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December 12, 1979 - Image 6

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-12-12

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Page 6-Wednesday, December 12, 1979-The Michigan Daily


All cellu loi bright and beautifl

American film in the 1970s will be
remembered above all else for a
chronic case of aesthetic schizophrenia.
What began as an era of "relevance"
and "commitment" had dwindled by
decade's end to an extraneous parade
of inane entertainments all geared to
the Pavlovian lowest common
denominator of making an audience
salivate on cue:
Yet the great paradox is that this was
also the era in which American film
finally reclaimed the creative impetus
from its free-flung European counter-
parts, bouyantly asserting its artistic
paramounce in a craft *hose muse had
lain'dormant on these shores from the
early fifties well into the late sixties.
Bonnie and Clyde set the pendulum
swinging back again, and the effect was
like opening a long-lost Christmas
present: Suddenly all the vast technical
resources of the Hollywood film in-
dustry were available for the asking of
a slew of hungry, imaginative young
filmmakers eager to adapt all that
celluloid gadgetry to their own creative
Thus began a brutal tug-of-war bet-
ween artist and moneyman which con-
tinues unabated to this day. It seems
most unlikely the art-vs.-business
anomaly of domestic cinema will never
be resolved, so we must be content to

cherish the gems that continue to ap-
pear with happy regularity in between
the barnacles: If for every ten Roller
Discos orAmericathons we are granted
an occasional Girl Friends or Badlands,
it becomes impossible to condemn
glibly Hollywood as a pact partner with
the Devil.
AS SUCH, the compiling of a ten best
of the seventies list proved excruciating
not for what one had to include but
rather what one was forced to omit. It
was a decade dominated by director
Francis Ford Coppola (four films on the
list), who triumphantly proved that a
filmmaker can be true to his own per-
sonal vision yet also compete viably on
the movie money market. In Europe,
only Bernardo Bertolucci (two films)
kept close creative pace, and even he
has faltered badly in recent times.
In restricting one's choices to ten, one
must give regretful, loving rejections to
a multitude of near-misses: American
Graffitti, a lovely, poignant icon of a
lost era grafted forever on a single
California night; Mean Streets, a self-
propelled dynamo which may have
radiated more sheer, manic energy
than any other film in history; Days of
Heaven, a visually Olympian tale of
Texas sharecroppers that skips mad-
deningly to and fro between a
gratuitous prettiness and a profundity
that occasionally convinces one that
this must be the greatest film of all
This onslaught of contenders lends
solid substance to the notion that for the
truly patient filmgoer, movies ar' bet-
ter than ever. The following ten strike
me as the very best of a very
memorable lot:
BEST FILM of the Decade: Straw
Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971) Pauline
Kael dubbed this "the first American
film that is a fascist work of art." Sen-
sational and negatively beguiling as her
charge is, Straw Dogs is far too com-
plex and ambiguous a work to clothe
neatly in dubious political garb. It is the
vision of a troubled, searching man
frightened by the dark corners of the

human mind, yet driven to explore fur-
It's too easy to categorize Peckin-
pah's tale of a peaceable American in-
tellectual (Dustin Hoffman) driven to a
savage explosion of violence by young
thugs in a small English village as a
triumph of the jackboot. Peckinpah is
plainly too horrified by the ritual of
blood to take much cathartic joy in it -
echoing the last line in the film, he
doesn't know his way home. The direc-
tor seems to be saying, "Look, we know
what's inside us; let's take a closer
examination, sift it through - maybe
we can make peace with our own soul,
maybe we can't, but in any event, we
must try."
Though one can question Straw Dogs
as a psychological treatise, one can
only gape in awe over it as cinema. For
perhaps the only time in Peckinpah's
career, the big-studio bullies left him
alone to make precisely the film he
wanted, and he responded like a com-
poser orchestrating his magnum opus:
There isn't a beat out of kilter in Straw
Dogs' rhythm, not a single visual off
balance, no structural shackle what-
soever to impede the director's steady,
coiled build toward his film's shattering
As if by divine osmosis, Peckinpah
conjured up a crew of assistants who
displayed an incredible, unified talent.
For John Caquillon's darkly probing
camera, for Jerry Fielding's serpentine
musical score, for its collection of
astonishingly impeccable actors' per-
formances right down to the most
minute role, Straw Dogs remains the
closest thing to a perfect film I have
ever seen.
THE REMAINDER of my top ten, in
no particular order of preference:
The Conversation (Francis Ford
Coppola, 1974) The death of sixties
idealism at the hands of a society whose
impersonal, mechanized tentacles have
come to strangle our capacity towards
either good or evil. Professional bugger
Harry Caul is wracked with burgeoning
guilt over the consequences of his

