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A Year In Hollywood: 1974

 

Part 2: the Solemn Seventies

 

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This was the peak period of the solemn-faced white middle aged male who must take the law into his own hands. The downfall of the Nixon presidency and the struggling economy, along with the uncomfortable (only to those used to traditional norms) rise of women's liberation, prompted a fantasy among struggling working class males for The Guy Who Takes No Gruff With His Gun. Charles Bronson skyrocketed in popularity with DEATH WISH. A while back, Tom Laughlin's BILLY JACK prompted Roger Ebert to ask “Billy Jack seems to be saying that a gun is better than a constitution in the enforcement of justice. Is democracy totally obsolete, then?”. It's sequel, titled THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK, was panned by the critics (and later a favorite “turkey” of Michael Medved), but Warner Brothers was crying all the way to the bank. Warner Brothers wasn't exactly crying at all right now, since half of “make my day” Clint Eastwood's biggest hits, transplanting the spaghetti western to the city streets of lawlessness, were released under its banner.

 

In contrast, for a couple years in the seventies starting with Elaine May's successful THE HEARTBREAK KID in 1972, pictures made for and by women became quite commonplace. Although directed by a man, Martin Scorsese, ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE scored a Best Actress Oscar for Ellen Burstyn and later spawned a TV series with a very independent-minded female role that was not so common in previous years. Part of this was due to the burgeoning women's rights movement having its impact, but more importantly because Hollywood was going through a confusing transitional period in the seventies not unlike the teens. These were periods when women had more opportunities in screenwriting, acting and direction than other times because the industry was trying to figure out what “sticks”. Once there was a stronger focus on what could make money, Hollywood would once again be male-dominated.

 

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Documentary films were popular this decade, but often getting into hot water since many Americans were not feeling terribly neutral minded. The most polarizing of this year's crop was HEARTS AND MINDS, directed by Peter Davis and covering the still unfinished Vietnam War. Predictably, it was a hit with the French at Cannes and predictably was attacked ferociously on this side of the Atlantic for being way too biased in temperament (and, not surprisingly, inspiring Michael Moore to be equally combative regarding the Bush administration's war tactics three decades later). Because it was so discussed by the media and this transmitted into ticket sales, producers Bert Schneider and Henry Jaglom were in a legal battle with a completely paranoid Columbia Pictures initially supporting and then withdrawing very abruptly. This studio was much more comfortable taking on politics with gentle smirking; Hal Ashby's SHAMPOO was filming this year and it was much softer on Nixon and Vietnam. However Warner Brothers knew there was still money to be made and took the tab the following year when it got Oscar nominated (and later winning to much outrage in Tinsel Town since the folks involved decided to make a speech on TV).

 

Meanwhile, outside the Big Eight studios, the less controversial Roger Corman and his reorganized New World was catering to the still plentiful double-bill showings and drive-inns with a string of modest youth oriented product like BIG BAD MAMA, with Angie Dickinson, and CAGED HEAT. Currently filming for next year was DEATH RACE 2000, directed by Paul Bartel with established TV star David Carradine and a still unfamiliar Sylvester Stallone included in the cast, just shy of his national fame a year or two down the road. Corman had a sharp eye on the one year fads and knew that race cars and science fiction blended well together. (George Lucas would take it to the next level shortly.)

 

Aiming for much younger audiences was a mix-breed dog named Higgins, supervised by his trainer Frank Inn and Joe Camp as his producer/manager with the new name of BENJI. (Of course, the success of this and its sequel would bring Lassie back out of semi post-TV retirement three years later with a bigger cast involving Jimmy Stewart, Alice Faye and Mickey Rooney, but Benji was stuck with less familiars and a much smaller budget.) The independent company backing this affair was called Mulberry Square, one of many short-lived corporations that didn't exactly became the next MGM. However, this was a time when at least two or three independents would intermingle with the studio majors among Variety's top ten annually.

 

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Even the very untypical and most un-Hollywood Sunn Classics, based in Park City, Utah, had a hit was THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS. This film was part of a short-lived, but effective for its time, marketing strategy known as “four wall distribution”. Sunn would purchase seats at a flat rate in a cross selection of theaters for a few weekends in return for total box office receipts, while the theater's additional income came from popcorn and refreshments. Most of the marketing was in more conservative and rural “fly over country” instead of, say, New York and California and based on the belief that a typical family would go to the movies together if there wasn't anything particularly offensive about it. Such films marked the polar opposite of the hard-core porn film that existed mostly in the inner-cities. TV animation giant Filmation also used this strategy to market an already two-year old (and a decade in the making) JOURNEY BACK TO OZ to impressive profits.

 

While the fad for four wall distribution would not last long, 1975 would usher in a similar strategy that involved block-booking and additional spending in advertising. Universal and the team of Zanuck & Brown would soon hit pay dirt with this strategy.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1975

 

Part 1: New Hollywood

 

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Mid decade was the peak period for what the media dubbed “New Hollywood”. One way of describing New Hollywood was by this equation: France's “new wave” (beginning 1958-59 when a flux of twenty & thirty-somethings took over that nation's cinema) + American cinema and all of its established traditions (and over 40 crowd in the executive chairs) = director as auteur. Robert Altman's NASHVILLE opened to rave reviews by the critics in May, with his scathing satire on the music industry and a large cast that did not outshine the man calling the shots behind the camera.

