! (and not the last one either!)
This is an ultra-rare chance to see the great American road movie, Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) on the great, big, wide screen. A brilliant exercise in existential propulsion and the haunted atmosphere of the endless asphalt, Two-Lane Blacktop captures the dispirited aimlessness of the early ’70s better than any other movie. As I wrote to a friend recently regarding the movie, it locates strange beauty in the malaise of characters who set themselves adrift on the roads of Vietnam-era America without even so much as the mission Billy and Captain America state during Easy Rider-- to find the country itself. The Driver and the Mechanic have found the country already, and they spend the duration of the movie trying to keep moving past it toward… something else. Thankfully, Two-Lane Blacktop was beholden to no genre expectations other than the deafening rumble of a tricked-up 454 Chevy with the pedal to the metal. This movie on its own would be reason enough to head over to the Aero, but it just happens to be playing alongside Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter (1974), which makes this double bill the single best chance to revel in the grizzled character-actor persona of Warren Oates, bona fide movie star. If only it weren’t showing on Mothers Day!


May 16 (Aero)
Now here’s a double feature made for Mother’s Day! Angie Dickinson is the unbeatable Big Bad Mama (1974), and she shares the screen with Margaret (Pretty Maids All in a Row) Markov and Pam (Coffy, Foxy and Jackie Brown) Grier in a twisted remake of The Defiant Ones from director Eddie Romero, Black Mama, White Mama (1972). Calling Oedipus Rex!

May 17 (Aero)
Some of you may want to take this opportunity to revisit two of Hal Ashby’s finest-- Shampoo (1975) and Coming Home (1978).

May 17 (Egyptian)
But there’s no way I can possibly miss what is, along with Two-Lane Blacktop, the highlight of the entire series—a very rare big-screen showing of Richard Fleischer’s controversial and much-maligned adaptation of Kyle Onstott’s sex and slavery opus, Mandingo (1975). On the occasion of Fleischer’s death last year, I directed my readers to a couple of unexpected takes on the film that run counter to perception of the film as a disaster or some sort of racist wallow. The reality is, Mandingo was a dose of full-boil realism on the subject of slavery, and a look at it today reveals a seriousness of intent that went unnoticed at the time of its release. The program notes published by the Cinematheque provide an excellent introduction to the movie:

”Enormously controversial (and profitable) when it was released, this is a superb, explosive study of slavery and the sexual hypocrisy that helped prop it up. The film remains a much more unflinching, realistic alternative to the comparatively sanitized point of view found in the popular TV mini-series, Roots (which was televised two years later). James Mason is unforgettably creepy as the ruthless, ailing slave-owner, with Ken Norton, Susan George, Perry King and Brenda Sykes as the interracial couples swirling about the plantation. Fleischer's treatment is matter-of-fact, in-your-face and unpretentious. Beautifully shot and undeserving of its pariah reputation, the authentic location and production design add to the disturbing ambience. Maurice Jarre supplies the superb score with songs by Muddy Waters. Rarely screened since its original release, Mandingo is long overdue for serious reappraisal.”
Mandingo screens alongside another of Fleischer’s overlooked gems, the brisk and brutal gangland thriller The Don is Dead (1973).

(For a look at my experience seeing Mandingo as a 15-year-old when it was originally released, click here and page down toward the end.)


May 18 (Egyptian)
A Peter Bogdanovich double feature-- The Last Picture Show (1971) returns alongside one of the director’s best and most enjoyable movies, Saint Jack (1979), starring Ben Gazarra, Denholm Elliot, Joss Ackland and George Lazenby.

May 18 (Aero)
Across town, it’s Bogdanovich contemporary William Friedkin’s night to shine. The French Connection (1971) leads off the night, followed by another underrated gem, The Brinks Job (1978).


May 19 (Egyptian)
Do you know where you’re going to? Perhaps to this great Diana Ross double bill—Sidney J. Furie’s Lady Sings the Blues (1972) and Berry Gordy’s eye-popping, eye-rolling Mahogany. (How about that re-release one-sheet?)

