Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
American Films of the 70s

American Films of the 70s

Peter Lev
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    American Films of the 70s
    Book Description:

    While the anti-establishment rebels of 1969'sEasy Riderwere morphing into the nostalgic yuppies of 1983'sThe Big Chill,Seventies movies brought us everything from killer sharks, blaxploitation, and disco musicals to a loving look at General George S. Patton. Indeed, as Peter Lev persuasively argues in this book, the films of the 1970s constitute a kind of conversation about what American society is and should be-open, diverse, and egalitarian, or stubbornly resistant to change.

    Examining forty films thematically, Lev explores the conflicting visions presented in films with the following kinds of subject matter:

    Hippies(Easy Rider, Alice's Restaurant)Cops(The French Connection, Dirty Harry)Disasters and conspiracies(Jaws, Chinatown)End of the Sixties(Nashville, The Big Chill)Art, Sex, and Hollywood(Last Tango in Paris)Teens(American Graffiti, Animal House)War(Patton, Apocalypse Now)African-Americans(Shaft, Superfly)Feminisms(An Unmarried Woman, The China Syndrome)Future visions(Star Wars, Blade Runner)

    As accessible to ordinary moviegoers as to film scholars, Lev's book is an essential companion to these familiar, well-loved movies.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79837-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: ‘‘NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING’’
    (pp. xv-xxii)

    Screenwriter and novelist William Goldman, writing in 1982, suggests that the first rule of Hollywood is ‘‘Nobody Knows Anything.’’ ¹ Goldman explains that film industry producers and executives do not know in advance which film will be a box office success and which film will be a failure. Blockbuster movies such asThe Godfatherwere written off as inevitable failures during production, andRaiders of the Lost Arkwas turned down by all the Hollywood studios except Paramount. Any number of big-budget productions have done no business, whereas low-budget sleepers such asEasy Rider, American Graffiti, Rocky, andPorky’shave...

  5. Part 1

    • Chapter 1 Hippie Generation Easy Rider Alice’s Restaurant Five Easy Pieces
      (pp. 3-21)

      The roots ofEasy Riderlie primarily in the Hollywood B movie, also known in the 1960s as the ‘‘exploitation film.’’ Producer/actor Peter Fonda, director/actor Dennis Hopper, actor Jack Nicholson, and cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs had all worked for Roger Corman’s production unit at American International Pictures. The story idea ofEasy Rider, credited to Peter Fonda, stems from exploitation movies Fonda had acted in for Corman, especiallyThe Wild Angels(motorcycles) andThe Trip(drugs). As Ethan Mordden points out, the exploitation movie was a way ‘‘to treat a theme of the day with some abandon.’’¹ Big-budget films from the...

    • Chapter 2 Vigilantes and Cops Joe The French Connection Dirty Harry Death Wish
      (pp. 22-39)

      Easy Rider, Alice’s Restaurant, andFive Easy Piecessuggest that at least some of the youth culture films of 1969–1970 were modest and self-critical in their approach, and that they aimed at reaching a broad audience.Alice’s Restaurantis the most specifically political of the three films, but it is very far from being militant. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to expect that ‘‘hippie’’ films represent any sort of consensus or even leading direction in the Hollywood output of the years around 1970. Among the very diverse works of this period, we can isolate a group of films that...

    • Chapter 3 Disaster and Conspiracy Airport The Poseidon Adventure Jaws The Parallax View Chinatown
      (pp. 40-59)

      The period from 1970 to 1975 in the United States was a time of ‘‘malaise,’’ to use a term later popularized by Jimmy Carter. The Vietnam War continued, even though official U.S. policy spoke of Vietnamization and peace. The booming economy of the 1960s staggered into a period of recessionandinflation, impelled by the war but especially by the OPEC oil price shock. The price of gasoline quadrupled in a few months because of OPEC’s rationing of supply. Americans queued up in their cars to buy the meager amounts of gas available. Politically, the United States was rocked by...

    • Chapter 4 The End of the Sixties Nashville Shampoo Between the Lines The Return of the Secaucus Seven The Big Chill
      (pp. 60-74)

      The mixture of political activism and popular culture often labeled ‘‘the sixties’’ in American social history had little impact on the Hollywood film industry during the decade of the 1960s.Bonnie and Clyde(1967) was adopted by young audiences as an allegory of their feelings of alienation, but this film was a heavily disguised version of contemporary tensions.The Graduate(1968) is another example of youthful alienation, but Benjamin Braddock, protagonist of that film, is hardly an example of radical perception or activity. ThoughThe Wild Bunch(1969) is about an outsider group, a film about aging gunslingers cannot be...

