“Today,” begins Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey, “New York’s Film Forum begins a fabulous new retrospective series, Ford to City: Drop Dead—New York in the 70s, which draws its title from the notorious New York Daily Newsheadline paraphrasing of President Gerald Ford’s response to the city’s 1975 request for federal funding assistance. The headline was a simplification of Ford’s stance, but it stuck, because it seemed such a succinct summary of how the rest of America viewed the city: a garbage-ridden hornet’s nest of crime, corruption, danger, and sin.” Bailey writes up ten capsule previews of “accidental documentaries of what the city once was.”
Clyde Haberman sets the scene in the New York Times: “The ’70s was the decade of the serial killer Son of Sam and of a nightmarish 1977 power blackout that led to widespread looting and vandalism. They were the ‘Bronx is burning’ years. The municipal treasury was broke. City workers—garbage collectors, hospital doctors, police officers—went on strike, heedless that it made them lawbreakers. Systemic police corruption abounded: Think Serpico [image above]. Crime soared . . . Broadway theaters moved up the evening curtain by an hour so that playgoers could get out of Times Square before the muggers took over.”
Today through July 27, “movie fans can relive those hardcore days of yore,” writes Benedict Cosgrove for the Gothamist. “Featuring dozens of the decade's signature actors and directors (De Niro, Pacino, Redford, Hoffman, De Palma, Scorsese, Cassavettes, Jane Fonda, Gena Rowlands, Jon Voight, George C. Scott, Gene Hackman, Diane Keaton—Jesus, do we have to go on?) in more than forty films, the series was put together by Bruce Goldstein, who has run Film Forum's repertory program for three decades and counting. . . . ‘I was living in New York in the '70s,’ Goldstein told Gothamist, ‘and I didn't really have a perception of the city as a frightening place, or a place of terror, which is what a lot of these films convey. I just thought this was an amazing group of movies.’”
The series opens with John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969), and, writing in the Notebook, Jeremy Carr argues that of all the movies up to that point, it “best captures the chaotic and manifold audio-visual essence of the setting’s disorder. Hugh A. Robertson’s rapid, jump-cut montage wildly distorts and distends the film’s spatial and temporal capacity, while the gritty cinematography by Adam Holender underscores a grainy aesthetic rendering of the fantasies and nightmares that drive the film’s central characters. . . . Nighttime, daytime, if there’s one thing Schlesinger’s film broadcasts, it’s that in 1969’s New York, everything is in view. There is no escape.”
“In the interest of breadth, there are only two Blaxploitation greats on tap (Shaft and Super Fly), though there is Anthony Quinn solving crimbs with Yaphet Kotto in Across 110th Street,” writes Matt Prigge for Metro. “But casting a wide net also means catching some wonderful, undersung oddities, like Elaine May’s absurdist murder-rom-com A New Leaf, in which Walter Matthau as an uptown blueblood isn’t even the nuttiest bit. Ditto Chantal Akerman’s minimalist News from Home, which is nothing but long takes of the New York streets—a time capsule for a city that today resembles an alien planet.”
“For every well-known picture like [William] Friedkin’s The French Connection or the abundance of Sidney Lumet movies (Network,Dog Day Afternoon,Serpico,The Anderson Tapes, and The Wiz), there’s a lesser-known alternative,” notes amNewYork editor Robert Levin. Ivan Passer’s Born to Win (1971), for example, “which stars George Segal as a Times Square heroin addict opposite a young Robert De Niro. Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife, which depicts a love triangle involving Carrie Snodgress, Richard Benjamin and Frank Langella, is another notable rarity highlighted by Goldstein.”
It’s only tangentially related, but Michael Kruse’s piece for Politico Magazine, “How Gotham Gave Us Trump,” just has to be mentioned here: “How, at a moment when American cities are at a peak of wealth and success, can Trump argue so persistently against them? The answer starts with the New York that made him.”
