DNA's Daniel Pinto takes a look at some of the greatest films of the New Hollywood Era of 1971, which saw the introduction of social realism, hitherto undisplayed acts of sex and violence and path-breaking techniques in direction, cinematography and acting.
Johnny Got His Gun
Echoing All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and Paths of Glory (1952), Johnny Got His Gun depicted the terrors of world war one, with the charging into demonic machine gun fire, the rotting away of corpses in rat-infested trenches. Yet, the film lingered on a living, breathing nightmare. Picture if you will, a faceless lad ripped apart from his loved ones who is then confined in an alien infirmary bed and deprived of sight, vision, speech and limbs. This typifies the horror the film holds for young Joe Bonham (Timothy Bottoms), who is left to divine signs from the outside world through vague vibrations. Joe’s febrile mind cannot distinguish between reality (in grainy black and white) and in fantasy (muted colors) where we visit his childhood, his last day with his sweetheart and encounters a tragically impotent Jesus Christ (those bits were written by master surrealist Luis Banuel). The film was Dalton Trumbo’s adaptation of his own 1938 National Book Award winner of the same name. Trumbo’s screenwriting for The Brave One and Roman Holiday, while being famously blacklisted from Hollywood for espousing the communist cause, won him 2 Oscars.
In dark irony, the film ends with the words: War Dead Since 1914: Over 80,000,000 Missing or Mutilated: Over 150,000,000 "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" (It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country)
Ever get the feeling you were being watched? A lot about Klute can be understood from its tagline. ‘One man is missing. Two girls lie dead. ...and someone breathing on the other end of the phone.’
Bree Daniels, played by Jane Fonda in an Academy Award-winning performance, who practices the world’s oldest profession (and is seemingly proud of it), receives a strange visitor one day and it’s none other than the eponymous ‘hero’ John Klute, a small-town cop who’s investigating the case of a missing businessman whose obscene letters to her were unearthed. In an unsteady relationship, the two learn that Bree, who is prone to looking over her shoulder, might be the key to a deeper mystery involving murder and eception. Donald Sutherland, (aka Jesus from Johnny Got His Gun) givers a rock-solid but vastly understated performance, contrasting that of Fonda’s headstrong yet vulnerable one. With its occasional shots from the stalkers perspective and spine-tinglingy score courtesy Michael Small, Alan J Pakula’s sets the tone for the first of his ‘paranoia trilogy’.
When the mysterious death of his brother prompts gruesome London gangster Jack Carter to revisit the working-class neighbourhood in Newcastle upon Tyne, old acquaintances and petty crime chieftains (one of whom is played by renowned playwright John Osborne whose kitchen sink realism doesn’t quite fit here) best watch their back. In Mike Hodges’s adaptation of Ted Lewis’s Jack’s Return Home, Michael Caine, wondrously one-dimensional, exudes toughness in his amoral, hard-boiled role that rich in humor, gallows or otherwise, and heart rending tragedy (no, he’s anatomically incapable of breaking down; the tears, in an iconic scene, that silently stream down his stolid face give way to rampageous rage). The film, featuring the jazz music of Roy Budd and shot entirely on location in Newcastle by Ulysses cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky, didn’t just push the envelope with the violence; there is that notorious scene with Carter engaging in phone sex scene with Britt Ekland as his land lady looks on.
While critics were less than overwhelmed with the force of nature-size badass before them and the film’s " virtuoso viciousness" (to quote one), the film has been aged better with Total Film poll declaring it the greatest British film of all time. The 2002 Razzie-nominated remake with Sylvester Stallone where Caine played a supporting role on the other hand…
When Woody Allen as the nerdish, bespectacled Fielding Mellish is dumped by his liberal, political activist girlfriend; he quits his Kafkasesque job as a consumer products tester to head to San Marcos, a fictional impoverished South American nation. After hooking up with a skulking revolutionaries, he unwittingly becomes the president of the nation. Surreal, but there you have it.
The fourth out of 47 directorial endeavours, Bananas pays homage from everyone to Chaplin and Marx (Groucho, more than Karl) to Sergei Eisenstein.
A political satire which collapses into a Dadaistic endeavour by the time it culminates in a courtroom scene, takes nothing seriously; not the judiciary, the media, left-wing intellectuals, least of all itself!
The French Connection
seldom comes along a crime movie where the bad guys are more pleasant and urbane than the law enforcers on their tails.
The said enforcers -- the brusque, prejudiced and morally ambiguous Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman in an Oscar-winning role) and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider on the right side of the law after playing a pimp in Klute) of the Narcotics division are in a gritty cat and mouse game to apprehend the slippery Frenchmen who are behind a plot to smuggle drugs between Marseille and New York in William Friedkin’s adaptation of Robin Moore’s non-fiction book of the same name.
