Review by Gordon Justesen

Featuring: Robert Altman, John Avildsen, Peter Bogdonovich, Marshall Brickman, Ellen Burstyn, John Calley, Julie Christie, Francis Ford Coppola, Roger Corman, Bruce Dern, Clint Eastwood, Milos Forman, William Friedkin, Pam Grier, Dennis Hopper, Sidney Lumet, Paul Mazursky, Mike Medavoy, Polly Platt, Sydney Pollack, Jerry Schatzberg, Roy Scheider, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, Sissy Spacek, Robert Towne, Jon Voight
Directors: Ted Demme, Richard LaGravenese
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: Docurama
Features: See Review
Length: 180 Minutes
Release Date: September 30, 2003

Film ***1/2

One thing can be said about the films of the 70s; itís hard to find one that didnít have some level of importance. Itís also important to note that many of the popular films of the 70s could only be made during that decade. Desire for such provocative content had not existed yet, and thereís no way that many of the films could get made today during these intense times of political correctness.

A Decade Under the Influence is a fireball of a documentary, taking a much detailed look at three specific areas in the history of cinema; the last few years prior to the 1970, the 70s cinematic period, and at the current status of movies and how much different the business has become since then. Directors Richard LaGravenese and Ted Demme, who unfortunately passed away while piecing together this documentary, have assembled an unbeatable lineup of actors and filmmakers that knew the time period very well.

The documentary, divided into three episodes, starts off with a look at 1969, a year when Hollywood seem to be tossing up one big box office disaster right after another. Big-budget studio concepts such as Foxís Hello Dolly and Doctor Dolittle were failing miserably, as were rival studio Paramountís expensive risks, most notably the eccentric western-musical, Paint Your Wagon.

Then along came a little film named Easy Rider, Dennis Hopperís rebellious masterpiece in which he starred alongside off-screen pals Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson.  Hopperís film would signify not only the end of the 60s, but as a sign of things to come in what turned out to be quite an original decade for cinema. What followed after Easy Rider were a string of films that defined the times, and resulted in an all-around important period for American cinema, which for the first time was being seen as sort of a movement.

Among the films covered in the documentary, there are detailed bits on the likes of early 70s favorites such as M*A*S*H*, The French Connection, Shaft, The Exorcist, Mean Streets and The Godfather. It seemed as though the breakthrough form of moviemaking was never going to end, until two films released midway in the 70s proved this theory wrong.

The first movie was 1975ís Jaws, which exploded in a way that couldnít have been expected at the time. It was the first time any studio had seen so much money pour in. Steven Spielbergís breakthrough classic had become the highest grossing movie of its time, and its success had given studio heads many possibilities on how to guarantee future profit.

But if Jaws encouraged studios to conceive of its now blockbuster-studio system, the deal was very much sealed when Star Wars exploded onto screens in 1977. It is the movie is indeed credited with helping to establish todayís movie-making market, which very much helped to seal the fate on the moviemaking styles that were popular before it. Suddenly, studios were so much more concerned with money than they were of ideas and messages.

Watching this documentary, you canít help but acknowledge some sort of affection for the ways films were conceived and executed back in the early to mid 70s. If these films never got made, the ripple effect on our very society would, I think, be so catastrophic. The latter portion of the documentary acknowledges the new independent film movement, with mentions such films as Memento (a die-hard favorite here at the DMC), as well as the fact that both mainstream movies and independent films have their high points and low points.

Any film lover whose favorites consist of any of the aforementioned titles should definitely take notice of this intriguing documentary on a vital time in American film. The 70s were a unique period for filmmaking, and A Decade Under the Influence is a rich and detailed documentary, which reflects on the period with virtual flawlessness.

Video ***

This is actually the first title Iíve experienced from Docurama, and as for the look of the presentation, I must say I was quite pleased. Shot in a traditional documentary form, the look of the image is about as good as you can get with a presentation of various interviews. There is countless film footage included from the films covered in the documentary, all of which turn up quite nicely, in addition.

Audio **1/2

The sound mix supplied is that of a 2.0 channel, which Iím sure is all you need for a documentary presentation. Words are delivered in the utmost form of clarity, and the only instance of ultra-sharp sound is in the numerous montage sequences which are backed up by upbeat music beats. Not a groundbreaking listen, but as I said before, perhaps the very best you can get with a presentation like this.

Features **

The only notable feature is extra interview footage with interviewees Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdonovich, Sidney Lumet, Roy Scheider, and others.


A Decade Under the Influence is by far one of the most intriguing documentaries Iíve seen in quite some time. It stands as a much credible reflection of the 70s film movement, and marks a most triumphant final opus from the late, great Ted Demme.