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American Films of the 70s

Conflicting Visions

By Peter Lev

Publication Year: 2000

While the anti-establishment rebels of 1969’s Easy Rider were morphing into the nostalgic yuppies of 1983’s The Big Chill, Seventies movies brought us everything from killer sharks, blaxploitation, and teen comedies to haunting views of a divided America at war. 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 within ten different film genres or subjects: o Hippies (Easy Rider, Alice’s Restaurant) o Cops (The French Connection, Dirty Harry) o Disasters and Conspiracies (Jaws, Chinatown) o End of the Sixties (Nashville, The Big Chill) o Art, Sex, and Hollywood (Last Tango in Paris) o Teens (American Graffiti, Animal House) o War (Patton, Apocalypse Now) o African-Americans (Shaft, Superfly) o Feminisms (An Unmarried Woman, The China Syndrome) o 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.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiii

This book is an interpretive history of American films of the 1970s. It argues that the films of the period constitute a dialogue or debate about the nature and the prospects of American society. The dialogue passes through both aesthetics and ideology; these two concepts ultimately merge in what I call, for lack of a better term, an artistic ‘‘vision.’’ In Part One...

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Introduction: "Nobody Knows Anything"

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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 as The Godfather were written off as inevitable failures...

Part 1

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pp. 1-73

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Chapter 1: Hippie Generation: Easy Rider, Alice's Restaurant, Five Easy Pieces

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pp. 3-21

The roots of Easy Rider lie 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 of...

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Chapter 2: Vigilantes and Cops: Joe, The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Death Wish

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pp. 22-39

Easy Rider, Alice’s Restaurant, and Five Easy Pieces suggest 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 Restaurant is the most specifically political of the three films, but it is very far from being militant...

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Chapter 3: Disaster and Conspiracy: Airport, , Jaws, The Parallax View, Chinatown

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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 recession...

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Chapter 4: The End of the Sixties: Nashville, Shampoo, Between the Lines, The Return of the Seacaucus Seven, The Big Chill

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pp. 60-73

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...

Part 2

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pp. 75-179

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Chapter 5: Last Tango in Paris: Or Art, Sex, and Hollywood

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pp. 77-89

Last Tango in Paris is 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...

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Chapter 6: Teen Films: American Graffiti, Cooley High, Animal House, Diner, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

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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...

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Chapter 7: General Patton and Colonel Kurtz: Patton, Apocalypse Now

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pp. 107-126

Patton (1970) and Apocalypse 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...

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Chapter 8: From Blaxploitation to African American Film: Shaft, Superfly, Claudine, Leadbelly, Killer of Sheep

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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...

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Chapter 9: Feminisms: Hester Street, An Unmarried Woman, Girlfriends, Starting Over, Head over Heels/Chilly Scenes of Winter, Coming Home, The China Syndrome

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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...

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Chapter 10: Whose Future? Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner

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pp. 165-179

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...

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pp. 181-185

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 of American Graffiti (Chapter 6), nostalgia can be interpreted...

Appendix 1: Time Line, 1968–1983: American History, American Film

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pp. 187-198

Appendix 2: Filmography

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pp. 199-204


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pp. 205-220


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pp. 221-228


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pp. 229-238

E-ISBN-13: 9780292798373
E-ISBN-10: 0292798377
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292747159
Print-ISBN-10: 0292747152

Page Count: 260
Illustrations: 30 photos
Publication Year: 2000