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A year in Hollywood


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Wonderful piece, Jlewis!

 

That photo though of Russ Meyer is so entertaining to me, since I have a mentally unsound sense of humor.

If I didn't know better I would think it is Ernie Kovacs in the Garden of Eden directing a Dutch Masters commercial.

 

Don't ask where the cigar is!

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Russ Meyer was an odd one. He was among the first to break some taboos with his 1959 hit THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS, the first of the "nudie cuties" made after a landmark federal court decision that allowed a wider distribution of nudist "fun in the sun" documentaries. In the fifties, nudity wasn't judged obscene as long as it was presented in good taste (even though the Hollywood establishment still wasn't about to go there just yet). In a future post on 1972, I'll get into the federal government questioning all of the newer material that involved MORE than just "fun in the sun".

 

Yet Meyer wasn't all that into "hard core", focusing strictly on bare bosoms and bottoms (like he covered as a Playboy photographer in the fifties) and all of his actresses were rather masculine and aggressive in their temperament. Famous feminists like Gloria Steinem were more amused by him than bothered. The stars in BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS are strong-minded rock stars who can easily overtake any man who stands in their way.

 

In my opinion, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is not a particular good movie, but it has plenty of camp appeal. It reminds me a lot of an earlier Fox feature, THE BIBLE... IN THE BEGINNING. Don't ask me why. Ha ha! One thing I find rather interesting is how much exposure it got in 1970 periodicals, particularly LIFE, TIME and other popular magazines we still read today in back issues (found in your attic, ebay or the antique store). I think it got more press attention than PATTON. Perhaps because, despite its X-rating, it really wasn't considered all that distasteful at the time. It was a mainstream "adult" movie that the media could embrace. Society had a stronger stomach for violence then; the violent scenes leave a bad aftertaste for me.

 

I must confess that I never thought MYRA BRECKINRIDGE was that bad. I actually favor it over the other. Obviously America was more homophobic back then, since so much of the shock value isn't shocking today. The most notorious scene that had people walking out of the theaters involved Raquel Welch's Myra *taking over* poor Roger Heren's Dusty in her (or is it his?) doctor's office. Yet the whole scene is so peculiar and oddly funny in how it is staged. Also Dusty is not in any pain at the end of it, while Myra is totally exhausted! In any case, both Raquel and Mae West are absolutely hilarious in all of their dialogue. The film is just plain... you know... weird. Funny, but weird.

 

This is the only post in which I brought up James Broughton, but I think he is worth further discussion on this forum. If TCM was more comfortable with nudity (and they do show some on occasion), his films could potentially get a retrospective just like other experimental filmmakers given attention over the years. Heck, they covered most of David Lynch's stuff with no hassle. If you are not too judgmental of Broughton's life choices (he left his wife and children for a male lover much younger than him in 1975, a very daring thing to do at the time), you should enjoy the excellent documentary from Kino, BIG JOY (2013).  It gives an excellent overview of the beat poetry movement and experimental cinema from the 1940s through the '80s. I knew very little about him before watching it, but must confess that he was one very fascinating man who was decades ahead of his time. Also despite what he did to his family, they got over it to a degree and his ex-wife and son are interviewed along with Joel Singer, the man who was committed to him until his death.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1971

 

Part 1: Reflection time

 

With Darryl Zanuck departing from 20th Century Fox in May as the last of the old-time moguls and the studio selling a lot of memorabilia, just as MGM had the previous year, Hollywood was now going through a period of self reflection. With the ongoing Vietnam War (not helped by the publication of the Pentagon Papers), student and racial unrest across the country and an overall distrust in the direction the country was going, many were longing for more innocent times. This was reflected in all of the nostalgia the studio auctions generated and would result in an increase in “way back when” storylines during the next few years.

 

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On PBS, Orson Welles hosted (with Lillian Gish covering a few years later) a series called THE SILENT YEARS that gave new life on the small screen to films more-often-than-not stuck, by this time, to illustrations in books. Dick Cavett was bringing on as many old time stars to his talk show as possible, taking trips down memory lane. At the top of the Quigley box-office lists, aging John Wayne once again toppled still young buck Paul Newman as the most bankable draw... at least for this year.

 

Nostalgia was a major selling point in this year's releases. Warner Brother's biggest hit was SUMMER OF '42, with the cast looking more like they were living in 1970 (year filmed) instead of World War II, but still incorporating foggy (fittingly nostalgic) cinematography of Nantucket, first time sex in an era before the Kinsey reports educated the masses and even Bette Davis' NOW VOYAGER was paid a tribute. Key lines in its closing written by Herman Raucher summed up its appeal, especially with the older crowd:

 

“We were different then. Kids were different. It took us longer to understand what we felt. Life is made up of small comings and goings and, for everything we take with us, there is something that we leave behind.”

