Friday, September 29

1970 - Random Cinematic Year In Review

A Random Cinematic Year In Review


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.

1970, only one year after “3 Days of Peace and Music” at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, the world was once again facing its fair share of mayhem and disorder. First the Beatles broke up, then Jimi Hendricks and Janis Joplin both died within weeks of each other. It’s almost as if art was establishing a precursor for a decade that would see the most notorious political scandal in U.S. history (so far) followed by our worst recession. 

The people back home were still fighting for peace but now, the powers that be were fighting back with a lot more fervor. In February, Abby Hoffman was convicted along with 4 other members of the “Chicago Seven” for crossing state lines with the intent to start a riot for their part in the violent demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Then in May, the Ohio National Guard opened fire into a crowd of unarmed Kent State students protesting the Vietnam War. In just 13 seconds, 4 were killed and 9 were wounded. 5 days later, 100,000 people would descend onto the streets of Washington D.C. to protest the war and the shootings. President Nixon responds by approving the “Huston Plan”, illegal surveillance tactics designed to spy on political dissidents from the left. 

There was also a very important cinematic invention in this year. Phillips developed a home video cassette format that would later evolve into the VCR, a common fixture in every home by the late 80’s. This invention, like all technological advancements related to film format, would lead to new changes in the film industry. As the home video industry gained traction, movie theatres began to have shorter runs of the films and they found themselves competing with video rental stores that made a family movie night far more affordable. 

This new format eventually gave way to a whole new subsection of film distribution. Studios now found that they could spend less budget on a film they weren’t as confident in and simply release it directly to video without a theatrical run. A lot of these were horror or action sequels, especially when the scripts couldn’t attract the same talent as their originals. 
This was also the format that allowed young budding cinefiles, like me, the exposure to world cinema that we would have never acquired in our markets. I use to browse the local library for anything that peaked my interest. I found a lot of these in the foreign section. I was able to learn from the likes of Fritz Lang, Charlie Chaplin, Jean Renoir and many more without the privilege of an arthouse theatre in my town and years before streaming services flooded our senses. 

While 1970 may have found itself in the thick of American New Wave, there were still amazing films coming out from Europe and the rest of the world.


7 – THE CONFESSION (Directed by Costa-Gavras)

This isn’t quite the masterpiece that Costa-Gavras made with Z (1969) but it is still a great and very affecting film. This time, he switches his focus away from the violence of Greek fascism and towards the violence of Czech communism. Yves Montand was probably the most reliable performer of the era and his collaborations with this director are probably his best work. This is type of thing you watch when you want something to make you angry.

6 – EL TOPO (Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky)

This is where we started to see the emergence of the ‘Midnight Movie’ and this isn’t even Jodorowsky’s weirdest film. It played for nine straight months at The Elgin in NYC before it saw a regular theatrical release, thanks in part to support from John Lennon. Later, Lennon and Yoko Ono would help to finance Jokorowsky’s follow up, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN. 


This is a much underseen film and it’s absolutely fantastic. In an effort to exhibit his superiority over the citizenry, a police detective commits a brutal murder and leaves obvious clues to his guilt. This is the type of satire that I love, mainly because it’s hard to tell if it actually attempting to be satirical. I give it a few extra bonus points for Ennio Morricone’s weirdo score.

4 – CATCH-22 (Directed by Mike Nichols)

Speaking of satire, this movie as well as the book it was based on is one of the greatest works of satire of all time. Author Joseph Heller uses America’s most noble war to illuminate the futility and insanity of war itself. This film also showcases one of the most impressive ensemble casts you will find from the time. Alan Arkin, Art Garfunkel, Orson Welles, Martin Sheen, Anthony Perkins among others lead and cameo in this timeless classic. 

3 – LE CERCLE ROUGE (Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville)

Jean-Pierre Melville is a cinematic god to me and this picture is one of the many reasons why. In the same vein as THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and RIFIFI, this is a slow burn heist flick that beautifully builds tension over the course of its runtime. Melville understood the value of plot details and realistic character motivations. Alain Delon, much like his performance in Melville’s other classic LE SAMOURAI, was too cool to act in his films but this time he lets his awesome mustache carry the weight of his character. It works.

2 – FIVE EASY PIECES (Directed by Bob Rafelson)

Bob Rafelson cofounded BBS Productions, an arthouse film studio that made some of the best American New Wave films of the 1970’s. THE LAST PICTURE SHOW is their best known film but I think FIVE EASY PIECES is their best. I also think that this is Jack Nicholson’s best performance ever, and that’s saying a ton.

1 – THE CONFORMIST (Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci)

This is a film about an Italian coward in the 30’s named Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant). His desperate desire for normality leads him into his politics, marriage and career. He even accepts a government assignment to assassinate one of his old college professors in Paris. If you are a fan of cinematography, Vittorio Storaro’s work here could serve as your bible. This is absolutely one of the most beautifully shot films of all time. 

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