 

Altman and his contemporaries (including George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter, Peter Bogdanovich, Hal Ashby and Brian De Palma) were getting their names billed above the actors and actresses starring in their features, something that rarely happened in the past outside the select few such as Ford, Capra and Hitchcock. Although older and more established, Stanley Kubrick mixed in well with these Young Turks, although his latest, BARRY LYNDON, was accused for being a slow-moving “coffee table book”. Completed in early '74, but spending over a year and a half in the editing rooms, Warner Brothers was disappointed that it recouped its costs more overseas than at home. Yet this production, like so many others of its era, was an example of the director having almost total control over his “baby”, unhampered by the old Production Code of yesteryear and able to experiment with unconventional and untried-before story telling. All the executives in charge simply had to do was write out a blank check.

 

While Steven Spielberg was also part of this auteur boom period, one particular feature of his came to represent Hollywood's more controlled-and-corporate side that gradually took over the second half of the decade (and become fixed by the eighties). JAWS, a feature that Richard Zanuck and David Brown's company distributed through Universal, was programmed to be released in a flood of multi-plexes nationwide all at once with only limited previews for the critics. In the past, and especially in the early 1970s, it was traditional for a film to build up an audience by opening in select major cities first before hitting nationwide and gather positive word-of-mouth. JAWS brought about a different modus operandi, built on just the right amount of advertising and Universal spent $1.8 million in just that. Movie posters outside the marquee were not enough. On June 18th, TV commercials were aired simultaneously on all three networks (with some teasing on a fourth, PBS, too perhaps?) showing a woman swimming in the water as John Williams' simple score on the soundtrack suggested something sinister about to happen under water.

 

 

 

and only rated PG because blood in the water isn't too frightening for the kiddies, is it?

 

The summer of JAWS was the first summer of the corporate block-buster. TV was in re-runs at this time of year and this was a period, aside from the holidays at the end of the year and just about Oscar time in the spring, when the largest share of the ticket dollars passed through. As a result, the second half of the seventies would see a trend that continues to this day: emphasis on bigger spectacle, less story-driven material and overall increased advertising between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Films aimed at the critics, like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, were quite often released after Thanksgiving so that they would remain fresh in the minds of Academy voters the following spring so that most of the income could benefit from award recognition.

 

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Directed by a veteran of Czechoslovakia's new wave, Miloš Forman, CUCKOO'S NEST is considered today one of the most beloved features of New Hollywood and proved just as popular back then, sweeping the Oscars and being Variety's top earner for the next year of 1976. Yet it is, apart from top star Jack Nicholson in the lead role, a fish out of water in a decade of peculiar experiments. Part of this could be because of its 1960s source material and decade long development. Also rather familiar elements in it can be traced back to past successes like THE SNAKE PIT and even further back to the popular social commentaries of institutions such as the prisons of I AM A FUGITIVE FROM THE CHAIN GANG. This probably has helped it stand the test of time, as many favorites do, because it does not seem like a film “of” the seventies, but a film that can fit into any decade.

 

In contrast, much of the charm of the mid-seventies comes from just how off-the-cuff some of the New Hollywood product was, as if nobody would attempt to make something like it in any other period. The Baby Boom generation wanted shock value, but not always of the blood-splattering and head-hacking horror TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE kind. Also the porn industry remained a side dish to mainstream Hollywood with its own marketing still restricted by state-by-state laws regarding what was “obscene”.

 

Fittingly, this year marked the release of two of the oddest (only compared to more traditional past releases) musicals: the Who's TOMMY (with Ann-Margret in a role very different than BYE BYE BIRDIE and Jack Nicholson singing like Clint Eastwood had to in PAINT YOUR WAGON years earlier) and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. Within a year, the industry would move onto more standardized and easier to market fare, but these both became cult favorites; particularly the latter which soon had viewers dressing up like the stars on screen and out-performing them. Rock opera was at its peak in the mid-seventies for a very short period following JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and before the disco film took over, followed by the MTV generation.

 

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A Year In Hollywood: 1975

 

Part 2: Experimenting on a smaller scale

 

161 features were released in the United States in 1975 compared to 231 in 1970. The total would not increase substantially until the eighties, but this period was still a time of creativity and development. The key difference was that the major studios were no longer doing it “in house” but expecting independent minded directors and producers to figure out ways on their own, fiddling with recycled equipment on a budget.

 

Because 20th Century Fox no longer maintained a visual effects department, George Lucas launched his Industrial Light & Magic company in May to help specialize the effects he needed for his upcoming sci fi soap opera, now called STAR WARS. Even though no actors would begin performing until early the following year, a warehouse in Van Nuys, California was a beehive of activity with expert John Dykstra perfecting a type of “motion control” photography (also used in the sixties for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) to help make model work look life-size. The old VistaVision cameras abandoned 15 years earlier were dusted off and retooled for this new experimentation.

