Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mavericks Part One: The Seventies

Is there something in the genes of mankind that forgoes the type of entertainment that makes you think over the kind that lets you gel into the seat while the formula plays itself out on the screen? There must be if you track the evidence by the type of movies Hollywood regurgitates year after year.

Though this is probably not a new concept, just one that is a little more prevalent nowadays than before, every decade has its mavericks who redefine what it means to make popular films. Sometimes they succeed in raising the bar, sometimes they just add a little to the equation. These filmmakers do not just spit out fluff for public consumption like gallons of frothy white suds. Sometimes it is a director or writer who is a lone wolf among Hollywood clones.

In the early seventies we had the breakout of some of the most influential directors to come along in the history of filmmaking. These guys single-handedly remade Hollywood and American movie going experience in a few short years. What they did has been summarily corrupted in recent years but even the best of intentions can go awry. If you look at their initial hits you can see the greatness and the style come through. Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg all turned the world on its head with their unique visions and large egos allowing them to buck the system and remake filmmaking not because it needed to be remade but because of their love for the art itself. Unfortunately people age. These guys went from the men who made classics like Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, The Outsiders, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars and American Graffiti to the men who made War of the Worlds and The Phantom Menace, not to mention Howard the Duck!

Look at their earlier films. They define American Movies. Very few people out there, especially genre film lovers, can say they haven’t seen and loved each of those films. What happened? Except for Spielberg, who has enjoyed more consistent success over the years (I mean c’mon, everyone makes a clunker now and then,) these guys have not been spectacular. Even Spielberg has been victim to his own sense of revisionism and the Special Edition disk of ET was toned down by digitally removing the guns from the Federal Agent’s hands. Forgive them. In the 1970s they were young and full of piss and vinegar. Now they are older, wealthier and have their children to think about. Don’t we all go a little soft when we get older? Don’t we all look back to out youth and cringe a little at the things we said and did? These guys have their youthful anxiety out there for the entire world to see! I can’t blame George Lucas for wanting to go back and tweak his masterpiece. As he and others have said for many years: A great work is never finished it is merely abandoned.

Of course no one can mention the 1970s without paying homage to a few directors who, though they did not produce strictly genre films, flirted with the concept. Woody Allen movies have always had some fantastical element. He also made one of the best Science Fiction films of the 20th Century, Sleeper. If you’ve never seen it, watch it, it’s a good one.

While we’re on comedy, Mel Brooks can’t miss. History of the World and Spaceballs both were satires of genre movies and genre movies in their own right. If you can’t laugh at yourself then Mel Brooks proves that someone else will laugh at you anyway. The man is nuts: N-V-T-S, nuts!


The Phoenix said...

"She's gone from suck to blow!"

One of my favorite lines from Spaceballs.

Another one of my favorite movies is Spielberg's "Close Encounters."

ObilonKenobi said...

Spaceballs is the ultimate quoteable movie! I love the scene where they "comb" the desert. "We ain't found shit!"