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American Cinema of the 1970s

Themes and Variations

Edited by Lester Friedman

Publication Year: 2007

A smug glance at the seventies-the so-called "Me Decade"-unveils a kaleidoscope of big hair, blaring music, and broken politics-all easy targets for satire, cynicism, and ultimately even nostalgia. American Cinema of the 1970s, however, looks beyond the strobe lights to reveal how profoundly the seventies have influenced American life and how the films of that decade represent a peak moment in cinema history. Far from a placid era, the seventies was a decade of social upheavals. Events such as the killing of students at Kent State and Jackson State universities, the Watergate investigations, the legalization of abortion, and the end of the American involvement in Vietnam are only a few among the many landmark occurrences that challenged the foundations of American culture. The director-driven movies of this era reflect this turmoil, experimenting with narrative structures, offering a gallery of scruffy antiheroes, and revising traditional genre conventions.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page

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pp. ix-x

The book you hold in your hands was an intensely collaborative endeavor crafted over a span of years. To the contributors who toiled over their essays with diligence, good humor, and patience, I owe a debt of gratitude for their professional expertise, thoughtful writing, and personal generosity. It is a daunting task to attempt to capture the spirit of a decade as expressed in its culture, politics, and visual art...

Timeline: The 1970s

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pp. xi-xvi

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Introduction: Movies and the 1970s

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pp. 1-23

It is easy to make fun of the seventies. A smug glance at the so-called “Me Decade” unveils a kaleidoscope of big hair, blaring music, and broken politics—all easy targets for satire, cynicism, and ultimately even nostalgia: “The 70’s epitomize bad taste, evoking a wasteland of synthetic disco clothing and avocado-and-gold kitchens” (Spindler 6). For many commentators, the first five years of the seventies remain merely...

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1. 1970: Movies and the Movement

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pp. 24-47

While some historians and chroniclers identify 1968 as the start of the decade of the 1970s, others characterize 1970 as the last year of the 1960s. The conflicted social, cultural, and political conditions of the 1960s were in wide evidence at the turn of the decade, exuding dissatisfaction with the mainstream, white, middle-class establishment, the political leadership, the military-industrial complex...

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2. 1971: Movies and theExploitation of Excess

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pp. 48-70

As the year began, the sexual revolution was in full swing. Legal and moral prohibitions had fallen by the wayside, and millions of American women were using the birth control pill as a matter of course. Gloria Steinem’s feminist magazine Ms. premiered in December, featuring articles that satirically explained why women need a wife as much as men do. The sexual freedoms resulting from this cultural shift occurred at a moment that roughly corresponded with the Hollywood...

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3. 1972: Movies and Confession

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pp. 71-94

Newly released opinion surveys revealed that only 38 percent of Americans felt that the government operated primarily for the benefit of the people, with 53 percent believing that it was “run by a few big interests looking out for themselves” (Crozier et al. 78). Both President Nixon’s historic summit talks with China and the successful conclusion of the four-year Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT)...

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4. 1973: Movies and Legaciesof War and Corruption

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pp. 95-115

If one word succinctly describes the year, it would be crisis. The nation’s economic future looked bleak as the recession continued and inflation spiraled out of control. The prime lending rate of banks climbed to 8 percent. President Nixon ordered a sixty-day price freeze for consumer products in an attempt to provide a cooling-off period. Industries previously considered stable were now struggling to avoid bankruptcy...

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5. 1974: Movies and Political Trauma

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pp. 116-134

The most striking feature of the year’s films is their acknowledgment of trauma in the American body politic. Whether overtly political like The Godfather: Part II, The Parallax View, and Chinatown, or symbolically so like Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, many of these films spoke directly to corporate malfeasance and corruption in high places, with strategic recourse to political assassination barely concealed. Even though the Watergate scandal did not reach its climax until the resignation...

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6. 1975: Movies and Conflicting Ideologies

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pp. 135-156

American movies of the year reflected the perceived split between commercial mainstream films and those that appealed to specialized audiences fueled by auteurism, the art cinema, and counterculture values.1 The traumas of Vietnam and Watergate were fresh enough to feed into the production and reception of films that were critical of the country on the eve of its bicentennial. The nation’s economy matched the instability of its politics. According to Michael Barone, after Nixon...

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7. 1976: Movies and CulturalContradictions

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pp. 157-181

In its bicentennial year, the United States was wracked by disillusionment and mistrust of the government. The Watergate scandal and the evacuation of Vietnam were still fresh in everyone’s mind. Forced to deal with these traumatic events, combined with a lethargic economy (8.5 percent unemployment), energy shortages and OPEC price hikes...

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8. 1977: Movies and a Nationin Transformation

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pp. 182-204

The year began with Jimmy Carter’s presidential inauguration, initiating a significant shift in the nation’s political and cultural landscape as articulated by the new president himself: “This inauguration ceremony marks a new beginning, a new dedication within our Government, and a new spirit among us all.” Indeed, Carter’s presidency was a change from the preceding Republican administrations...

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9. 1978: Movies and Changing Times

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pp. 205-227

In 1964 folksinger Bob Dylan prophetically sang that “the times they are a-changin.’” He could have brought the song back fourteen years later, for both American culture and the American film industry were changing again in various ways that were not always easy to discern. The movies—our dynamic medium of cultural mythmaking—were focusing on some of those changes in the most interesting releases...

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10. 1979: Movies and the End of an Era

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pp. 228-250

As the seventies came to an end the United States was still struggling to understand the crises that had rocked the country in the previous dozen years. The Vietnam War had ended, but American culture was still examining how and why we had lost this faraway conflict to the North Vietnamese. The Watergate scandal had ended with Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency, but Americans continued...

Select Academy Awards

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pp. 251-256

Works Cited and Consulted

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pp. 257-266


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pp. 267-270


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pp. 271-285

E-ISBN-13: 9780813541372
E-ISBN-10: 0813541379
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813540221
Print-ISBN-10: 0813540224

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 33 photographs
Publication Year: 2007