 

Stop-motion animation was hardly a new technique, but Lucas made good use of it in his special effects, since computers were still being used sparingly at this stage. Clay animation or “claymation” was also not a new technique, being a part of cinema for many decades. Educational Pictures' long running HODGE PODGE series of the '20s and early '30s boasted impressive work here. MTV would use a lot of it in their early broadcasting six years later.

 

Will Vinton and his partner Bob Gardiner used their success with the Oscar winning CLOSED MONDAYS to build a mini Disney factory specializing in just this format. Its location was not Hollywood but, intriguingly enough, Portland, Oregon. MOUNTAIN MUSIC, previewed as part of a Fantastic Animation Festival that year before wider release later, showed how sophisticated the technique had become with its “aerial” shots of realistic forest scenery (shots resembling the opening of Robert Wise's THE SOUND OF MUSIC and other features starting from the air) with animals and humans molded in plasticine coming to life.

 

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Although short subjects had been phased out by the major companies, aside from United Artists' continued handling of the Pink Panther cartoons for one more season, a lot of Hollywood's 1980s and '90s technology got started around this time in limited released and independently produced experiments running under a half hour in length. Computer animation, the fore-runner of “cgi”, continued to develop slowly but surely. When seen today, John Whitney's ARABESQUE merely looks like a smoother version of Norman McLaren's previous scratch-and-paint-on-film experiments done with the National Film Board of Canada decades previously, but a lot of work still went into it. Nobody would confuse it with anything Pixar did decades later.

 

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One stumbling block was that computers were still a very expensive tool at this stage and a film using that technique may get critical attention at a film festival, but no guarantee of a profit. Several small companies in the seventies specialized here and one must praise them in hindsight for all of their hard work since there would be no FINDING DORY today without them. However most couldn't stay in business for very long.

 

One aspect of seventies cinema that gets overlooked was the still thriving 16mm market. The federal government was spending quite a bit of money in public school media as a bi-product of the Cold War (even if tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were relaxed for a brief period in the seventies). This market was even more widespread than the 35mm movie theater showcase. Any history of cinema would not be complete without an overview of Encyclopædia Britannica Films (EBF), Coronet Instructional, Time-Life, Bailey Film Associates and Learning Corporation of America (LCA) that were operating on as grand a scale as the studio majors.

 

Although Columbia recently withdrew its support of William Deneen's LCA, it was still thriving with 16mm school films, TV specials aired on ABC and an Oscar award and nomination for two 35mm theatrical shorts: Bert Salzman's ANGEL AND BIG JOE, part of their “Learning To Be Human” series, featured Paul Sorvino as a telephone lineman befriending an immigrant teen Dadi Pinero. Alan Beattie's DOUBLETALK was a parody about parents cross questioning, verbally and non-verbally, their daughter's date. LCA was a very progressive company that made sure its films featured as much diversity in race and religion as possible. Deneen's personal goal was to make school students get used to an America that wasn't exclusively Caucasian and Christian but a nation of all people on the eve of its upcoming Bicentennial.

 

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See ANGEL AND BIG JOE here: https://archive.org/details/angelandbigjoe

 

It was customary for any short film producer to prepare for a limited 35mm release in film festivals and a chance of earning back the production costs in a classroom with the shades drawn and the screen pulled in front of the blackboard. Yet Hollywood would increasingly find this 16mm market and the independent produced 35mm theatrical shorts as a new arena for new talent and technologies, as we will see in 1976...

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Glad you're covering George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Robert Altman's films so extensively. What would the 70s have been without them!

 

The first two lead us to the birth of the modern-day blockbuster. But Altman shied away from overtly commercial approaches. 

 

When I was in film school at USC in the mid-90s, Spielberg donated a lot of money to our department. We had a building named after Lucas and his wife (Lucas was a former student at USC). But Altman was the one we all considered a god and the one we wanted to be like when making our experimental student movies.

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August will be a hectic month for me, so there WILL be a two week gap between posts at some point. Yet I think I can get through 1980 and maybe do '81 later when I am caught up. The eighties are a challenging decade on account of all of the corporate shuffling involved that require more study.

 

Oh CaveGirl... I don't know if you will like this next one.  :o  I do make a quickie stop into the naughty movie territory. I promise I will shower thoroughly and return to wholesome G-rated entertainment shortly after. Please forgive me.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1976

 

Part 1: Big screen, little screen

 

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Among the most watched movies this year, if not the highest grossing, was Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman's TO FLY!, which premiered at the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C. three days before the Bicentennial celebrations. Running just 27 minutes in length, its drawing power was due to the gigantic IMAX screen, 89 x 66 feet, that ran a 65mm film boasting a higher resolution than anything seen in 35mm. Previously such films were restricted to World's Fairs such as Expo '70 in Osaka (Japan), where the first official IMAX film TIGER CHILD premiered; the production company being launched by a veteran of the National Film Board of Canada, Roman Kroitor, along with Graeme Ferguson and Robert Kerr in Toronto. While the Smithsonian theater was little different, this production did boast much the same impact as THIS IS CINERAMA had decades earlier, even if it would take longer for mainstream Hollywood to embrace the format.