 

… and there was plenty to leave behind and it was taking equally long for the teenagers to understand their feelings in the dying Texas town of 1951-52, even if they were more promiscuous in their carnal pursuits than the Massachusetts teens of '42. Peter Bogdonovich's THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (a hit for Columbia) was shot in black and white and some viewers at the time speculated it was a sly dig at the teenagers of '71 escaping the unpleasant realities and uncertain future by just enjoying the pleasures of sex and Hank Williams (or rock & roll). Nonetheless, John Wayne (the top star of 1971) still got a cameo in a film-within-a-film: RED RIVER was shown in the title's locale.

 

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The independent Cinema 5 handled the distribution for the year's Best Foreign Language Oscar Winner (2nd for the Italians in a row), IL GIARDINO DEI FINZI CONTINI (THE GARDEN OF FINTZI-CONTINIS). It was directed by an old familiar of the Italian film industry, Vittorio de Sica of THE BICYCLE THIEF fame. Although released overseas in late 1970, it was a perfect companion piece to America's '71 line-up. Set in the years 1938-43 in the sleepy town of Ferrara, it featured two Jewish families, one wealthy and one working class, managing to delay their untimely fate thanks to a more-disorganized-than-Hitler Mussolini regime. Inevitably, however, they would lose all they had worked hard for in life. The wealthy young Micol (Dominique Sanda), losing her brother to a fatal illness and practically barricading herself in her bedroom with comforting Tommy Dorsey records, was yet another example of youth seeking escape from unpleasant surroundings. Her most ardent admirer Giorgio (Lino Capolicchio) only narrowly escapes being rounded up himself because he still can't stray too far away from her.

 

1971 was all about holding on to what you were about to lose.

 

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A Year In Hollywood: 1971

 

Part 2: Ethnic to a core

 

The Italians were once again dominating American screens at this time. Ever seeking a new look and new market, Hollywood once again turned its attention to Europe, since foreign-language imports were often doing better at the box-office. Three other imports were successfully picked up states-side by major companies: Paramount handled distribution rights only for Bernardo Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST, Warner Bros. ditto covered Luchino Visconti's DEATH IN VENICE and United Artists found that Pier Paolo Pasolini's DECAMERON was a glossier Rated X production than the competition (despite requiring a ton of cuts before opening in suburbia). Distinctive cinematography styles, often favoring natural light over studio kegs, were key selling points, with THE CONFORMIST adding garish color filters just as the above mentioned FINTZI CONTINIS incorporated a slight haze and a very moody score, much like the contemporary SUMMER OF '42.

 

Paramount, which scored big in the sixties with the Brit-Italeo ROMEO AND JULIET (and especially its best-selling score by Nino Rita) was, under wunderkind Robert Evans, feeling the Italian “bug”, but favoring something more Italian-American this time or, as Evans put it, “ethnic to a core”. Mario Puzo's novel THE GODFATHER was purchased at a rock bottom price before it was even completed and published. When it jumped to the top of the best seller charts, Paramount suddenly realized it had a gold mine, then got skittish when another mafia-oriented gangster pic, THE BROTHERHOOD, flopped. Once Francis Ford Coppola signed on as director after hit-and-miss work at rival Warner Bros. (thinking at least he'd be cheap), a tug-of-war began as the studio wanted to keep it under 2 million in costs, film it mostly in Kansas City and use box-office star Ryan O'Neal.

 

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Fortunately for Coppola, Robert Evans just happened to be in a good mood since his lovely wife had recently scored big saying “love means never saying you're sorry”. There might be some compromising here: if filming went smoothly (as it did, starting in March 1971), he was willing to fork over, say, 6 to 8 million and allow filming in New York City and Sicily to add authenticity. Coppola was also allowed to cast whomever he wanted, including a troublesome Marlon Brando who managed to win over Gulf & Western (Paramount's parent company) president Charles Bluhdorn after a screen test. (Of course, Nino must still score it so they could sell music, mind you.)

 

Rival company 20th Century Fox got burnt investing in too many elephants at once, but Evans and Paramount had a new strategy. Spend a fortune on ONE epic (maybe two or three) and keep the costs down looooow on practically everything else. Also who is to say that HAROLD AND MAUDE can't also do well at the box-office?

 

Although UA's FIDDLER ON THE ROOF was a success with all ages (also reflecting the ongoing theme of the year: trying to hold on to what you are about to lose), audiences were hardly rushing to see other musicals like BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Fortunately both would later be cult favorites on TV, earning back their budget multi-fold when the times changed. The former was produced by the Disney company, but they were getting tired of dealing in movies by this stage.

 

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Walt Disney World opened in Orlando, Florida that October to mammoth lines. Merchandising, not movies, was representing much of the Disney company's revenue. After the death of Roy Disney (older brother of Walt and the one mostly in charge in the past five years), the seventies would essentially be Disney's economical “B” decade for theatrical entertainment. Fantasy's sense of wonder would be left for others to take on, like a future George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (making his TV movie THE DUEL this year).

