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A Year In Hollywood: 1978

 

Part 1: Changing studio dynamics

 

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Roger Moore as 007

 

United Artists had always been the studio “without walls”, financially backing individual producers rather than making its own studio creations. This gradually became the practice of all of its rivals: MGM, Warner, Fox, Paramount, Columbia and Universal were now operating more often than not as distributors and long lost their distinctive characteristics except with some of their TV productions. Yet UA was always in a special class all to itself regardless of the variety it offered. For three years straight, it scored back to back Oscar winners for Best Picture: ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, ROCKY and ANNIE HALL.

 

Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin had been veterans of the company since 1951 aside from a break in the late sixties when Transamerica took over with new personnel... only to soon beg for them back. Now, with the company in profit, the duo was seeking better control and better pay as executives under the umbrella company. On and off through the decade, there had been skirmishes between the movie people and the conservative insurance accounting men, including one back in 1972 involving whether or not to distribute the X-rated LAST TANGO IN PARIS. Transamerica chief Jack Beckett was repeatedly getting into battles with Krim, who was eager to separate UA as a company, and then fellow executive Eric Pleskow, who refused to secure medical records of the film company's hierarchy to the conglomerate's San Francisco offices.

 

Although carefully planned, the trio of Pleskow, Krim and Benjamin still shocked the industry by leaving on January 18th and announcing soon after the formation of their own company Orion Pictures. Senior vice presidents William Bernstein and Mike Medavoy followed three days later.

 

Rival studio Warner Brothers sympathized with the move by agreeing to distribute Orion's productions, with George Roy Hill's A LITTLE ROMANCE as the first to start filming in France and Italy that spring with Lawrence Olivier and a newcomer Diane Lane featured. ANNIE HALL's director Woody Allen went ahead and put his MANHATTAN in production to be released under the UA banner. However, after just one more feature in his contract, he would also eventually join Orion as the company of his choice as it evolved into a new “UA”.

 

In response, several prominent industry figures put ads in the papers warning that Transamerica made a huge mistake by not negotiating a better deal to hold on them. A mistake? What mistake? The company was earning big profits, especially since Harry Saltzman sold them his 50% stake in Danjaq, the holding company for the James Bond films. MOONRAKER with Roger Moore was filming by August as the next expected blockbuster. There were even plans (although not made public until after the fact) of changing the name of United Artists to Transamerica Pictures.

 

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Begelman in '78

 

Meanwhile Columbia's Great Scandal of 1977 carried over into 1978 as the Wall Street Journal now covered the story nationwide. Outspoken against the David Begelman's forgery misconduct and refusing to reinstate him as head, CEO Alan Hirschfield himself was soon sacked. He would later join 20th Century Fox.

 

Sitting on the sidelines with a hungry look on his face, MGM's Kirk Kerkorian figured the chaos would make it easy for him to merge two companies together and forked over a 20% stake. However the Justice Department swiftly moved in to investigate and would stop him in his tracks at the start of the new year... but only for the time being. Stick around in 1979 as he maneuvers around the Justice Department to increase his stakes to 25%.

 

Needless to say, MGM was not having a particularly great year, with much of its focus on remaking the old classics with hit and miss success: INTERNATIONAL VELVET with Tatum O'Neal redid NATIONAL VELVET and a new version of THE CHAMP started filming with the unusual choice of Franco Zeffirelli in the director's chair and an interesting small role by veteran Joan Blondell supporting Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway and pint-sized Ricky Schroder. Columbia Pictures was more of a prize to be had, as far as Kerkorian was concerned, with Neil Simon's all star CALIFORNIA SUITE scoring big with holiday audiences much as GRAND HOTEL, the MGM movie, did many years before Kerkorian built the real one in Las Vegas.

 

Jack L. Warner, who had sold his studio to Seven Arts back in 1966 (but didn't relinquish full control until bitterly forced out his “chair man” role in 1969), passed away on September 9th at age 86. Although his company had changed dramatically during the decade, it would now take on yet another make-over in its corporate image with the release of the Alexander and Ilya Salkind backed SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE!