 

The narration and editing style of TO FLY! was much like a great many smaller 16mm educational productions that populated all of the nation's schools, colleges and businesses of the period. Hollywood always kept tabs on the 16mm market, especially those productions that pioneered the latest technological trends like computer generated imagery (“cgi”) such as Thomas G. Smith's THE SOLAR SYSTEM (https://archive.org/details/solar_system_1977 ) done for Encyclopædia Britannica. George Lucas soon made good use of Smith at his Industrial Light & Magic.

 

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Smaller screens continued to generate more overall revenue. Television in its three commercial network format was at its zenith at this time, with cable still only an experimental novelty and the home computer just a twinkle in the eye. With so much cash flow, the major networks could afford elaborate productions like ROOTS that would guarantee an audience of over a hundred million viewers and mega-dollars for advertisers; this production was being filmed this year for a January 1977 airtime with producer David L. Wolper in charge.

 

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At Paramount, a new team, under the patronage of Barry Diller and dubbed the “killer-dillers”, involved such newcomers as Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dawn Steel and Don Simpson. Each would later “re-invent” other studios on the same mold that they “re-invented” Paramount as much of a TV company as a movie company. They were riding high with the hit show HAPPY DAYS and scored another ratings sweep this year with LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, yet another production from the highly prolific Garry Marshall. The company that Adolf Zukor triumphed with during the 1910s was a very different one by the time of his passing on June 10th at the ripe old age of 103.

 

Other studios like Warner, running like a well-oiled machine throughout the decade with the calm and very sharp Ted Ashley operating as CEO, were expanding into computer games by acquiring Atari, an investment that paid off handsomely for a couple years at least. In past decades, theaters and music publishing were the primary outside interests of the studios, with the relationship between Decca Records and Universal being particularly intertwined since the fifties and the United States version of the company sporting the name of MCA now to match the film company's merge. Yet it was important to branch out into as many new markets as possible since movie attendance was so unpredictable.

 

 

The latest new wonder toys on the market were the Betamax and VHS videocassette recorders. The former was introduced by Sony late the previous year, the latter by Victor Company of Japan towards the end of this one. The technology was not new, since TV producers had adopted video tape in the mid-fifties as a way of preserving and syndicating programs, being cheaper and better looking than the movies-made-from-monitors called “kinescopes”. (You can see a difference when viewing old Ed Sullivan shows. Suddenly around 1957 or so, the picture quality starts resembling something from the 1980s, if beginning in black & white. The color video material begins with some preserved President Eisenhower speeches in 1958.)

 

Although Columbia Pictures had experimented with video releases of some of its films four years earlier, home video and the retail stores that catered to it were still six or so years into the future. Yet the industry was prepping itself. On the plus side, this novelty could bring in profits as movie titles could be sold for the private home market at a more affordable cost than the standard 16mm and 8mm format. On the minus side, the new technology enabled people at home to record entertainment from their TV screens for future viewings and, thus, impact company finances especially in regards to syndicated rebroadcasts. It was largely because of the latter that there were many court decisions that needed ironed out first and why we get those little FBI warnings on every DVD today.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1976

 

Part 2: High Concept vs. New Hollywood

 

One marketing problem with the New Hollywood that was flourishing in the seventies was its too experimental story telling styles, peculiar editing and, more importantly, care free attitude towards censorship. Paramount very nervously distributed Bernardo Bertolucci's lumbering and polarizing epic NOVECENTO (1900) in the United States; despite its big star cast including Burt Lancaster, Donald Sutherland, Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardeau, it featured a bit too much graphic violence and nudity for many middle American cinemas to handle. By mid-decade, the major studios were getting increasingly skittish about this kind of art cinema that got better reviews from newspaper critics than at the box office. Audiences also demonstrated with their wallets this year that they were less interested in seeing Kris Kristofferson getting physically acrobatic with Sarah Miles in THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM THE SEA than seeing him just sing alongside Barbra Streisand in the dusted-off-again tear-jerker A STAR IS BORN, even if the posters themselves were quite suggestive. Eight years after the MPAA ratings went into effect, the primary ratings that the moguls saw continued dollar signs with were PG and R “for profanity and violence only”.

 

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MISTY BEETHOVEN, porn goes high art

 

This did not mean there was any decline with the adult cinema market. In fact, porn's “golden age” was at its zenith with many of this year's releases available in alternative “soft” versions (that increased their distribution) and boasting budgets rivaling the Hollywood establishment. Among these were Radley Metzger's THE OPENING OF MISTY BEETHOVEN, an update of George Bernard Shaw's PYGMALION with multiple travelogue locations shot in Europe, and Bill Osco's elaborate (costumes included) version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND. However only an independent firm appropriately titled “Surrogate” would have the courage to import Nagisa Oshima's notorious IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES states-side. Paramount took up the distribution of THE FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL, but this one bombed at the box-office. Rumor had it that executives killed its chances deliberately since Cindy Williams in the company's LAVERNE & SHIRLEY appeared in it (with clothes on though) and were self conscious about her public image.