 

Although Disneyland in California (opened in 1955) had featured its nostalgic Main Street representing a simpler time, much of its appeal back then came from Tomorrowland's rockets of the future and state-of-the-art rides. The opening of Florida's resort had a very different tone, exemplified by Glenn Campbell and Julie Andrews' introspective musical performances at the start of the TV broadcast promotions. EPCOT, the futuristic theme park, was still in its planning stages, but this park was essentially a copy of all that fans of the California park liked the most and were most comfortably familiar with.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1971

 

Part 3: Blaxploitation and boys in the sand

 

Aside from the occasional “revisionist” western success like Robert Altman's McCABE AND MRS. MILLER, urban crime dramas of all types had pretty much replaced the cowboy western as the most popular storyline set-up. Fox didn't expect THE FRENCH CONNECTION to do so well and neither did Warner Bros. with Don Siegel's DIRTY HARRY starring Clint Eastwood. Film moguls were always more comfortable getting an R or X rating for bloodshed than for naked body parts, which is why the controversy over Stanley Kubrick's British-made A CLOCKWORK ORANGE helped rather than hindered box-office receipts. (Note to Coppola: it is OK to use the scene with the horse's head. Audiences will eat it up!)

 

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A cash-strapped MGM enjoyed an unexpected success with the cheaply made SHAFT riding on the coat-tails of the independently produced (and rated X) SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG with the burgeoning “blaxploitation” market. This was a market that civil rights advocates hardly supported since it suggested to moviegoers that black America was obsessed with guns. SHAFT wasn't criticized like others were, but, then again, Hollywood wasn't terribly interested in being socially correct if the money flows in.

 

One road picture that mixed the hippy culture of EASY RIDER with guns, a fairly typical hybrid of this era, was 20th Century Fox's THE VANISHING. It received some criticism at the time for stereotyping two gay characters, much as some of the “blaxploitation” crime dramas were also being criticized. Likewise, MGM's Canadian production of FORTUNE IN MEN'S EYES was more mildly critiqued (since the play it was based on was well liked at the time) for repeating an over-used theme of past decades: that gay men and lesbians were more plentiful inside prison than out.

 

This was a key “coming out” period for movie screens, as a major attempt was made by a number of filmmakers in both America and Europe to overturn a lot of old stereotypes of yesteryear that didn't just involve race and ethnic culture, but also sexual orientation. It took a British filmmaker John Schlesinger to really push things along by using his previous clout with the Oscar winning MIDNIGHT COWBOY to get financial backing (again by United Artists) to make a triangular romance shown with no scorn and embarrassment by performers Peter Finch, Murray Head and Glenda Jackson. SUNDAY, BLOODY, SUNDAY was filmed the previous year, but released in America just one week after the second post-Stonewall pride parades (much smaller then than today).

 

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During that same summer, Bob Fosse was busy adapting the popular stage musical CABARET for early '72 release, this too had an unconventional triangular romance (although taking a much smaller part in the story than Schlesinger's film). Again, the setting of this film was in a “way back when” locale going through change: Germany of the early thirties as it was enjoying its last great era of openness and acceptance of all kinds of life experimentation before the arrival of a new government to suppress it all. While the earlier released stage-to-screen musical, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, emphasized more traditional customs disappearing in the wake of progress, both films carried a theme that any government preventing people to live the way that makes them happy (a.k.a. Russian suppression of Jews in the early 20th century and the rise of Nazism) was often bad.

 

Thus, the movie industry was always pushing the envelope, not so much to offend the prudish but, in their eyes, to try to change society for the better. Old customs were not always best no matter how rose-colored and nostalgic you may be for the past. Censorship continued to be in decline, but producers still had to be careful not to progress too far, too soon.

 

It was the gradual progression of gay rights that influenced a major turning point late in the year. On December 22nd, a little experimental film titled BOYS IN THE SAND was a surprise hit in New York City. Unlike last year's MONA, it got press attention with Variety and the New York Times for scenes of explicit sexual activity among its male cast that would have been banned and liable to police shut-downs only a year or two earlier. However director Wakefield Poole was pretty sly about incorporating cinematic artsy visuals and clever music in order to make this provocative material more aesthetically pleasing. Several celebrities attended showings with no shame.

 

This opened the year of 1972 to a new Pandora's Box that would introduce new names like Linda Lovelace and Gerald Damiano along with the Mitchell Brothers, test the censorship laws and even get the Supreme Court debating if the First Amendment should include what the puritans in this country call “utterly without socially redeeming value”.

 

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A Year In Hollywood: 1972

 

Part 1: Not exactly Ivory clean

 

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After BOYS IN THE SAND gingerly tested the waters at the start of the year, Gerald Damiano's DEEP THROAT (released in New York City in June) and the Mitchell brothers' BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR (released in San Francisco in December) pushed the envelope further in terms of what could be accepted in full frontal nudity and sexual activity on screen. Since these latter two films were mostly heterosexual (more tolerated by society at the time), they could afford to be less “artsy” and more “earthy” and matter-of-fact. Damiano's film was the huge moneymaker, attracting crowds of respectable citizens who attended theaters in broad daylight and prompted jokes in a few Bob Hope and Johnny Carson TV monologues. The second film created a ruckus in that it starred Marilyn Chambers, one of the most familiar faces in America thanks to all of the Procter & Gamble's Ivory Snow boxes she adorned as a model.

