Friday, February 3

1976 - Random Cinematic Year in Review

A Random Cinematic Year In Review


By: Emery Martin-Snyder

Preface: I have decided to write this series at least in part because I don't make it out to see new films very often and I've found that I spent too much time at the end of the year attempting to see all the big releases (many of which I'm not even interested in) for no other reason than to make an obligatory 'year end list'... This is a way that I can continue writing about films without feeling the pressure to see a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise take the time to. I'll still see most of them eventually, just on my own time. I use a random number generator to pick a year and I use to determine the actual release year.

The year 1976 was one of great social and political turmoil in this country. High inflation, unemployment and high interest rates were providing the economic backdrop for a country that was still reeling from the Watergate scandal that forced the nation’s sitting president to resign. These anxieties combined with a newly found mistrust of the government gave way to one of the most hotly contested presidential elections we have ever seen. Political outsider and peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, won the general election with less than 50.1% of the popular vote. All of this was happening while we were supposed to be celebrating our bicentennial.

All of this unrest and mistrust (as is always the case) would not go unnoticed in the art world. This was a very crucial moment in the history of counterculture. Cynicism and suspicion was becoming normalized and no longer pigeon-holed into the psychedelic free love camp of the previous decade. This is evident by the popular acceptance of the types of sentiments expressed by the likes of George Carlin, The Ramones and the first season of “Saturday Night Live.”

The American cinematic scene was riddled with this same type of angst. Theater audiences watched the stories of a disillusioned Marine with PTSD (TAXI DRIVER), a news station exploiting the mental collapse of one of their anchors (NETWORK), a grad student being chased by a crazy Nazi dentist (MARATHON MAN) and the story of investigative journalism exposing the highest level of political corruption this country has ever uncovered (ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN). And oh yeah…. something about a boxer in Philadelphia…

(Full Disclosure: The author of this post has never actually sat through ROCKY or any of its sequels. I have seen the majority of it on cable a few times and I even made it a point to glance up from my phone screen every now and then.  I doubt very much that the upper management of this fine publication would have invited me to write for them if they had known this but it’s quite possible that this will sneak through the editing process altogether. Like many other famous films that I won’t mention at this time, I’ll get around to seeing it eventually.)

Emery’s Notable Five

(Directed by Martin Scorsese)

This film makes me wish I had been around in the 70’s when Scorsese was releasing films like this and MEAN STREETS. His work wasn’t nearly as polished as the output we see from him now but you can sense how close to the brink of masterwork he is with this one. De Niro’s performance is second to none here and lends a ton to the totality of the film’s success.

(Directed by Elaine May)

Just like today, you are pretty hard-pressed to find a woman’s name on the director’s card of an American film in the 1970’s. This film’s surface skates around the gritty streets and back alleys of the criminal underworld. But its core is one of the most stirring and accurate depictions of male relationships of its time. Performances by John Cassavetes and Peter Falk are exactly what you should expect from those two names.

(Directed by Sydney Lumet)

Finch and Dunaway are great here but I think that Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay is the true star of this film. If it has been a while since you’ve seen it, I suggest a rewatch. It is a lot funnier than I had previously recalled. It’s a biting satire that should be filed in the same category as DR. STRANGELOVE or AMERICAN PSYCHO.

(Directed by Alan J. Pakula)

This is a story about a sitting Republican president who claims that the press is out to get him and obviously “playing for the other side.” He and his subordinates continuously try to cover up the scandal and obstruct the journalist’s efforts to inform the public. I think I remember one part in which he wouldn’t take a question from one of the reporters at his press conference and instead shouted him down as “FAKE NEWS”… or maybe that was something else. SPOILER ALERT FOR REAL LIFE: After lying to the American public, the First Amendment prevails, the truth about the corruption is revealed and he is forced to resign. This is how this story always ends…. Always.

(Directed by Roman Polanski)

This is the third installment of Polanski’s loose “Apartment Trilogy” and it stays very true to the themes established in the first two films (REPULSION and ROSEMARY’S BABY). This one might be the creepiest of the lot. Polanski casts himself frail and unassuming lead, Trelkovsky, sets it in a dilapidated Paris apartment building and puts longtime Bergman collaborator, Sven Nykvist behind the camera. Paranoia is a monster lurking in the shadows of Trelkovsky’s imagination…. and for good reason. I’m always surprised at how overlooked this film is compared to the rest of Polanski’s work. It desperately deserves resurgence.

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