 

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This was the biggest elephant since CLEOPATRA, although it would soon be surpassed. Fortunately, it managed to stay on the same footing as MGM's previous gamble-turned-hit BEN HUR. Richard Donner of THE OMEN fame directed both it and roughly two-thirds of a 1980-scheduled sequel back to back, much as the previous Salkind-backed THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS were done by Richard Lester five years earlier... and he would be back to finish the sequel in a much publicized and controversial move. Filming took place in Pinewood Studios on the other side of the Atlantic as well as three towns in Alberta (posing as Smallville), Hollywood/Burbank and New York City, the latter being gripped by a notorious black out in July 1977 that even the man of steel couldn't fix. Once again, High Concept won out, since the most famous of the DC comics heroes (even if played by an unfamiliar at the time, Christopher Reeve) was an established property millions were already familiar with and they could now experience him with the latest special effects razzle dazzle that only seventies cinema could provide.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1978

 

Part 2: Keeping the entertainment light and fluffy

 

If nothing else, SUPERMAN erased the awful aftertaste of the studio's summertime flop, THE SWARM, which marked Olivia De Haviland's return to the studio, battling killer bees instead of wooing Errol Flynn as she did at ol' WB in its glory years. Ironically Irwin Allen had provided both Warner and collaborating Fox with their biggest disaster epic success four years earlier (THE TOWERING INFERNO), but summertime audiences favored hanging out with that other Olivia, Olivia Newton John, along with John Travolta.

 

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This was hardly a sophisticated year for box-office entertainment. This was obvious in the titles heading Variety's top lists: GREASE, NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE, EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE, HEAVEN CAN WAIT, HALLOWEEN, UP IN SMOKE (with Cheech & Chong) and JAWS 2, the latter reflecting a new obsession the industry had with sequels sporting roman numerals post-THE GODFATHER. While some of these titles are well liked even today (especially GREASE), many critics of the time complained that High Concept meant “low brains” entertainment aimed too much at a younger and much less critical demographic that favored it. Yet the truth was that Hollywood finally learned how to make money, critical prestige or not. Those in charge wanted to end the decade with their biggest money-makers and not as the decade began, with RYAN'S DAUGHTER and TORA! TORA! TORA!

 

Summertime, in particular, was a time of “light” entertainment that didn't challenge the masses intellectually more than necessary, as evidence by the popular successes of Disney's THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE and Fox's DAMIEN: OMEN II . While Beatlemania enjoyed a second wave with I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND and SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, the fifties were more “in season” that spring-summer with not only GREASE, but THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY. This year also marked the first wave of high school comedies that would soon mushroom in the eighties, such as MGM's CORVETTE SUMMER (starring ex-STAR WARS Mark Hamill) and Motown-Universal's ALMOST SUMMER.

 

Despite its mostly Caucasian cast, ALMOST SUMMER was co-produced by Motown, the most successful black-owned record label of the sixties and seventies. Crossing the racial barriers and reflecting the changing demographic of mass entertainment, Barry Gordy Jr. had moved his operations from Detroit, Michigan (a.k.a. Hitsville USA) to sunny Los Angeles to expand into film production in 1972. Diana Ross, formerly of the Supremes, earned considerable critical acclaim playing Billie Holiday in that year's LADY SINGS THE BLUES, released through Paramount. Although the Gordy empire in films didn't quite match its recordings successes, 1978 was a bumper crop year that also included THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY, hated by the critics but memorable for its inclusion of Motown's The Commodores and Donna Summer, courtesy of co-producers Casablanca Records, and THE WIZ, featuring a who's-who of pop music. Although the eighties would see a bit of backward “whitening” in the industry, the seventies was a golden age of equal opportunity not seen in any decade previous.

 

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ANIMAL HOUSE (costing $2.8 million and eventually grossing $141 million) owed much of its success to rising star John Belushi. Along with Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Billy Murray and Steve Martin, he was a veteran of NBC's three year old SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. They were to the TV dominated seventies what George Burns & Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Edgar Bergen, Bob Hope and Abbott & Costello were to the radio dominated thirties and war years. Starting in the late seventies, several of these would headline modestly budgeted feature films not too-too different (apart from new tastes in humor) than Paramount's older Hope & Bing Crosby “Road” pictures and Universal's Abbott & Costello comedies.

 

Steve Martin was the first to make a huge splash, already with supporting bit parts under his belt stretching back early in the decade. A theatrical short picked up by always TV-conscious Paramount, THE ABSENT-MINDED WAITER (released 1977), was Oscar nominated this spring, just a few months before his first major role in Universal's SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND. Encouraged by his talent that also included a hit LP record A Wild And Crazy Guy, Paramount president David Picker would later help negotiate a better deal with Martin after he changed studios to Universal the following year.

 

During the previous year, Martin was a guest featured in Jim Henson's THE MUPPET SHOW, shot in the UK for ITC but made for American syndication by CBS, and he would also be included in a long list of familiar faces cameo-ing in their first film that was busy in production during that spring and summer.