 

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Inevitably there would be a backlash. Two months after its release, a jury in New York argued whether or not DEEP THROAT should be considered “obscene”, with prosecutors attacking the Mature Theater that first showed it. Then more noise came out of Washington D.C.

 

It is important to backtrack a bit here. In early 1969, just after President Lyndon Johnson left the White House, the Supreme Court was finalizing the famous Stanley v. Georgia case, allowing American citizens for the first time the right to view whatever they wish in privacy. Concurrently the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography concluded that these topics of concern were not important social problems demanding federal policing. However, things had changed in the three years since the now tame-by-comparison Swedish import I AM CURIOUS, YELLOW caused havoc. Also this was an election year. President Richard Nixon and his personal appointee to the still investigating Commission, the ultra conservative Charles Keating, were also making some fuss. Nixon's most supportive voters, after all, tended to be more prudish than their Baby Boom children and their votes were needed in a year already troubled by Vietnam and a new scandal involving a hotel called Watergate (and amusingly leaked by an insider later dubbed “Deep Throat”).

 

Although not directly related, the ongoing Marvin Miller v. California case was being waged all year long in the Supreme Court, with a final verdict allowing individual state and local governments, not the feds, deciding what to ban as “obscene” since “obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment”. On October 19th, another theater playing DEEP THROAT was also in battle (Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton) because the previous Stanley v. Georgia case only applied to private homes and not public theaters.

 

This all had an interesting impact. Despite growing revenue, producers of this kind of entertainment were not always able to report it in public when the product was so controversial. With everything monitored along state lines, an actor like Harry Reems could potentially get arrested for “public indecency” simply because his starring film was shown in a more conservative state like Tennessee (as would happen two years later). On a positive note, most films of this new genre had more intricate plots and plenty of acting scenes with clothes on as well as off, just so the attorneys defending the producers could still argue in the name of art. (Only after the arrival of VHS in the '80s and Stanley v. Georgia being used more successfully in defense did so much of this genre lose its “art”... since it was no longer needed.)

 

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Not surprisingly, the Hollywood establishment left this controversial cottage industry mostly to the mavericks. Yet there was some experimentation within boundaries that could be tolerated. That fall at the New York Film Festival, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci tested censorship for a mainstream European import titled LAST TANGO IN PARIS, featuring a middle-aged Marlon Brando, riding high on his success in THE GODFATHER and seen au naturel. Like the younger generation, his character was seeking escape in carnal pursuits. However, when United Artists took over its distribution, tension increased between the team of Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin and the mother-company Transamerica, which requested that its name get removed from the credits.

 

Ralph Bakshi, a mainstream animation director who previously worked on kid-oriented “Terrytoons” (20th Century Fox) and “Go-Go Toons” (Paramount) for theatrical screens and TV, did especially well with FRITZ THE CAT which the MPAA awarded either an R or X rating depending on where it was distributed. In an earlier, more family friendly, animated short subject titled MARVIN DIGS (1967), Bakshi ridiculed the uptight elder generation over the care-free hippy generation, but here he looked at the hippy generation with more skepticism. This feline was a cartoon version of the teenagers in last year's THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and SUMMER OF '42, but suffering from overdrive:

 

All the stuff to see and all the kicks... and all the girls that are out there! And ME a writer! And a poet who should be having adventures and experience all of the diversities and paradoxes and ironies of life! And passing all of the roads of the world! And digging all the cities and towns and rivers and oceans. And makin' all them chicks.” Only after prompting an actual fire with his inner “fire” does Fritz question: “What have I done? I set all of my books and notes and stuff on fire. Now I can't study for my exams. Now I will flunk out and my folks will be p***ed off as hell. I'll get a blanket... oh no, the blanket's on fire...

 

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A Year In Hollywood: 1972

 

Part 2: Fear brings 'em in

 

More horror features were released in the United States in 1972 than in any previous year, as this genre rivaled the cop shoot 'em up as the “go-to” B-budget genre that guaranteed easy profits. These ranged from silly environmental disasters like FROGS and NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (gigantic bunnies on the rampage, later ripe for ridicule by the Monty Python troop on the other side of the Atlantic) to the first official wave of splatter films (over 20 releases this year had the word “blood” in their titles). Even Orson Welles wound up in one, NECRO-MANCY, and teenage Michael Jackson scored an Oscar nomination for another, BEN. John Boorman's DELIVERANCE was a horror film (of sorts) made for sports oriented all-American Caucasian males, as if that particular demographic had much to fear in real life compared to everybody else.

 

Warner Brothers decided to take on a gamble, mixing horror with religion on a much larger budget, by adapting William Peter Blatty's bestselling THE EXORCIST. Filming began on August 14th under the direction of William Friedkin. Now that Ken Russell's THE DEVILS was out of the way the previous year, they had little to lose.

