“Forty years ago,” begins Earl Douglas at the Interrobang, “the country was still reeling from Vietnam and Watergate, Elvis died, punk and disco took full flight, and New York City dealt with record heat, a blackout, a financial crisis and the Son of Sam. It was also a big year for Hollywood as Star Wars broke box office records worldwide and forever changed how movies were made and marketed. The Film Society of Lincoln Center will look at this monumental year with a three week retrospective of movies that captured the period and laid the blueprint of what was to follow.”
“A scan of the 33-film lineup in the FSLC retrospective reveals symmetries and consonances,” writes Melissa Anderson in the Village Voice. “Two American greats, Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep) and David Lynch (Eraserhead), made their first films; a European maestro, Luis Buñuel (That Obscure Object of Desire), completed his last. Three paragons of New Hollywood—Robert Altman (3 Women), John Cassavetes (Opening Night), and Martin Scorsese (New York, New York)—each at least a decade into their careers, released films in this annus mirabilis that follow only the idiosyncratic dictates of their makers. Working in a vastly different registers and idioms, UK queer firebrand Derek Jarman (Jubilee), then in his ascendant phase, and Senegalese doyen Ousmane Sembène (Ceddo), at roughly the midpoint of his oeuvre, created works that are united in their insurrectionary ire.”
The Voice has also posted a round of 1977 top tens from its archive, an overview of the year by Andrew Sarris accompanied by lists from Tom Allen, J. Hoberman, and Terry Curtis Fox. What may immediately strike you is how high the New German Cinema was riding at the time. Fox’s top three:
- The American Friend (Wim Wenders) [image above]
- Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog)
- Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven or Chinese Roulette (or any of the other six Fassbinders)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Katzelmacher tops Hoberman’s list and Effi Briest comes in at #2 on Sarris’s—where we find Herzog’s Stroszek at #10.
“But the release of a handful of classics of New German and American independent cinema is not enough to explain the near-mythical status that some accord to the year 1977,” writes Cosmo Bjorkenheim at Screen Slate:
Italian philosopher and cultural critic Franco “Bifo” Berardi has written about it as a “year of premonition” for capitalist civilization. It was a “year of violence,” bringing with it massive riots throughout Italy, the kidnap-murder of ex-Nazi industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer by German leftist armed struggle group the Red Army Faction (whose leaders also died that year, in prison, under mysterious circumstances), and an unprecedented wave of youth suicides in Japan . . . It’s the end of modernity and the beginning of postmodernity, the replacement of the kind of open-eyed innocence and “utopian rebellion” represented by Charlie Chaplin (who died on Christmas Day that year) by a dystopian imaginary woven by the likes of Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs. Last but not least, Berardi claims that the end of the modern project of political autonomy was announced by Saturday Night Fever, which advocated hedonist escape from the quotidian work cycle at the expense of collective action.
’77 opens Friday, August 4, and runs through August 24.
Update, 8/3: There won’t likely be a more thorough overview of the series than Peter Sobczynski’s at RogerEbert.com. The centerpiece, he notes, is 3 Women, “a story that could have gone the way of either Persona or Single White Female but, not surprisingly, Altman instead goes for something that is utterly unique, defiantly obscure and absolutely mesmerizing to watch.” He’s less impressed with Richard Brooks’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar: “Since the film was a decent-sized hit, I presume that it must have struck some kind of chord with viewers but it is almost impossible to sit through today thanks to Brooks’s shrill and scolding approach to the material with only the strong performances by Diane Keaton as the teacher and Tuesday Weld as her troubled sister and the nifty cinematography from William Fraker saving it from being the Reefer Madness of its era. A far more successful stab at cinematic sociology,” he finds, is Saturday Night Fever. “In fact, as classic films about troubled youth go, I would go so far to claim that Saturday Night Fever beats the likes of Rebel Without a Cause like a gong.”
Updates, 8/7: “Peter Weir’s The Last Wave stands out even among the impressive (and extensive) lineup of . . . ’77,” writes Danielle Burgos. “It’s an interesting pick for a series tethered to a specific year—a film embodying its era's malaise and anxieties, yet as otherworldly and outside time now as it was on release. Part of the New Australian Cinema, the film meditates on the impact of Australia’s colonial past, framed by an eco-horror mystery.”
Also at Screen Slate, Cosmo Bjorkenheim: “Robert Aldrich must have never seen 1964’s twin MAD-movies, Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe, because his 1977 nail-biter Twilight’s Last Gleaming might have felt a little redundant if he had.”
Update, 8/9: On the new Film Comment Podcast (49’11”), Maitland McDonagh, “author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento and publisher of 120 Days Books, shares her memories of moviegoing in seventies Times Square and shares her insights on horror classics that premiered in ’77, including The Hills Have Eyes, Suspiria, and Exorcist II: The Heretic.” She’s joined Margaret Barton-Fumo and Violet Lucca “for a conversation that also touches on The American Friend, Sorcerer, and 3 Women . . . and speculates on the appeal of the year’s top-grossing film, Star Wars.”
Updates, 8/12: “Sorcerer, William Friedkin’s brilliant reinterpretation of Georges Arnaud’s novel Wages of Fear, is dedicated to its original filmic adapter Henri-Georges Clouzot,” writes Vanessa McDonnell, “and Friedkin’s entry in this triptych offers new and tantalizing shades of misery to the fable of lost men on an impossible mission. Sorcerer manages, somehow, to bring more grit, sorrow and cynicism to the painful suspense and general existential dread of the previous iterations.”
Also at Screen Slate, Caroline Golum: “By the time Ralph Bakshi wrote and directed the 1977 animated feature Wizards, he had earned quite the reputation as a ribald satirist of so-called Flower Power. In films like Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic, Bakshi used a fresh spin on classic ink-and-paint techniques—rotoscoping, live-action backgrounds, and musical cues—to expose, ridicule, and somehow celebrate free love, free speech, and free-wheeling drug use. With Wizards, Bakshi’s oeuvre of adult animated epics reached a new level of sophistication.”
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