Updates, 7/7: “Al Pacino and Sidney Lumet’s hit 1973 film, Serpico, about the undercover cop who exposed police corruption and criminality in the NYPD in the late Sixties and Seventies, was one of the seminal movies of this era,” writes Bilge Ebiri. “And in its February 3, 1975, issue, the Voice ran a lengthy letter from Frank Serpico himself, who at that time was living in the Netherlands. In the letter, written with the help of the Voice’s Lucian K. Truscott IV, Serpico offers his thoughts on the film, the politics of the day, his fellow cops’ response to him, and the issues of police brutality and racism that continued to plague the force, and in many ways still do so today.”
Following up on his Notebook gallery of Polish posters for films in the series, Adrian Curry has another focusing on “the films which are less well known and whose one sheets are maybe less iconic yet no less interesting.”
Update, 7/8: “Starring the inimitable George Segal (California Split) and Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude), and directed by living comedy legend Carl Reiner, Where’s Poppa?  has all the trappings for an instant comedy classic,” writes Sarah Winshall at Screen Slate. “Segal is Gordon Hocheiser, a defense attorney held hostage by the incessant demands of his senile mother (Gordon) who tries just about everything short of murder to get rid of her. Instead of the advertised joke-a-minute, Where’s Poppa? is quite the curiosity. Rarely screened and stylistically challenging, it’s truly a relic from a different era when wacky comedies crawled by at a snail’s pace but were chock full of envelope-pushing gags.”
Update, 7/12: “One of the most unforgettable films about New York in the ’70s, Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975) was based on a real-life 1972 attempt at a bank robbery in Brooklyn by three men,” writes Bilge Ebiri. “Village Voice writer Arthur Bell—who would go on to become one of the paper’s most prominent columnists, especially on LGBT issues—actually knew the man who led the trio, John Wojtowicz, a/k/a Littlejohn Basso, and talked to him on the phone during the heist. Bell and the Village Voice’s City Editor Mary Nichols also got a police escort (‘Sirens blazing . . . 90 miles an hour’) to the scene of the action, where Bell reported from the ground.” Their article follows along with Cliff Jahr’s 1975 interview with Wojtowicz and Andrew Sarris’s review of the film.
Update, 7/15: “As a relentless comedy of ill manners, Diary of a Mad Housewife depicts the hell that is found within the societal fringes of New York City,” writes Ryan Kane at Screen Slate. “From the snide art world to the barbaric counterculture music scene, no group or individual spares our title character from making her life a waking nightmare—trickling all the way down to her own children. It’s shocking today in its total lack of reprieve for the protagonist, beginning and ending with a bevy of nasty insults directed at every aspect of her character.” Frank Perry’s 1970 film screens Tuesday.
Updates, 7/19: “Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver might just be the greatest New York film of the ’70s,” writes Bilge Ebiri, introducing another article from the archives. “The Village Voice’s Arthur Bell was there on set as the film was being shot all over the crumbling, sweltering city. His piece for the paper included anecdotes from some of the movie’s most notable scenes, including the final confrontation between Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, as well as revealing glimpses of Scorsese and the people around him (including, touchingly, his mother Catherine). Also making an appearance were the panhandlers and sex workers and other folks who looked on curiously as the cast and crew went about their business.”
Cosmo Bjorkenheim: “Fredric Jameson has written about the difficulty of the postmodern political thriller to (a) grasp as a totality the world of which its characters and institutions are integral parts, and (b) to represent visually the flows of information through which world politics increasingly take place.” Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor (1975) “is a case in point.”
Also at Screen Slate, Patrick Dahl argues that Sean Connery is “the ultimate screen asshole, a hateful presence who unrepentantly takes what he likes and expects gratitude for the privilege of serving him. . . . Sidney Lumet’s sterling direction redeems The Anderson Tapes , which is only occasionally held hostage to his star’s sociopathic mystique.”
Update, 7/25: “You know what they say,” writes Patrick Dahl at Screen Slate. “A liberal is a conservative who hasn’t been mugged yet. By “they” I mostly mean movies like Death Wish (1974), Hobbesian revenge fantasies offering guilt-free bloodletting. In a sense, though, they’re right. After a humiliating electoral defeat last November, post-Kennedy liberalism was denuded of its righteous pretensions and revealed for the farce that it is, a band of market-obsessed pity-mongers for whom social justice is an economic transaction and something worth politely discussing but not fighting for. Death Wish is the caricature the ideology deserves in its twilight years. It’s The Room for the Sanders set.”
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