 

(Although released two years earlier, Peter de Rome's ADAM & YVES is worth mentioning here simply for featuring the final film appearance of Greta Garbo, even though she is only seen with a telephoto lens taking a walk from her NYC apartment and certainly not involved in any of the all male frolics elsewhere on screen.)

 

For the industry, it was important to refocus on what appealed to the widest general audience as possible. To create the next JAWS smash hit. Enter the new catch-word “High Concept”, which would eventually replace New Hollywood and the whole director-as-auteur with something more corporate in its planning. What was needed was a formula that was easy to deliver in advertising. For example, an established property like KING KONG, redone by producer Dino de Laurentiis for Paramount: it didn't matter all that much that critics were unkind, comparing it unfavorably to the 1933 classic even if the Twin Towers were bigger for ape scaling than the Empire State. Point made: audiences will flock to see something they can understand quickly in advertising. While FAMILY PLOT wasn't as well received by the high brows as Alfred Hitchcock's previous features, his brand name and a happy ending (this was not VERTIGO, mind you) was enough to make Universal happy.

 

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Many Americans needed distraction in these difficult times, much as the Depression audiences also needed movies for escape, but this did not mean that American films ignored all that the public was trying to avoid. Released in February, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN revisited the Watergate scandal with Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford playing the reporters unraveling it like it was some espionage thriller, while the simultaneously released TAXI DRIVER (a hit for director Martin Scorsese) showed the seamier side of The City... just as Paddy Chayefsky's NETWORK, starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden and Peter Finch, took on the seamier side of TV network competition. However entertainment and some element of optimism was still needed even when films got their darkest and most depressing.

 

There still had to be a Cinderella “uplift” story like ROCKY. As seen in the surprise success last year with ANGEL AND BIG JOE, a short “feel good” film running just under a half hour, there was an increasing need for movie-goers to feel happy when leaving a theater. TAXI DRIVER was a critical success with its doom and gloom ending of Robert De Niro going on the rampage, but this was no longer what was being trendy at the box office. The working class hero struggling to make ends meet but finding self confidence and some measure of redemption (if hardly a novelty, going back to ON THE WATERFRONT) was now the mainstream icon character. Moviegoers wanted to see more people on screen who resembled them, rather than the glamorous or historical.

 

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Even historical films shot in fogged nostalgic lenses like Hal Ashby's released BOUND FOR GLORY and Terrence Malick's currently started DAYS OF HEAVEN (with a young Richard Gere in the cast) focused more on anonymous heroes of the struggling classes rather than the famous (even if Ashby's film fictionalized Woody Guthrie). These strove to balance both the gritty and the gloss. The immigrant farmers in the latter film (released two years later but much publicized at this time in its filming) would be shown hard at work, but with Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler's cinematography resembling impressionistic Edwin Hopper paintings.

 

TO FLY! climaxed in its huge IMAX shots of rockets venturing into the great wonder-world of imagination in outer space. It had been four years since NASA had abandoned the Apollo missions, but the public never lost interest in space exploration, which had replaced King Kong's jungle as a new realm of excitement. What was needed was a pair of hits in 1977 that would re-activate Hollywood's sense of awe, but with an average, working class character in the lead that average moviegoers could identify with.

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Excellent job covering 1976, Jlewis. Couldn't we say Bertolucci's 1900 was primarily made for European (namely Italian) audiences? So it was bound to have limited appeal in U.S. markets. I still think it's an interesting film, if not overlong. 

 

And I liked your comment that films did well with newspaper critics but not with average moviegoers. Of course, that did not stop newspaper critics from trying to persuade people what to see or from trying to persuade studios what to make.

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You are right. I should not have mentioned that film. It does not belong in a study of Hollywood, even though it did feature a mostly American cast and Paramount distributed it.

 

I guess I was trying to get at the fact that it represented an era when the major studios were starting to feel wishy washy about these kinds of "art" films. Also it plants the seeds for everything that went wrong with Heaven's Gate later.

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You are right. I should not have mentioned that film. It does not belong in a study of Hollywood, even though it did feature a mostly American cast and Paramount distributed it.

 

I guess I was trying to get at the fact that it represented an era when the major studios were starting to feel wishy washy about these kinds of "art" films. Also it plants the seeds for everything that went wrong with Heaven's Gate later.

I am glad you mentioned it. Obviously Paramount saw a value in distributing it. If 1900 had been a major hit with American audiences, it undoubtedly would have led to a new trend of distributing more European art films across the U.S.

 

When we get to the 1990s, we see that European art films are very much 'in vogue.' So it eventually reverses, probably because a steady diet of mainstream blockbusters has Americans a bit hungry for something more by 1990.