May 19 (Aero) KIM MORGAN ALERT!!!! According to Chris D., this is “A once in a lifetime chance to see a totally lost and truly great film.” He describes The Dion Brothers (1974), starring Fredric Forrest and Stacy Keach, as “a brutal and hysterical masterpiece… Wild, madcap, totally out of control, sidesplitting and terrifying” with a “great script, an early effort from Terrence Malick and Bill Kerby.” And it’s directed by action ace Jack Starrett, who also directed the second feature (and here’s where Kim comes in), Race with the Devil (1975), a full-throttle car chase/horror thriller starring Warren Oates and Peter Fonda as vacationing pals who set out with their wives (Loretta Swit, Lara Parker) on a RV cruise and end up running for their lives from a murderous bunch of Satanists. Not to be missed!


May 20 (Egyptian)
Private eyes with a twist. Albert Finney in Stephen Frears directorial debut, Gumshoe (1971), also starring Billie Whitelaw and Frank Finlay, followed by Roland Kibbee’s The Midnight Man (1974) starring Burt Lancaster, Robert Quarry and Harris Yulin.

May 20 (Aero)
Two from director William A. Graham—the underrated Together Brothers. (1974), in which an inner-city gang has to solve a murder and protect the only witness—a five-year-old boy—and Cry for Me, Billy (1972), a odd western starring Cliff Potts, Harry Dean Stanton and James Gammon.


May 23 (Egyptian)
The very rarely-seen JFK conspiracy thriller Executive Action, with a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, and starring Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Will Geer, gets teamed with one of the best political conspiracies thrillers ever, Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View (1974), starring Warren Beatty, Paula Prentiss and Hume Cronyn.

May 23 (Aero)
Two with Richard Benjamin!!! Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), starring RB and Carrie Snodgress, screens with one of my wife’s favorites, the clever and twisty murder-on-a-cruise-ship mystery The Last of Sheila, directed by Herbert Ross, featuring RB, Raquel Welch, James Mason, Ian McShane and the ubiquitous Dyan Cannon.


May 24 (Egyptian)
George C. Scott is featured in two terrific performances—his Oscar-nominated turn in Paddy Chayefsky’s The Hospital (1971), directed by Arthur Hiller and co-starring Diana Rigg, and in Richard Fleischer’s adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh’s The New Centurions as a stoic veteran police officer guiding rookie Stacy Keach through the grinding pace of police work.

May 24 (Aero)
Watch out! It’s a Bruce Dern-Karen Black double bill! (Wow, how times really have changed, eh?) The Aero kicks the night off with Alfred Hitchcock’s final picture, Family Plot (1976), and Drive, He Said (1971), directed by Jack Nicholson. As described by Chris D., “it stands as one of the best sports-related movies ever made and captures the true feeling of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s college experience. And it just so happens, it was shot on the campus of my alma mater, the University of Oregon.


May 25 (Egyptian)
This is being billed by the AC as the “Politically Incorrect Cops” double feature, and for good reason. Nasty as hell, Richard Rush’s Freebie and the Bean (1974) is a goofy and genuinely weird buddy picture with ridiculously tasteless action and generous doses of brutality draped over nifty work by James Caan and Alan Arkin. Richard Rush is scheduled to appear to discuss the movie—that should be one spirited Q&A. More straightforwardly gripping is Milton Katselas’s bleak and tough Report to the Commissioner (1975) featuring Michael Moriarty and Yaphet Kotto.

May 25 (Aero)
I raved about it last October after rediscovering it on DVD, and now here’s a chance to see it big and wide—Richard Mulligan’s eerie and devastating adaptation of Tom Tryon’s best-selling novel The Other 91972). This movie will scare you. And it’s doubled with Robin Hardy’s cult classic The Wicker Man (1973), as ethnographically odd and fascinating a thriller as has ever been made. I didn’t see the remake, but somehow I feel confident in saying that this is the version to see.