The French Connection deviates from most crime films with its no-holds-barred realism, humanized portrayal of cops, documentary-style editing, eschewing of stylism and an unbelievable ending. And did you know that the path-breaking car chase sequence with Doyle pursuing a train (which was edited to the rhythm of Santana’s Black Magic Woman) was suggested by none other than Howard Hawks who told Friedkin that his “lousy” movies could do with it a good car chase.
Fiddler on the Roof
Fiddler on the Roof is the story of the travails of an early 20th–century milkman Tevye (Topol) who, lives in the town of Anatevka in pre-revolutionary Russia. The good-humoured, happy-go-lucky Tevye, who places his faith firmly in God and the mores of the Jewish diaspora, is forced into confronting deep-rooted prejudice against his race and progressivism . His thoughts and deeds, guided by tradition, must give way to while marrying off his 5 daughters.
The oscar-winning film was adapted by Norman Jewison from the broadway musical of the same name (music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) which was adapted from the works of the ‘Jewish Mark Twain’ Sholem Aleichem. The film won john Williams the first of his five Academy Awards (With his 45 nods he holds a record, for the highest number of nominations after Walt Disney)
The Last Picture Show
Set in the pre-Korean War era, the Peter Bogdanovich’s opus- an adaptation of Brokeback Mountain co-writer Larry McMurtry’s 1966 novel of the same name - was unconventionally shot- by the advice of none other than Orson Welles - in black and white, sans a musical score (aside of the snatches or Hank Williams songs on the airwaves). Taking a look at the existential side of Americana through the eyes of young Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) living in decrepit Anarene, Texas, the film elaborated on the social, cultural and moral decay of the one-horse town and its inhabitants. The reserved Sonny has his friendship with popular football jock Duane Jackson (a pre-dude Jeff Bridges) and innocence put to the test after he gets entangled with the wife of his high school coach coach Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) and Duane’s morally ambiguous girl Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) and her promiscuous mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn).Sonny and Duane are patrons of father figure Sam the Lion, played by western actor Ben Johnson, the owner of the eponymous show. The initially reluctant Johnson, who along with Leachman, won an Oscar for the film was roped in by the legendary John Ford who told him "Do you want to be the Duke's sidekick forever?". Bogdanovich helmed an unsuccessful sequel to the coming-of-age drama titled Texasville in 1990 which revisited the characters, in colours this time.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Gene Wilder, as the titular confectioner, proves that the candy man can in Mel Stuart’s sugarcoated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory about a boy, his dreams, an eccentric chocolate maker and his factory of wonders.
The film saw impoverished Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum, now a veterinarian, in his sole film role) getting his hands on an elusive golden ticket, concealed by the enigmatic Wonka in five candy bars, holding for bearers the chance to win an endless supply of chocolate. While the other golden ticket holders – a spoiled rotten Brit, ill-mannered Americans and a gluttonous German and their equally repulsive and greedy parents despise their tour guide, the dodgy Wonka , his even dodgier contraptions and his hordes green-haired, orange skinned Oompa Loompas, the audience .like Charlie, are on the ride of their lives. Though the film was a commercial failure and Dahl wiped his hands of it, it aged well, holding thrills for adults and kids alike with its humour and zaniness.
A Clockwork Orange
Does the State justified impinging using conditioning to impinge upon the freewill of an individual prone to mindless acts of sexual violence, classical musical and bowler hats? Stanley Kubrick, in his adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 political satire (with, ironically, Christian themes) A Clockwork Orange, stirred up moral panic with the on-screen exploits of the Nadsdat speaking Alex De large and his bloodthirsty droogs against the unsuspecting citizens of dystopian London. Malcolm McDowell’s gleefully portrayal of the psychotic hoodlum, who is reduced to guinea pig for controversial aversion therapy, earned him his place in pop culture history, inspiring among other things Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight.
With its liberal use of Slavic words, pitch black humour and, above all, gut-wrenchingly brutal imagery- some of it sexual-, the film evoked lukewarm reactions from distinguished critics Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael who accused Kubrick of portraying the “attacked less human than their attackers, so you feel no sympathy for them” among other things.
George Lucas, way before the jedis, sith lords and wookies, took viewers to a world where totalitarianism surpasses the Orwellian with mysterious mechanical overlords plying the bald-headed populace with will-bending drugs, forcing them to toil endlessly. THX (Robert Duvall) is an android factory worker among millions who are known only by their assigned numbers attain catharsis by confiding in a state-instituted deity (a reproduction of Hans Memling's Christ Giving His Blessing). After his mate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) weans them of emotion suppressants, they develop a sexual relationship, an illegal activity, the first in their rebellion.