 

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Jim Henson and his biggest star

 

While nobody could ever compare the seventies with the thirties/forties, the old saying of “the more some things change, the more some things stay the same” still held true. For a period, comedy was not terribly profitable, but was now back in business and driving the box office. The Baby Boom generation initially wanted more censor and boundary-pushing material, but they were now settling down from their “make love, not war” days and seeking much of the same kind of entertainment that their fuddy-duddy parents once enjoyed.

 

In a peculiar twist of fate, the most expensive production during the next year would actually be a western, a genre that was phased out as “old hat” at the start of the decade with only few exceptions that were sold by their established stars: Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty and now retired (and slowing dying of cancer) John Wayne.

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1978 was a bumper crop year that also included THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY, hated by the critics but memorable for its inclusion of Motown's The Commodores and Donna Summer, courtesy of co-producers Casablanca Records, and THE WIZ, featuring a who's-who of pop music. Although the eighties would see a bit of backward “whitening” in the industry, the seventies was a golden age of equal opportunity not seen in any decade previous.

 

Even though Universal ultimately blamed the mess Sidney Lumet made of The Wiz on "the unpopularity of studio black movies for mainstream audiences", and believed the "trend" started by Car Wash had crashed to an end.

And for a while (at least not until they teamed him up again with his white-comedy Gene Wilder partner) Richard Pryor was no longer the A-list star studios believed him to be in the '76-'77 days of "Greased Lightning" and "Bingo Long's All Star etc."

 

While nobody could ever compare the seventies with the thirties/forties, the old saying of “the more some things change, the more some things stay the same” still held true. For a period, comedy was not terribly profitable, but was now back in business and driving the box office. The Baby Boom generation initially wanted more censor and boundary-pushing material, but they were now settling down from their “make love, not war” days and seeking much of the same kind of entertainment that their fuddy-duddy parents once enjoyed.

 

Actually, it was the fallout of 1977 that discovered in the first optimistic days of the Carter era what everyone had forgotten during the gritty, bestseller-driven days of the Ford era:  

Teenagers had money to spend on movies too, but couldn't get in to R-rated Coppola and Scorsese movies.  Which is why PG escapism had made a comeback with Jaws and Rocky in the last two years.

One of the "70's society going to heck in a handbasket" whines of the Nixon era had been how downbeat, violent and depressing major-studio NY-set movies had been, and how there was nothing for families to go see, which had changed considerably after the post-Star Wars Summer of '77.

 

MTV didn't exist, so a movie like Grease, TGIF, American Hot Wax and even Sgt. Pepper sold itself on visual soundtracks, which meant repeat business, back in the days when theater repeat business was more common than YA-novel cults.

(Normally I'd say "Get yourself a blog" at the pages of self-indulgent vanity thread, but it's good reading.) :)

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*chuckle chuckle*

 

Are you suggesting lil' ol' me is having a "self-indulgent vanity thread"?

 

To be honest, I find seventies and eighties cinema less interesting than the cinema before it. Therefore I am trying my best to make entertainment for myself writing these. Sometimes I get carried away.

 

But... heck! You should have chipped in with these! Bet you have plenty of expertise here and can cover a great deal of material that I skipped. Care to do some eighties later? ;)

 

I especially love how you detail this:

 

Actually, it was the fallout of 1977 that discovered in the first optimistic days of the Carter era what everyone had forgotten during the gritty, bestseller-driven days of the Ford era:  

Teenagers had money to spend on movies too, but couldn't get in to R-rated Coppola and Scorsese movies.  Which is why PG escapism had made a comeback with Jaws and Rocky in the last two years.

One of the "70's society going to heck in a handbasket" whines of the Nixon era had been how downbeat, violent and depressing major-studio NY-set movies had been, and how there was nothing for families to go see, which had changed considerably after the post-Star Wars Summer of '77.

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To be honest, I find seventies and eighties cinema less interesting than the cinema before it. Therefore I am trying my best to make entertainment for myself writing these. Sometimes I get carried away.

 

But... heck! You should have chipped in with these! Bet you have plenty of expertise here and can cover a great deal of material that I skipped. Care to do some eighties later? ;)

 

 

You're on--All my great moviegoing formative years were during the '74's to late 80's.

That's when you could see the societal shift toward movies and in conflict with 70's cynicism, right after "That's Entertainment".