 

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While the year was not all about pushing censorship boundaries, it was still a time of changing economics. Universal was among the last major studios to stop releasing theatrical short subjects along with their features at this time, ending a long running series of sports-reels, travelogues and Walter Lantz' Woody Woodpecker. Only United Artists continued for a few years longer with their DePatie-Freleng cartoons featuring the Pink Panther and Blue Racer. Theaters contented themselves with occasional independently produced shorts, especially imports from the National Film Board of Canada. Columbia sometimes reissued their 16mm Learning Corporation of America made-for-school product to the bigger 35mm screens. Columbia's NORMAN ROCKWELL'S WORLD, AN AMERICAN DREAM would be the last major studio backed short subject to win an Oscar for a couple years.

 

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TV production was still essentially the backbone of the industry over theatrical features and shorts, as each studio added its own style. Warner Brothers was predictably focusing on action shows like THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO, KUNG FU and THE F.B.I., but also supporting Lorimar's nostalgic production of THE WALTONS. 20th Century Fox had a retooled and different-than-the-feature M*A*S*H with the right logic of fewer shows but higher quality attention. Columbia Screen Gems focused on sitcoms like THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY. MGM's MEDICAL CENTER continued where Dr. Kildare left off. Paramount, including its former Desilu properties, continued with more MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, BRADY BUNCH, MADDIX and THE ODD COUPLE. Universal featured more variety on the small screen than it did on the big one: MARCUS WELBY, COLUMBO, IRONSIDE and, in the tradition of its 30s and 40s spook fests, NIGHT GALLERY.

 

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TV was the last stronghold of Hollywood as the town itself no longer looked the same. The famous sign was in desperate need of repair. Fox had already bulldozed much of its back-lot, while MGM was using its own for the last time this year for actual movie-making. Columbia Pictures, which suffered its biggest losses in a two year delay after its rivals, moved out of Gower Street to become a new roommate with Warner Brothers. The WB shield came down as they merged as Burbank Studios.

 

Yet the era of grand spectacle was not completely gone. Since Universal had already scored two years back with AIRPORT, 20th Century Fox under president Gordon Stulberg spent a somewhat modest $4.5 million (just two-thirds the cost of Paramount's THE GODFATHER) on a sinking ship picture called THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and... lo and behold... this kind of expensive disaster film actually garnered profits.

 

As everybody knows, after every disaster, there's got to be a morning after... if we can hold on through the night.

 

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Just so you folks know, I won't spend this decade on just DEEP THROAT.

 

I will also cover HERBIE RIDES AGAIN, BENJI, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS, ANGEL AND BIG JOE, TO FLY! and THE MUPPET MOVIE, among others.

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Just so you folks know, I won't spend this decade on just DEEP THROAT.

 

I will also cover HERBIE RIDES AGAIN, BENJI, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS, ANGEL AND BIG JOE, TO FLY! and THE MUPPET MOVIE, among others.

I do hope you will do deep background reports on HERBIE RIDES AGAIN, BENJI, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS, ANGEL AND BIG JOE, TO FLY! and THE MUPPET MOVIE.

 

But no deep background on the Linda Lovelace film, please!

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Actually I didn't mention Linda at all in my post as I had promised. Sorry.

 

Yeah... *that film* DOES deserve a place in the history of Hollywood, but just for the year 1972. No, I won't get into the porno business here except in passing reference, although it WAS big business that decade and I DID warn earlier that we are no longer operating under the Production Code. The seventies was the decade of "anything goes".

 

1973 will focus on the Fisher Price Movie Viewer instead. I will probably post that year mid-week. This summer will be unpredictable for me so I need a good head start, moving this decade along.

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1973 will focus on the Fisher Price Movie Viewer instead. I will probably post that year mid-week. This summer will be unpredictable for me so I need a good head start, moving this decade along.

I think you've been doing a great job. Hope everyone's having as much fun reading your yearly summaries as I am..!

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I may be able to do the 1980s too although I am only 100% complete through 1981. Hopefully you can occasionally take time out your ambitious Features Of The Week projects so we can divvy up the years to finish the century. At least pick the years you like the most.

 

Sadly the history of Hollywood these last four decades has been about each major studio we have long cherished becoming a smaller and smaller sub-company of one bigger and bigger conglomerate. I think the eighties was more about what was happening on Wall Street than what was happening behind or in front of cameras.

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I may be able to do the 1980s too although I am only 100% complete through 1981. Hopefully you can occasionally take time out your ambitious Features Of The Week projects so we can divvy up the years to finish the century. At least pick the years you like the most.

 

Sadly the history of Hollywood these last four decades has been about each major studio we have long cherished becoming a smaller and smaller sub-company of one bigger and bigger conglomerate. I think the eighties was more about what was happening on Wall Street than what was happening behind or in front of cameras.

Well you can take a break after 1980, and then work on the other years of that decade. I am willing to do 1990 to 1999, since during four of those years I was in film school and went to various premieres when I was living in Los Angeles. So I know the product of those years pretty well.

 

We don't have to rush through this...