May 26 (Egyptian)
Billed as “Confessional Best-Sellers” double feature night, this one ought to be a real, perverse treat. First, it’s Otto Preminger’s nasty and funny Such Good Friends (1971) starring (it’s true) Dyan Cannon, as well as a screenplay by Elaine May (under a pseudonym), David Shaber and an uncredited Joan Didion. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. And they really don’t make ‘em like Ernest Lehman’s film version of the once-thought-unfilmable Portnoy’s Complaint (1972). This one is a rare treasure for connoisseurs of legendary cinematic folly—no one I know has ever seen it because it’s been out of circulation for so long, and it didn’t really stay around too long to begin with, after having been savaged by reviewers and dismissed by audiences. So if ever a movie were ripe for rediscovery, I would think Portnoy’s Complaint would be a likely candidate, even if it’s rediscovered to be as bad as its reputation suggests it is.

May 26 (Aero)
There’s an old-fashioned Saturday matinee over at the Aero that I sure to appeal to a certain nostalgic mindset—Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson try to rekindle some of that Poppins-esque charm in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971).

Then in the evening, the Aero ends its portion of the series with a teaming that will satisfy fans of venerated 70s classics. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, two of the best movies of perhaps the best year in all of ‘70s American cinema—1974—get to shine in a brilliant showcase at the Aero, a real gem of a venue. You may need a stiff drink afterward, but it promises to be a brilliantly paranoid and black-hearted night at the movies.


May 31 (Egyptian)
The Seventies: The Good, the Bad and the Strange wraps up here at the Egyptian with a compelling and rare opportunity to see Robert Altman’s Three Women in its big-screen, wide-screen glory, coupled with John Boorman’s neglected early feature Leo the Last (1970), which tells the story of an Italian nobleman (Marcello Mastroianni) beaten down by circumstances who takes up residence in a black ghetto in London.


What a great opportunity to remember all facets of ‘70s cinema we Los Angeles film buffs have had in the last three months. I only wish I could see as many of these movies as I actually want to see. But that would be gluttony, wouldn’t it? Perhaps. I just hope that this series, and the Grindhouse Fest, did well enough that we’ll be offered yet more great programs like this on which to pig out in the very near future.

A word or two on the upcoming tributes to Barbara Stanwyck in the next couple of days. Stay tuned!



TALKING MOVIEzzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Okay, now I'm jealous.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, yeah . . . too many films, and not enough time. I'm inspired to start a secret society called "Film Club". Rule No. 1. If it's not on tape or disc, see the movie in a theater when you can. Rule No. 2. See rule No. 1.

Anonymous said...

Now *that* is a festival. Though I am several thousand miles from LA, this at least gives me a bunch of great sounding films to hunt down. I am insanely jealous of everyone who gets to go to this - at least I have Lincoln Center's Lee Marvin series to get me through it all.

Anonymous said...

That does it: I'm moving back to L.A. Well, at least I wish I could come down and stay for awhile and go see a bunch of those!

Aaron W. Graham said...

To single one title out is almost sacrilege, but THE NEW CENTURIONS is STILL not out on DVD and features some taut direction by Fleischer, and great performances by George C. Scott, Stacy Keach, and Scott Wilson. That's one I'd be most excited about.

Bob Westal said...

It is with mixed emotions that I view such a cornucopia of cinema delights. I only live thirty miles away -- but given the OC to LA traffic during the week, it's just not practical to go to as many of these as I'd like. One more reason why I'm looking for a job there so I can movie back home.

Still, I'll be at a few, like that first Kim Morgan alert this weekend, maybe....Freebie and the Bean sure looks interesting, too.

Oh, and trust me, the first Wicker Man (one of my favorite movies) is to second Wicker Man as a great meal going down is to a great meal coming back up.

Maxim said...

I'm on the wrong side of the globe to take advantage of that mouthwatering lineup of film greatness, but thanks for the heads-up on Doc - it turned up on the highly unpredictable MGM Movies channel here over the weekend and proved to be well worth two hours of my time. If only The Dion Brothers was scheduled next...

daddywarbucks said...

anyone out there conversant with Lara Parker and the 70's who can identify the movie she was in, circa 1975-6, that dealt with infidelity and wife-swapping. It is "buried" and is not in the IMDB or any other databases that I have seen; it would take a TRUE fan to know this! Good luck, and let me know, please, jb @ Thanks