Thursday, April 1, 2010

1970's - The Golden Era of Filmmaking

This is a piece I have been thinking about for a while.  Looking at the film industry today and looking at my favorite films, my favorite type of films, and everything else something became clear to me.  As a film enthusiast, there would have been no better time to live than the 1970's.  The decade is better known as the "Golden Era of Film making."  There have been many pieces written on this in the past and there certainly will be in the future.  Especially with the current state of filmmaking continuing to be hard pressed for originality and passion.  There are directors out there with the passion and mindset to pull it off but in this day and age of the Hollywood Blockbuster will another artist such as Scorcese, Spielberg, Lucas, Coppla, or Polanski truly be allowed to fourish?

Look at the current crop of young talented directors in Hollywood and notice how tough of a time they have had.  Darren Aronofsky is about as passionate, original, and talented as there is out there but he has to struggle to get movies made and often has to resort to independent measures to get it done.  Christopher Nolan was barely on the national consicousness until he rocked the world with his re imagining of Batman.  M. Night Shyamalan may end up being the product of his own undoing with such high pressures to make blockbusters that surprise the audience.  It took the Coen Brothers nearly 20 years and an Oscar win to finally get to the point where they can make a movie they truly want to make.  These are just a few examples of how the filmmaking environment today is not as conducive to true artistry as it was 40 years ago.  Great movies were made before and after and great filmmakers lived and will live in the future, but no decade will have the impact on film like the 1970's did.

So what made the 1970's different from today that it was able to foster such brilliance for such a sustained period of time?  Well the biggest difference is that there was no blockbuster culture and therefore no blockbuster pressure.  Jaws is widely regarded as the first blockbuster ever and it wasn't released until 1975. The blockbuster culture didn't truly solidify itself until Star Wars came along and shattered records in 1977.  So how does blockbuster culture deteriorate movies?  Well, without having a blockbuster "formula" in place (action, explosions, special effects, hot actress) filmmakers were allowed more freedom with their films.  Studios were much more willing to back the artistic vision and have faith in his abilities than they are now.  Further, directors and actors didn't have the same level of fame and therefore didn't have the immense pressure that is placed on them nowadays.

Let's take a look at the greatness we have today that started in the 1970's.  First of all, if you made a list of the top 10 directors of all time, how many would come from this group of Martin Scorcese, Steven Speilberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen (even though I HATE Woody Allen), Roman Polanski, George Lucas, Clint Eastwood, William Friedken, Milos Forman, Stanley Kubrick and Ridley Scott.  Probably a decent amount would come from the group.  In the group I've mentioned alone they have 45 Academy Award Nominations and 12 wins throughout their careers.  And that doesn't even factor in how people like George Lucas and Stanley Kubrick came in and changed filmmaking as we know it forever.

AFI has come out with the most widely recognized list of the '100 Greatest Movies of All Time' and that list includes 20 films from the 1970's.  This is greater than any other decade by a good amount.  Think about that.  Film has been around for over 100 years and hundreds of films come out every year and 20% of the one's recognized as 'greatest' came from this decade alone.  Remarkable.

The biggest difference would simply have to be the type of movies that are made.  This will piggy back on the earlier point I made about not having the 'blockbuster' culture surrounding movies at that time.  The overall style of movies from that time (and the style that was accepted by the public) was just different.  Movies from the 1970's were more character and plot driven.  There was more emphasis placed on writing and storyline and finding the correct artists to bring the vision to life.  Our current state of film is more focused on attractive girls, explosions, and chase scenes.  While these things are all well and good, some of the movies suffer as they try to pander to this desire for the 'blockbuster' movie feel.

If you look at the bright stars of the current crop of filmmakers it is apparent why they are where they are.  Darren Aronofsky is completely character driven.  Christopher Nolan has reached his level of success by having explosions and blockbusters but still making the characters the focus.  Bryan Singer has done the same.  Brett Ratner has done none of the above.  While I have come to the realization that our society has reached the filmmaking "point of no return" and there will never be a 1970's film renaissance, it is still good to know that what makes a movie successful will never change.  It is apparent what makes a movie great was never clearer than in the 1970's but it will be exciting to see how people such as Christopher Nolan can continue to meld the old and the new and make movies that appeal to people of all generations.

Film is an art form unlike any other we have.  A painting or a picture can capture a moment in time but films have the unique ability to capture our emotions.  From joy to sadness and everything in between films have the ability to induce emotions unlike any other art form on the planet.  This was never greater than in the 1970's.  It will surely be fun to see how the newer generation is able to gain a greater control and understanding of the tools they work with and still create some movie magic.

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