amoral trade, yet his eventual, blood-
letting purgation reveals only an initial
misconception in judgement and
ultimately changes nothing. Coppola
molds visual and aural textures into an
electronic tapestry of unbelievable
menace; in the role of the bugger, Gene
Hackman delivers the most subtle,
agonized performance of the decade.
The Conformist (Bernardo Bertoluc-
ci, 1971) A callow, insecure young
Italian joins Mussolini's secret police in
a quest for an ethical foothold in an un-
stable society. Bertoucci's hypothesis
that moral perversion is the germinal
ingredient that leads to political tyran-
ny is neither new nor demonstrably ac-
curate, yet never has the thesis been
conveyed with such lushly seductive ar-
tistry. An absurdist, euphorically
degenerate and unforgettable film, ac-
ted with masterful intelligence by Jean-
Luis Trintignant.
Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
Altman's grand country conglomerate
reflects both the worst and the best of
this strange filmmaker's essence: The
cold, taunting attitude of a cynical god
twisting his characters like marionet-
tes on a string, yet dissecting his vic-
tims with such laser-like fascination
that the viewer cannot help being
sucked into the director's tableaux like
a junkie voyeur, slobbering over the
very situations he intellectually
deplores. In structure and psyche,
Nashville reigns as the unique film of
the seventies - stridently malevolent,
obsessively alluring.
The Godfather, Pts. I & II (Francis
Ford Coppola, 1971 and 1974) The
closest approximation of a, native
American epic that will likely ever be
presented on the screen. Coppola
deglamourizes Mario Puzo's lurid
Mafia shoot-em-up, then miraculously
deep-focuses it into an almost
metaphysical testament of the ritual
perversion and transformation of the
American Dream. The two films almost
singlehandedly revitalized the sagging
- Hollywood star mystique, resurrecting
Marlon Brando from the celluloid
ashheap and assuring the future
careers of Coppola and at least a dozen
actors in his double-work rep company.
The French Connection (William

'Though one can question "Straw Dogs" as a
psychological treatise, one can only gape in awe

over it as cinema.

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Friedkin, 1971). To date still the quin-
tessential cops-and-robbers film; yet
Friedkin's work goes breathtakingly
further in depicting both pursuers and
pursued as players hurtling through a
kind of murderous existential game
wholly alienated from yet often lethal to
those in mainstream society. Connec-
tion was the prototype for the rash of
blemished-lawman films which
followed, yet it possessed not a speck of
the inevitable Hollywood condescension
which infected its imitators. Friedkin's
film remains hard as a diamond -
merciless, unsentimental, mercurially
street-wise. Gene Hackman's Popeye
Doyle is unforgettable as a protagonist
whose conventional emotions remain

Marcel Carne's


"Le Paradis . . . the 19th century slang term for the highest
and least expensive seats in the house." Made during the
German occupation, this film is an exquisite romance in-
voJving criminal and theatre people in the streets of 19th,
century Paris. Featuring a brilliant mime performance by
JEAN-LOUIS BARRAULT. "The highest kind of slum-glamour
romanticism." In French with subtitles.


Thurs. (Dec .13): Hepburn in STAGE DOOR
Fri. (Dec. 14): Wertmuller's SWEPT AWAY
Sat. (Dec. 15): Woody Allen's SLEEPER
Mon.(Dec. 17): Chaplin's THE GOLD RUSH
Tues. (Dec. 18): Reed's THE THIRD MAN
Wed. (Dec. 19): Robert Altman's IMAGES
Thurs. (Dec. 20): Hitchcock's SABOTAGE
Fri. (Dec. 21): Marx Bros. Triple Bill: A NIGHT AT THE OPERA,
Sat. (Dec. 22): Capra's YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU

Check Schedule For Showing Times and Look For Our
Winter Schedule Coming Out Soon



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utterly sublimated to the primal thrill *
of the hunt.
Adrift (Jan Kadar, 1971) Probably o
the most hypnotic horror film ever0
made and perhaps the single most
neglected cinematic work of the 1970s.
A Czech fisherman comes upon a
mysterious, irresistably ravishing -
woman floating nude and unconscious q
on the river; rescuing her, the fisher-
man and his wife nurse the victim back
to health. Yet soon the sensual,:,(
calculating presence of the woman - a
creature both ethereal and satanic -
begins to infest the fisherman's waking:
and sleeping moments, mutating his,.
previously tranquil existence into a
cauldron of surreal madness. Kadar
seductively blends sight and sound with
flashback juxtapositions of plot to
create a diabolical montage every bit
as erotic as it is wholly terrifying. Its
completion delayed two years by
Russia's invasion of Czechoslovakia,
Adrift was the final exquisite product of
the agonizingly brief flowering of the
Czech cinema, whose conspicuous ab-
sence since i ;smely thetgrea artistic
tragedy of our decade.
Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1974)
Stands beside The Conversation and
The French Connection as one of the
three great American existentialist
films of the seventies. Malick sports the
eye of an Edward Hopper, the soul of a
Malcolm Lowry as he employs the in-
credible, empty beauty of the American
Northwest as a psychological canvas
for the killing-spree odyssey of a young
couple (Martin Sheen and Sissy
Spacek), who carve their legacy of
blood less out of murderous predilec-
tion than out of a frenzied effort to feel '
in a blank world. The most visually,:
overwhelming film of the decade, and
in its own way, probably the most
Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Ber-
tolucci, 1973) A film which never truly
recovered from the boomerang effect of
Pauline' Kael's notorious New Yorker
pre-release hosanna (Neither, for that
matter, did Kael herself). More's the '
pity, since most of what she said was
quite accurate: Last Tango had the
potential to change the face of film, to
contemplate the omnipresent but
cinematically timorous subject of men,
women, and sex. In the process, the
film might have dragged a head-in-the-
sand movie industry up into something
approaching imaginative if not clinical
maturity. Instead Last Tango was
systematically gunned down, denoun-
ced by the right as a moral obscenity,
dismissed by the left as a pseudo-kinky
irrelevance. Today the film languishes
as a kind of androgynistic exile, its
revolutionary fascination ignored, its
final half hour - the most exhaustingly
electric in all of cinema - only ~
grudgingly noted. Fortunately, even
the most strident condescension fails to .
tarnish the glory of Maria Schneider as
a young woman suffering the 'am-
biguities of independence, and of
See POTTER, Page 24




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