A DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Review by Gordon Justesen
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
Features: See Review
Length: 180 Minutes
Release Date: September 30, 2003
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The only notable
feature is extra interview footage with interviewees Robert Altman, Francis Ford
Coppola, Peter Bogdonovich, Sidney Lumet, Roy Scheider, and others.