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For me, the most traditionally "Classic Hollywood" films of the later 1980s and '90s were the Merchant Ivory productions. Even Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward's MR. & MRS. BRIDGE is a classic British film not unlike David Lean's THIS HAPPY BREED.

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For me, the most traditionally "Classic Hollywood" films of the later 1980s and '90s were the Merchant Ivory productions. Even Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward's MR. & MRS. BRIDGE is a classic British film not unlike David Lean's THIS HAPPY BREED.

MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE is the one that sent me to film school. I wrote my first paper on it. Interesting that you are comparing it to a British type of drama (whatever that might be)...I've always thought of it as an intelligent American picture with European sensibilities. 

 

The two books upon which it is based were written by author Evan S. Connell. He was tearing apart the American class system in his stories, stories actually based on his mother's Kansas City family. 

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A Year In Hollywood: 1977

 

Part 1: Close encounters that were too close for comfort

 

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Cliff Robertson was a detail-oriented Virgo who made sure his taxes were on time. One day in February, the actor discovered a glaring error on his 1099. Columbia Pictures had paid him more in the past year than he actually received. A lot more. Questioning about this exposed more than expected and would almost bring down a major studio.

 

You see, the company had managed to get out of financial ruin in 1973 with the very talented David Begelman in charge and nobody would have suspected that he also had a talent for forging checks and embezzlement. This prompted both the Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI to investigate. Soon the company would experience some dramatically revolving executive chairs that would become front page news over the course of the next year, making Columbia Pictures highly vulnerable for a take-over by a conglomerate (and David McClintick's Indecent Exposure would cover it all in blood thirsty detail the very same year it actually did get taken over by Coca-Cola five years later).

 

In the beginning, the company tried to hush the affair up with Begelman getting an extended “vacation” and doing its own inside investigation. After all, he made lots of money for the studio and couldn't just get... dumped. Eventually he got around serious criminal charges by doing community service, but CEO Alan Hirschfield wasn't exactly pleased and cooperating with the other head honchos in the company by reinstating him. When Robertson later talked about it all to the press instead of keeping the lid on it, he was blacklisted for roughly two years. (During his time-out period, Will Vinton would use him to narrate his Oregon produced claymation short THE LITTLE PRINCE since you couldn't knock that wonderful voice of his and it was safe for him to talk there.)

 

In the wake of all of this, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, co-produced by the British based EMI Films and directed by Steven Spielberg of JAWS fame, was released in November. The projected cost of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS of $2.7 million had reached $19 million, the filming was much longer than expected (taking over a year) and preview screenings had the Columbia brass totally baffled what to make of it, much like MGM executives were equally baffled by 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in early '68. Yet it all paid off in helping to smokescreen the studio's misfortunes.

 

Spielberg was cleverly exploiting America's seventies obsession with “unexplained phenomena” like UFOs in this film, Bigfoot (another TV “guest” on THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN), the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster and the always-reliable-for-decades ghosts (but with the trademark “technical expert” bringing his electronics gizmo to investigate every haunting). Not to be out-done, Sunn Classics had already cashed in early in the year on both this fad and the rising evangelical market with their silly, but highly entertaining, IN SEARCH OF NOAH'S ARK. Leonard Nimoy's more polished IN SEARCH OF... series had started airing on syndicated TV last fall and was now riding this wave.

 

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CLOSE ENCOUNTERS followed the spectacular success of George Lucas' STAR WARS, finally released by 20th Century Fox in May. Both films kick-started a new era of A-budget science fiction films featuring the latest special effects wizardry and, like the CinemaScope boom of the fifties, managed to get people away from their living room TV sets and back into the theaters. The enthusiastic response at a Northpoint Theatre preview in San Francisco literally put Alan Ladd Jr. into tears since neither he nor Fox president Gordon T. Stulberg were all that confident in what George Lucas was doing during the past three years.

 

These two films once again represented the new catch phrase of the seventies: High Concept. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS benefited greatly by the performance of an average “every man” Richard Dreyfuss, who previously played an arrogant scientist in Spielberg's earlier JAWS, but here was a struggling family man trying to figure out the unknown. Likewise, STAR WARS' Mark Hammill was not a muscle man hero but an average boy-next-door type. Thanks to easy-to-identify-with characters who could transcend language and cultural barriers, STAR WARS, in particular, was a blockbuster in multiple countries (except France where Disney's THE RESCUERS out-drew). The trailers made it clear to a prospective movie-goer what their basic premise was up front and to-the-point. There was no need to trick the viewer with anything nebulous. Paramount took High Concept to the next level in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER with its catchy musical soundtrack that will have you disco dancing in the aisles. A film must have an immediate hook to reel in the fish.