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A Year In Hollywood: 1973

 

Part 1: Hollywood on a budget

 

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One amusing little tidbit in the news reflected the times. According to the Desert Sun in a December 18th article, Nick Gazaxidas stopped traffic off California US 50 with Ben Hur's chariot led by two horses. This was a purchase he made at the MGM auction three years earlier. Reason? “Three days ago I couldn't find any gas stations open and I thought I had better do something.”

 

A “bear market” downturn at the start of the year, followed by an international oil crisis hitting in October, took a heavy toll on the United States and European economies, impacting a great many industries including the movie business. The top studios, which only represented roughly a third of the American made feature releases, were all scaling back even further in production than they did earlier when their own bubble burst in 1970. This even included scaling back TV production. Budgets were increasingly lower and sequels to established hits tried to tap every last drop of name recognition to maximum impact.

 

Therefore, there was a fifth installment of BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES making use of old costumes and a TV series was not far behind before the wear and tear of the ape masks was visible on screen. Roger Moore replaced Sean Connery for LIVE AND LET DIE but this 007 release was pretty much more of the same, except for an obvious attempt to cash in on the booming “blaxploitation” market with a more multi-racial cast (but not free from stereotypes). Phil Harris' voice was re-used for Little John, played by a bear, in Disney's panned-by-the-critics-but-loved-by-audiences ROBIN HOOD, after playing Thomas O'Malley, a same-sounding feline, in THE ARISTOCATS and yet another look-alike bear named Baloo in THE JUNGLE BOOK. Disney's highest hopes for '74 rested on the filming of HERBIE RIDES AGAIN, which, in turn, would prompt the West German film industry to take back their Volkswagen “Love Bug” Beetle with a series all their own.

 

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View Masters were much the rage in the seventies, with Joe Liptak's sculpture art showing as much “production” as the Disney feature it promoted.

 

Sometimes you don't need big production values, or even costumes, to score a hit. THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES did even better for Gerald Damiano than DEEP THROAT last year, despite the federal government restricting First Amendment rights this year and limiting its release nationwide. The editors of Variety were debating whether or not to include it among their Top Ten of the year. Meanwhile, mainstream Hollywood was also going through a somewhat frisky period as well, as seen by the provocative (but still staged and edited to effect) scenes involving Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in Nicholas Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW. However things would get more chaste and subdued as the decade progressed.

 

There was also a stronger than ever demand for foreign imports, either dubbed or with subtitles, to help prevent theaters from shutting down due to a decline in home-grown product. In this new environment of making the maximum on smaller means, arrived the kung fu action-er from Hong Kong, particularly from the Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest studios. Bruce Lee was born in California, but became famous to most Americans in such imports brought to America such as THE BIG BOSS. Warner Brothers, which already backed a popular TV series called KUNG FU with David Carradine on ABC, spent a modest $850, 000 on a feature starring Lee called ENTER THE DRAGON, which has since grossed well over $21 million.

 

enter_the_dragon_poster_005_0.jpg

 

Sadly, the star died at age 32, one week before its release, on July 20th, something that echoed Warner Brothers' earlier posthumous success with James Dean's REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE back in 1955. Needless-to-say, the summer of 1973 was one rough summer for movie fans as Betty Grable, Joe E. Brown, Veronica Lake, Robert Ryan, Lon Chaney Jr., Jack Hawkins and John Ford were just a few big names passing away within just two months time.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1973

 

Part 2: New directions

 

48317-westworld.jpg

 

MGM put out an unusual mix of western and science fiction called WESTWORLD. This marked the first major attention-getting use of digital image processing: a new use of computers with camera work that would increase dramatically in later decades. (Film itself would ultimately “go digital” by the close of the century.) Computer generated imagery was starting to appear in many animated cartoons, particularly those made as commercials on TV. Produced this year (and released in '74) was Peter Foldes' HUNGER, made for the National Film Board of Canada with the help of the National Research Council's Division of Radio and Electrical Engineering Data Systems Group.

 

With Disney making more money in its two Magic Kingdoms in California and Florida than with its own reduced film and TV production and Universal's Tours in sunny Burbank evolving into an entertainment hot-spot of its own, MGM's Kirk Kerkorian decided that real estate and resort ventures should also take top priority over theatrical entertainment. In December, the MGM Grand Hotel opened as the largest of its kind (practically) in Las Vegas to record business (considering how bad the economy was).

 

mgm-sergio-marquee.jpg

 

With this shifting of focus, MGM was no longer distributing its own movies (with United Artists taking over in the United States) and production was slashed to barely five features a year. Bulldozers were ready to demolish large portions of the Culver City back lot despite opposition from veterans like Debbie Reynolds, among others, who thought they could have built a “Disneyland” with all of the memorable sets. (Not all would be destroyed. Lorimar would use some standing sets for TV shows later.) Filming began late in the year on THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! as a “farewell valentine” to the old back lot before it became history. Nick Gazaxidas, of course, still owned Ben's chariot, even if it had technically been used by MGM at Cinecittà instead of Culver City.

