Yes, it was a tacky decade, filled with leisure suits, toe socks, and shag carpets. But as far as movies were concerned, the ’70s were a golden age of good taste. With the studio system apparently gasping its last gasp, a new breed of maverick directors — with names like Scorsese, Coppola, Mazursky, and Polanski — found themselves enjoying unprecedented creative freedom. For the first time, truly adult material was making its way on screen, with movies about grown-ups being made for grown-ups. Of course, it was also the decade that invented the Event Movie (ground zero being Steven Spielberg’s Jaws), but then, that’s a story for the next decade….
Midnight Cowboy and True Grit duke it out: April 7, 1970
A new breed of cowboy was taking over, and John Wayne was none too happy. These were the hippie desperadoes like Easy Rider ‘s Dennis Hopper, who, on Oscar night, sat in front of Wayne in an irreverent, oversize Stetson. The counterculture was revitalizing Hollywood, and although Wayne beat Cowboy’s Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight for Best Actor, that night Best Picture went to Cowboy, John Schlesinger’s X-rated male-hustler opus. For Schlesinger, who’d encountered resistance within his own production crew (”They were very disparaging of the film,” he says), the victory was especially vindicating. Rank 31
Shaft breaks the color barrier: July 2, 1971
Racial strife was news, MGM was in trouble — only a cat like John Shaft could save the day. With a cool lead in Richard Roundtree and an Oscar-winning song by Isaac Hayes, Shaft ushered in blaxploitation and the image of the African-American superman. ”It was the first time a black man was in charge — that appealed to a large audience,” says Roundtree, who thinks the subsequent hand-wringing (”Black Movie Boom — Good or Bad?” The New York Times asked) was silly. ”Fred Williamson [Black Caesar] once said, ‘I make films that are to the point: I hit someone and knock them down. Everybody understands that.”’ But to Roundtree, Shaft’s big score was that suddenly ”on TV, white guys were wearing leather and mustaches.” Rank 73
”Singin”’ turns ecstasy into evil in A Clockwork Orange: DEC. 19 1971
Is there any movie moment that perverts joy into revulsion like the ”Singin’ in the Rain” rape scene in A Clockwork Orange? ”Our script said nothing more than ‘He kicks her and generally causes mayhem,”’ recalls Malcolm McDowell, who starred as ”droog” Alex. ”I had to do so much kicking because Stanley [Kubrick] wanted the people to fall backwards perfectly. After a week, when we were about to give up, he said, ‘Gee, Malc, can you dance?’ So I wound up improvising exactly what you see. Stanley phoned New York and bought the rights [to the song]. That was his real strength — he was willing to wait.” But why did McDowell have Gene Kelly on his mind? ”When Alex is raping,” he says, ”he’s at his most euphoric. ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is Hollywood’s most euphoric moment.” Rank 40