 

This was not to say that filmmakers were ignoring all of the troubles of the time to offer light-on-the-brains escape. The Vietnam War had ended uncomfortably in 1975 and Hollywood was not sure exactly how to handle that war like they did the more victorious WW2 (as in last year's moderately successful MIDWAY presented in Sensuround and this year's MACARTHUR) and the stalemate Korean War. Previous features like John Wayne's hawkish THE GREEN BERETS and documentaries like VIETNAM! VIETNAM! and HEARTS AND MINDS were too polarizing. Yet several films on the subject were busy filming this year for future release: COMING HOME, THE DEER HUNTER (which, like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, involved the participation of EMI Films) and Francis Ford Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW, the latter title being started a year earlier than the other two and almost as tumultuous as the conflict itself. Positively, such films gave their actors, from Jane Fonda and Jon Voight to Christopher Walken and newcomer Meryl Streep, more method acting to their liking.

 

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A Year In Hollywood: 1977

 

Part 2: ME Hollywood

:) 

 

Back on the August 13, 1976 cover of New York magazine, Tom Wolfe characterized the decade as the “Me” decade. British critic Leslie Halliwell, writing in his Halliwell Film Guide, went a step further in an essay accusing Hollywood for being way too “Me” oriented:

 

Of course there are some genuine talents at work in films today. One respects the likes of Jack Nicholson and Ellen Burstyn and Al Pacino and Glenda Jackson, but they are all depressingly committed to their own self expression and to the depiction of mankind with warts and all, not to pleasing, stimulating or improving the public. They need control.

 

Halliwell also complained: “In the acting league, where are our up-and-coming replacements for David Niven, Cary Grant, Melvyn Douglas, Katharine Hepburn, Ronald Coleman? When again will it be the turn of grace and elegance? When indeed will actors want to work? Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor and their like prefer to demand an impossibly high fee and if they do not get it to sit comfortably at home on the proceeds of their previous hits.

 

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Marlon Brando earned $3.5 million for just one month's work in Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW. When filming began on SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE in the spring of 1977, Brando got another $3.7 million to appear in what ended up being only a couple minutes of footage onscreen. Gene Hackman made $2 million for quite a bit more coverage, but the unknown lead who carried it through was Christopher Reeve, eventually receiving a mere $250, 000 for both this and its sequel combined. Welcome to Corporate Hollywood.

 

The income was not evenly distributed among the genders though. Elizabeth Taylor might have demanded huge sums in the past, but it had now been a full decade since Julie Andrews topped the Quigley lists as box office champ and it would be longer still before Julia Roberts reclaimed it. During the decade dominated by Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds (with Sally Field stuck playing second fiddle in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT), the ladies were still not getting enough box office clout.

 

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Not that there wasn't enough effort. Both Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave would get Oscar nominated (and the latter winning in a supporting role) for Fred Zimmerman's JULIA, just as Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft would cancel each other out in THE TURNING POINT. Both of these features were released through 20th Century Fox, probably the most ladies-friendly studio and the one that hired Elaine May to direct THE HEARTBREAK KID five years earlier. It also backed Paul Mazursky's AN UNMARRIED WOMAN, filmed for '78 release with Jill Clayburgh in a “I don't necessarily need men in order to feel happy” role. Although seventies fashions were getting more uni-sex with Diane Keaton sporting the tie in ANNIE HALL (a cultural trend-setter from Woody Allen and United Artists), it was still a challenge for a woman to be treated equally as a man.

 

It seems appropriate to complete this post on 1977 with the April release, ANNIE HALL. It is often regarded as the quintessential film *of* the seventies, a film that presents a snapshot of the decade much as THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES snapshot the forties and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE the fifties and MEDIUM COOL the sixties. The way the director spoofed how Alvy (Woody playing himself on screen) and co-star Diane spoke to each other with subtitles in one funny segment showed how much confusion there really was between the genders, especially after women's lib freed a great many of the “weaker sex” from the sometimes suffocating occupation of house wife and the dating scene became more complex. The frequent sit-downs with the psychiatrist were much more pronounced than in so many earlier comedies, since the “Me Decade” generation was obsessed with figuring out... well... ME. The competition between rival cities at each end of the country was also lampooned: New York City was congested and bankrupt (and seeking federal support) and Los Angeles was all squeaky “white” in Allen's presentation and sometimes “shallow” in the way the party guests are presented. This reflected how residents in competing hubs tended to view the other during that decade. This was also a decade of trying new things that would have been forbidden in earlier times, although the joke of Woody sneezing over cocaine would be considered less funny in the “Just Say No” 1980s.

 

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Next up: the saga of The Studio Without Walls, United Artists, in 1978 and the TV stars of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE make the transition to the big screen. In April 1977, Paramount scored an unexpected hit with a short (only 7 minutes!) comedy film starring Steve Martin as THE ABSENT MINDED WAITER (causing havoc on visiting diners Teri Garr and Buck Henry). Comedy films were making a comeback in the final years of the decade and, once again, TV became the springboard for new talent.

 

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Marlon Brando earned $3.5 million for just one month's work in Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW. When filming began on SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE in the spring of 1977, Brando got another $3.7 million to appear in what ended up being only a couple minutes of footage onscreen.

 

 

Only because Richard Lester took over the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, and Brando's role throughout pretty much that entire film had to be cut because Brando couldn't come back.