Crisp cinematography, making innovative use of white space, conveyed the terrifying claustrophobia of THX 1138’s world.
Harold and Maude
‘If you want to sing out, sing out’ was the message of Hal Ashby’s cult film by which undoubtedly inspired the films of Wes Anderson. The film centres around the ghoulish exploits of 17 year-old Harold Chasen (Bud Cort), born with in spite of being born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth is in an unconscious existential quest for meaning.
Harold feigns gruesome suicides, and attends random funerals where he meets the septuagenarian holocaust survivor, activist and kook Maude Chardin (Ruth Gordon), who shows him how his existence can be enriched and meaning attained. With the stunning cinematography of John A Alonzo (China Town, Scarface) and Cat Stevens’s soundtrack that put into music the film’s ideology, Harold and Maude is frequently cited as one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time. (Oh yes, irrespective of the age difference, the relationship between the two matures into a non-platonic one)
Play Misty For Me
Not exactly the sneering tough guy, in the first of 32 films directed by himself, Clint Eastwood is a poetry-reciting disc jockey Dave Garver who works in the windy seaside town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Garver finds himself wooed by the mentally unbalanced Evelyn Draper played by Jessica Walter better known for her role as in Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development.
The atmospheric thriller with its hitchcockian elements garnered good reviews, and not only set the stage for your everyday stalker movie but for Eastwood as a helmer.
With his trusty .44 Magnum and consequentialist approach to law enforcement, San Francisco Police Department Inspector Harry Callahan, the original loose canon cop, as the film’s tagline goes, doesn’t break murder cases, he smashes them. Like the French Connection, the film humanised the police with Harry getting the Dirty tag because he takes any job be preventing a suicide, foiling a robbery or taking on a sniper rifle-toting psychopath based on the dastardly Zodiac killer. While Andrew Robinson’s performance as ‘Scorpio’ got him death threats in real life, one might argue that the film’s real villain was the sympathetic judicial system that favoured the rights of crocodile-tears shedding criminals over those of his victims.
Though liberals, feminists and critics decrying fascism rose up in arms against Harry’s methods, the 4 sequels that followed in 1973 (Magnum Force), 1976 (The Enforcer), 1983 (Sudden Impact) and in 1988 (The Dead Pool), proved as with the case of Popeye Doyle, the audience’s sympathies lay with the character’s singular pursuit for securing justice rather than his more contentious facets.
Easing of norms related to the depiction of violence wasn’t the only noticeable feature of the cinema of 1971 what with the sexual revolution in full swing. Written by the Pulitzer prize winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award-winning director Mike Nichols wordy drama follows the sexual escapades of experienced, misogynistic Jonathon (Jack Nicholson) and the sensitive Sandy (Art Garfunkel, one half of the famous group who provided the soundtrack for Nichol’s acclaimed 1967 film The Graduate) from college days in the 1940s to middle age. The charismatic Nicholson as the chauvinist stealthily steals Sandy’s first true love Susan (Candice Bergen) while gradually moving on to the vulnerable, TV model Bobbie (Ann-Margret, who received an Oscar nomination for her role). Carnal Knowledge with it witty dialogues, base locker-room talk and uncomfortable confrontations is an exploration into the destructive nature of immature machismo. The film —the first with an onscreen depiction of a condom-- also delves into how changing sexual mores undermine relationships and happiness, somewhat.
With Isaac Hayes’s wah-wah heavy funk theme winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song Shaft was a more mainstream example of the blaxploitation genre than Melvin Van Peebles groundbreaking Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, a successful albeit controversial independent film that came out in 1971. Shaft, directed by poet, photographer, writer and musician Gordon Parks, helped spawn the genre featuring headstrong African Americans in lead roles, sticking it to the system. A detective story at heart, the film saw the street smart ‘private dick’ John Shaft (Richard Roundtree), in a film noir-styled escapade to bring back the kidnapped daughter of a black criminal.
After his infamously brutal western 1969 The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah set his audiences squirming in their seats with the sexual violence of Straw Dogs whose title comes from a Lao Tzu quote ‘Heaven and Earth are heartless / treating creatures like straw dogs’.
The film saw a bespectacled Dustin Hoffman as the timid, but condescending David Sumner, an American mathematics professor who along with his young wife Amy (Susan George) shifts to Cornwall. Based on the Scottish author Gordon Williams’s The Siege of Trencher's Farm, tension builds up in both the couple’s private lives and in their interactions with the locals of the village who, to put it mildly, don’t see eye to eye with them.
Peckinpah’s terse narrative on masculinity, innocence and morality was criticised for its purportedly desensitising portrayal of rape and its violence.