  6. Part 2

    • Chapter 5 Last Tango in Paris: OR ART, SEX, AND HOLLYWOOD
      (pp. 77-89)

      Last Tango in Parisis a hybrid film, part American star vehicle, part European art film. This film by an Italian director featuring two languages, English and French, is an excellent example of what I have elsewhere called the ‘‘Euro-American cinema.’’ ¹ It combines elements of the American commercial cinema and the European art film in order to reach a broad audience and to represent a ‘‘between cultures’’ experience. The experience of cultures meeting and often conflicting can express both the new realities of modern transportation and communication and the subjective impression of being at home nowhere.Last Tango in...

    • Chapter 6 Teen Films American Graffiti Cooley High Animal House Diner Fast Times at Ridgemont High
      (pp. 90-106)

      The teen film genre first flourished in the 1950s, when Hollywood discovered that its slimmed-down, post-TV audience consisted primarily of teenagers and young adults. The leading writers, directors, and producers of the fifties were middle-aged and beyond, but nevertheless the film industry began to make teenpics. Notable titles of the period includeThe Wild One, Rebel without a Cause, The Blackboard Jungle, andRock around the Clock, as well as the films of Elvis Presley and Frankie and Annette. Though ostensibly about antisocial rebellion, the teen film is usually pulled between a desire for independence and a need to belong....

    • Chapter 7 General Patton and Colonel Kurtz Patton Apocalypse Now
      (pp. 107-126)

      Patton(1970) andApocalypse Now¹ (1979) bookend the decade of the 1970s with two very different pictures of the American military at war. The first, a studio epic from Twentieth Century–Fox, gives a portrait of an eccentric general within a generally positive view of the U.S. Army in World War II. The second, made independently and at great expense by director Francis Coppola (though with financial backing—mainly loans—from United Artists), presents a complex and far more negative portrayal of the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Although the films explicitly address different wars, and this is important, they are...

    • Chapter 8 From Blaxploitation to African American Film Shaft Superfly Claudine Leadbelly Killer of Sheep
      (pp. 127-141)

      Films made by and for the African American community have a long history. In the silent film period, Oscar Micheaux and others were already making feature films with black casts for black audiences. In the 1930s, with the advent of sound films, this approach to film was formularized as ‘‘race movies,’’ low-budget films for the African American audience which often repeated the most popular white genres: mystery, Western, and so on. Black people appeared in Hollywood films only in stereotyped roles (e.g., the maid played by Hattie McDaniel inGone With the Wind). In the 1950s and 1960s, this began...

    • Chapter 9 Feminisms Hester Street An Unmarried Woman Girlfriends Starting Over Head over Heels/Chilly Scenes of Winter Coming Home The China Syndrome
      (pp. 142-164)

      One of the most controversial ideas of the 1970s was feminism: the idea that women were discriminated against in both Western and non-Western societies and that gender roles needed to be first analyzed and then reshaped by social and political processes. Feminism was an important force in the arts, in the universities, in the workplace, in the political arena. Feminist writers such as Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, and Gloria Steinem became household names, as did such antifeminist figures as Phyllis Schlafly and Anita Bryant. A very public debate swirled around women’s rights, women’s roles, and women’s psychology.

      Surprisingly little of...

    • Chapter 10 Whose Future? Star Wars Alien Blade Runner
      (pp. 165-180)

      The science fiction film, as a construction removed from everyday reality, is a privileged vehicle for the presentation of ideology. Because it is less concerned than other genres with the surface structure of social reality, science fiction can pay more attention to the deep structure of what is and what ought to be. In practice, this means that science fiction films vividly embody ideological positions and that comparing science fiction films of the same era becomes an analysis of conflicting social visions. Such visions cannot, however, be reduced to a simple, discursive message. Instead, the total semiotic output of a...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 181-186)

    Fredric Jameson suggests that the 1970s were characterized by a ‘‘peculiar aimlessness’’ which followed the ‘‘strongly generational self-consciousness’’ of the 1960s. Nostalgia seems to have been the dominant mode of the period: ‘‘the recombination of various stereotypes of the past.’’ As we noted in the discussion ofAmerican Graffiti(Chapter 6), nostalgia can be interpreted as a representation of social forces in the present. However, Jameson concludes the chapter on ‘‘Film’’ in his bookPostmodernismby saying that this recombination of stereotypes ultimately has no identity, and that the specificity of the seventies ‘‘seemed most of the time to consist...

  8. Appendix 1: Time Line, 1968–1983: AMERICAN HISTORY, AMERICAN FILM
    (pp. 187-198)
  9. Appendix 2: Filmography
    (pp. 199-204)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 205-220)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-228)
  12. Index
    (pp. 229-238)