An early but failed experimentation in the idea of making two linked movies at once (gasp!), which the Salkinds had already done with the Three and Four Musketeers.

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Yes, there is always More To The Story (referring to Brando here). Also the whole "linked movies" concept was nothing new and never ended either. Two of the BACK TO THE FUTURE sequels were shot close together, if not exactly simultaneously.

 

The problem with these posts, whether just one covering a year or two posts (or three!), is that we (both TopBilled and I) are only skimming the surface and *generalizing* everything. Also I am the first to admit that I sometimes get my facts wrong, especially if I happen to seek the wrong reference. Movie history gets re-written a lot since so many published works, especially those predating the internet era, were often anecdotal and based on the memories of both the historians and the people they interviewed. Also the publisher could only re-do a revised edition instead of just edit on a computer, so there are loads of boo-boos in many old books.

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The problem with these posts, whether just one covering a year or two posts (or three!), is that we (both TopBilled and I) are only skimming the surface and *generalizing* everything. 

I usually try to cover two or three main industry trends during a given year (and sometimes this is carrying over from a previous year and continuing into the following year). Also, I try to highlight one or two well-known films, either because they were big moneymakers or cult favorites, to show how film was having an impact on audiences and critics. So yeah, in this sense, a lot is being left out-- it is very generalized.

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My problem is that certain characters performing in Hollywood's *storyline* are too entertaining for words. So, OF COURSE, my silly blogs expand in size.

 

Take for example, Kirk Kerkorian. That dude was a real trip. He was as mercurial as Howard Hughes, treating MGM like the former did RKO. Yet, unlike Hughes, he was consumed with the obsession to take over as many other companies as possible. I did not bother with his feeble attempt to merge with 20th Century Fox in 1971 right after Darryl Zanuck got sacked because it is just a silly little footnote in history. Yet it was a foreshadowing of things to come. His own company had just auctioned off so many of its properties in 1970 just to stay solvent and Kirk was already trying to gather even more cash to become mogul for two literally bankrupt companies.

 

In 1978-79, we will see him try to take over Columbia Pictures after it got battered by the Begelman scandal, only to find out, to much his surprise, that the remaining executives at Columbia weren't so eager to become Kerkorian's property. Keep in mind that his own company, MGM, was barely making four feature films a year at this stage and most of the income was coming from the hotel business.

 

Then he suddenly gets lucky in 1980-81 when Transamerica suddenly wants to dump United Artists after Heaven's Gate. After merging MGM with UA, he loses steam and sells out to Ted Turner in 1985, then must buy back the companies... one by one, with UA first... and lose both the Culver City studio to Lorimar and the film library to Turner. Then he sells off MGM-UA again in 1990 and the whole cycle repeats again and again... like that old record stuck in the needle! Kirk buys it back six years later and gathers some other companies including the defunct Orion Pictures before selling it again to Sony. Eventually UA goes kaput while MGM just winds up as addition to... what else?... Columbia Pictures as another property of Sony, along with the Culver City studio as well. In other words, Sony, not Kerkorian, winds up with BOTH of those companies.

 

By that time, Kirk was forced into retirement although he definitely needed "retired" many years earlier.

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My problem is that certain characters performing in Hollywood's *storyline* are too entertaining for words. So, OF COURSE, my silly blogs expand in size.

 

Take for example, Kirk Kerkorian. That dude was a real trip. He was as mercurial as Howard Hughes, treating MGM like the former did RKO. Yet, unlike Hughes, he was consumed with the obsession to take over as many other companies as possible. I did not bother with his feeble attempt to merge with 20th Century Fox in 1971 right after Darryl Zanuck got sacked because it is just a silly little footnote in history. Yet it was a foreshadowing of things to come. His own company had just auctioned off so many of its properties in 1970 just to stay solvent and Kirk was already trying to gather even more cash to become mogul for two literally bankrupt companies.

 

In 1978-79, we will see him try to take over Columbia Pictures after it got battered by the Begelman scandal, only to find out, to much his surprise, that the remaining executives at Columbia weren't so eager to become Kerkorian's property. Keep in mind that his own company, MGM, was barely making four feature films a year at this stage and most of the income was coming from the hotel business.

 

Then he suddenly gets lucky in 1980-81 when Transamerica suddenly wants to dump United Artists after Heaven's Gate. After merging MGM with UA, he loses steam and sells out to Ted Turner in 1985, then must buy back the companies... one by one, with UA first... and lose both the Culver City studio to Lorimar and the film library to Turner. Then he sells off MGM-UA again in 1990 and the whole cycle repeats again and again... like that old record stuck in the needle! Kirk buys it back six years later and gathers some other companies including the defunct Orion Pictures before selling it again to Sony. Eventually UA goes kaput while MGM just winds up as addition to... what else?... Columbia Pictures as another property of Sony, along with the Culver City studio as well. In other words, Sony, not Kerkorian, winds up with BOTH of those companies.

 

By that time, Kirk was forced into retirement although he definitely needed "retired" many years earlier.

Masterful rendering, Jlewis and thanks for sharing!

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