 

Two names that could potentially bring back some of the luster of yesteryear despite the new realities were Richard Zanuck and David Brown, the former famously being sacked by his father at 20th Century Fox late in 1970. In April 1972, they launched their own production company releasing through Universal and finally hit this year with THE STING, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Directing the two as he had previously in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID was George Roy Hill. Another director brought into their fold was a young Steven Spielberg, hard at work on SUGARLAND EXPRESS, which unfortunately didn't succeed nearly as well when released the following year.

 

Yet we will be hearing more about Spielberg in subsequent years, along with George Lucas, who filmed AMERICAN GRAFFITI in the summer of 1972 for a rock bottom $777,000, opened it the following August and hoped it simply would overcome its production costs, little expecting its gargantuan success. This was another product of the early seventies nostalgia boom (with its setting “ten years ago” in 1962 before Vietnam and Watergate and a much less jaded America) and paralleling the success of Rastar-Columbia's THE WAY WE WERE, set decades earlier with big names Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. American movie goers definitely needed an escape into what was most familiar and comforting to them.

 

MTM1MTgzMDMzMTc0MTA0NTQy.jpg

 

Lucas had big plans to give them just the right kind of escapist entertainment, provided he could find the right company to support him. In 1971, United Artists seemed supportive of a two-picture deal with Lucas that also initially involved AMERICAN GRAFFITI, but Universal wound up helping him get that picture done. Later Universal considered his preliminary draft on a youthfully spirited science fiction of the Flash Gordon variety “a little strange”. In June 1973. Alan Ladd Jr, now in charge of 20th Century Fox decided... “hmmm, maybe.” It would still be another two years and ten months before filming began on this space ship version of Akira Kurosawa's HIDDEN FORTRESS complete with robots.

 

Such was the saga of Hollywood suffering from the “bear market”. Plan to spend many years just trying to get your picture to the screenplay stage. Unless, of course, it is another Planet of the Apes sequel.

 

Although VHS, DVDs and the internet were still well into the future, the kiddies of Generation X were blessed with their own movies in 1973: courtesy of Fisher-Price. If you remember these, you are obviously NEITHER a Baby Boomer or a Baby Boomer's kid a.k.a. a Millennial.

 

 

 

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A Year In Hollywood: 1973

 

Part 2: New directions

 

48317-westworld.jpg

 

MGM put out an unusual mix of western and science fiction called WESTWORLD. This marked the first major attention-getting use of digital image processing: a new use of computers with camera work that would increase dramatically in later decades. (Film itself would ultimately “go digital” by the close of the century.) Computer generated imagery was starting to appear in many animated cartoons, particularly those made as commercials on TV. Produced this year (and released in '74) was Peter Foldes' HUNGER, made for the National Film Board of Canada with the help of the National Research Council's Division of Radio and Electrical Engineering Data Systems Group.

 

With Disney making more money in its two Magic Kingdoms in California and Florida than with its own reduced film and TV production and Universal's Tours in sunny Burbank evolving into an entertainment hot-spot of its own, MGM's Kirk Kerkorian decided that real estate and resort ventures should also take top priority over theatrical entertainment. In December, the MGM Grand Hotel opened as the largest of its kind (practically) in Las Vegas to record business (considering how bad the economy was).

 

mgm-sergio-marquee.jpg

 

With this shifting of focus, MGM was no longer distributing its own movies (with United Artists taking over in the United States) and production was slashed to barely five features a year. Bulldozers were ready to demolish large portions of the Culver City back lot despite opposition from veterans like Debbie Reynolds, among others, who thought they could have built a “Disneyland” with all of the memorable sets. (Not all would be destroyed. Lorimar would use some standing sets for TV shows later.) Filming began late in the year on THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! as a “farewell valentine” to the old back lot before it became history. Nick Gazaxidas, of course, still owned Ben's chariot, even if it had technically been used by MGM at Cinecittà instead of Culver City.

 

Two names that could potentially bring back some of the luster of yesteryear despite the new realities were Richard Zanuck and David Brown, the former famously being sacked by his father at 20th Century Fox late in 1970. In April 1972, they launched their own production company releasing through Universal and finally hit this year with THE STING, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Directing the two as he had previously in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID was George Roy Hill. Another director brought into their fold was a young Steven Spielberg, hard at work on SUGARLAND EXPRESS, which unfortunately didn't succeed nearly as well when released the following year.

 

Yet we will be hearing more about Spielberg in subsequent years, along with George Lucas, who filmed AMERICAN GRAFFITI in the summer of 1972 for a rock bottom $777,000, opened it the following August and hoped it simply would overcome its production costs, little expecting its gargantuan success. This was another product of the early seventies nostalgia boom (with its setting “ten years ago” in 1962 before Vietnam and Watergate and a much less jaded America) and paralleling the success of Rastar-Columbia's THE WAY WE WERE, set decades earlier with big names Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. American movie goers definitely needed an escape into what was most familiar and comforting to them.

 

MTM1MTgzMDMzMTc0MTA0NTQy.jpg

 

Lucas had big plans to give them just the right kind of escapist entertainment, provided he could find the right company to support him. In 1971, United Artists seemed supportive of a two-picture deal with Lucas that also initially involved AMERICAN GRAFFITI, but Universal wound up helping him get that picture done. Later Universal considered his preliminary draft on a youthfully spirited science fiction of the Flash Gordon variety “a little strange”. In June 1973. Alan Ladd Jr, now in charge of 20th Century Fox decided... “hmmm, maybe.” It would still be another two years and ten months before filming began on this space ship version of Akira Kurosawa's HIDDEN FORTRESS complete with robots.

 

Such was the saga of Hollywood suffering from the “bear market”. Plan to spend many years just trying to get your picture to the screenplay stage. Unless, of course, it is another Planet of the Apes sequel.

 

Although VHS, DVDs and the internet were still well into the future, the kiddies of Generation X were blessed with their own movies in 1973: courtesy of Fisher-Price. If you remember these, you are obviously NEITHER a Baby Boomer or a Baby Boomer's kid a.k.a. a Millennial.

 

 

Reading this informative depiction of Hollywood was like being there!

 

Thanks for the great picture of Mel's Drive-In with Lucas.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1974

 

Part 1… and now to divulge the contents of this year's most important envelope is a very important contributor to world entertainment...

 

oscars-streaker.jpg

 

The seventies was, like the fifties, the decade of the one-year “fad”. From lava lamps and water beds to public streaking (and even David Niven at the spring Oscars was not immune to that one), Hollywood reflected the changing times by coasting on one trend one year and then dropping it the next. Biker/hot-rod road pictures were the rage of 1970-71, followed and replaced by “blaxploitation”, then Bruce Lee and Kung Fu by 1973. Now the novelty was falling buildings and the ground shaking under your feet.

 

Irwin Allen, who had given 20th Century Fox its biggest moneymaker so far in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, managed to get two studios, Fox again with Warner Brothers, to co-finance THE TOWERING INFERNO with its star-studded cast. (Not just Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, but Fred Astaire and O.J. Simpson too!) Not to be outdone, Universal had two back to back disasters in a row: EARTHQUAKE had poor Ava Gardner shaking along with Charlton Heston. Then AIRPORT 1975 brought back Heston again, declaring “Damn! Break pressure's dropping!” and Gloria Swanson re-packing her hand bag when she realizes this is no ordinary flight: “To hell with the jewelry. Let's put my book in here.”

 

towermodel.jpg

Ahhh... but looks can be deceptive. That towering inferno isn't that big, is it?

 

Since Universal was on a roll, they were spending more than usual on a troubled production by the Richard Zanuck and David Brown team with Steven Spielberg directing in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. This one involved a shark named Bruce, who would bring the disaster epic to a whole new level the following year. It appeared that 1974 was a year when budgets were gradually... if very gradually... increasing and there was a strive towards something new rather than something re-hashed (as evident on the economically strapped screens of the previous year).

 

steven-spielberg-jaws.jpg?w=670&h=377&cr

 

Brown and Zanuck on both sides of young Spielberg filming JAWS in 1974.

 

Paramount probably boasted the glossiest productions during this year as it gradually moved away from its one-or-two risks backed by multiple Bs as backup strategy towards a gradual increase in more and more A budget productions depending on who was involved. While Francis Ford Coppola's THE CONVERSATION (started in 1972) was better received by critics than audiences and THE GREAT GATSBY (filmed last year) was considered slightly overdone, he bounced back with the next Best Picture Oscar winner in THE GODFATHER PART II. At first, there was some reluctance to the use of Roman numerals and literally recycling a past hit title, but this tactic would quickly become the norm with other hits like Warner's THE EXORCIST following suit in their own sequel “franchises”. Released earlier in the year, Roman Polanski's CHINATOWN was a revisit to ol' Los Angeles of the thirties (and its dark side) and capitalizing on the box office clout of Jack Nicholson, the new kind of anti-star that dominated screens in this period as a contrast to the handsome faces like Robert Redford (though still currently number one at the box-office).

 

1468679918-061-coppola-tribe-theredlist.

 

...on the set of THE second GODFATHER.

 

However, the young mogul behind these hits, Robert Evans, was ready for a change. He wanted greater personal control than he had as a studio head and needed to try his luck as a producer. Richard Sylbert replaced him, but his tenure wouldn't last very long. After the great bumper crop of nineteen seventy-four, Paramount would go through a transitional period before it once again found its mojo with the Killer Dillers (upcoming posts).

 

Mel Brooks and his Crossbow company enjoyed a mini-franchise all his own spanning several studios as he was attempting a return to the screwball comedy. BLAZING SADDLES was a runaway hit for Warner early in the year, spoofing the western genre. It was followed by Fox's YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN paying homage to Universal's black and white films. Brooks seemed to tap in well with the very eccentric tastes of the era, since seventies audiences did not like the all-too familiar slapstick of yesteryear. The humor had to be more verbal and cynical. Both releases wound up in Variety's top ten of the year. His British counterparts in popularity were the Monty Python crew, busy filming THE HOLY GRAIL across the Atlantic in a very anti-authority style.

 

However comedy was still a hard sell when so many in the early seventies lacked a sense of humor.

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