 

(I was just in the middle of a reminiscence-streak series about those pivotal movie-childhood years on my own blog:  http://movieactivist.blogspot.com/2016/07/july-25-2016-theater-roots-pt.html )

 

And besides, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Pink" always was my favorite Panther cartoon.   ^_^

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I may have to take a little break after 1980... and TopBilled is willing to cover the '90s. You can do any years you want.

 

My focus would probably be too much on the corporate take-overs and musical executive chairs occurring annually. That is more interesting to me than the movies themselves... Conan The Barbarian, Top Gun, Howard The Duck, Ishtar... yawn. I did like Weird Science though.

 

I read your blog article. You must be another Generation X-er forced to watch Herbie Rides Again instead of The Devil in Miss Jones. I think my first BW film in a theater instead of UHF or PBS TV was probably Tarzan the Ape Man. I am sure nobody fussed about the pygmies acting like savages back when Nixon was president like they would today. But at least there was no sex in it.

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I will plop 1979 today and 1980 this weekend. Then Real Life will temporarily take over, so it may be a while before '81 gets posted. Feel free to chip in, anybody, if you feel The Muse. Yet I will catch up eventually.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1979

 

Part 1: Passing of the guard

 

The passing of Mary Pickford, John Wayne and Darryl Zanuck symbolized the ending of an era for many. The seventies saw so many associated with Hollywood's Golden Age passing overall, from Zukor to Warner, Chaplin and even Samuel Goldwyn five years back. For British TV Thames, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill were hard at work interviewing as many still surviving silent screen stars as possible for an upcoming HOLLYWOOD series with narrator James Mason that would air on both ITV and later PBS in January. Their aim was not just to preserve what was left on celluloid, but the memories of those who created an art form only now receiving the respect it deserved.

 

If you wanted to see films of yesteryear, the Late Late Show or the revival theater was still your best option. There weren't many Betamax and VHS machines in operation in 1979, although a handful of stores were starting with a sprinkling of library titles, mostly by 20th Century Fox working with Magnetic Video at this stage, and independent companies. George Atkinson had opened the first of this kind on Wilshire Boulevard in LA in December 1977. Schools and businesses were still mostly using the 16mm film format, but videos were increasingly cheaper for educational use; companies like Coronet Instructional, Learning Corporation of America and Encyclopædia Britannica Films were starting to release some of their product in the new format about this time.

 

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As with the 16mm and 8mm market, home video mostly got started at your local camera store.

 

Fortunately American movie attendance was not suffering quite as much as it had at the start of the decade. Production was still not up to the same level as it was in 1970, but profits made a huge leap ahead. There were several always reliable stand-byes the major studios could count on: super heroes (SUPERMAN), James Bond (MOONRAKER), anti-establishment comedies (LIFE OF BRIAN, albeit imported from the Brits) and spooks (THE AMITYVILLE HORROR). The cast of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE could also be counted on... sometimes. Steve Martin in THE JERK and Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in Robert Zemeckis' 1941 (produced by Steven Spielberg) both opened on the same day. One was a hit, while the other a flop despite Spielberg's name attached to it. Nonetheless, Aykroyd and Belushi filmed THE BLUES BROTHERS that summer for Universal, based on a popular sketch started on TV.

 

One thing was for certain: the disaster epic had run its course with THE CONCORDE... AIRPORT '79, METEOR, HURRICANE and BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Paramount, with the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams producing, was ready to spoof the entire genre with their filming of AIRPLANE! Part of the problem was due to real life catching up a little too closely with Hollywood fantasy. THE CHINA SYNDROME, starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas in a more serious tale of trouble at a nuclear power plant, was released nationwide just 12 days before the Three Mile Island accident.

 

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And speaking of disasters in the making...

 

The running battle involving MGM's Kirk Kerkorian versus the executives at Columbia Pictures in the wake of the Begelman embezzlement scandal (see 1977 for chapter 1 since we are now up to chapter 3) continued with Kerkorian's further attempts to buy enough stock. One month after the Justice Department halted Kerkorian in his tracks on January 15th, the battered studio expanded its size by acquiring TOY Productions (created three years earlier by Bud Yorkin, Saul Turteltaub and Bernie Orenstein). Then Kerkorian increased his stakes to 25% with an additional 214,000 shares and, once again, the Justice Department had to get involved. This time the situation ended in a draw... of sorts... with Kerkorian having the edge by August.

 

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Part of Columbia's appeal to him was that it had 26 features in release this year, including such hits as THE CHINA SYNDROME, ALL THAT JAZZ and KRAMER VS. KRAMER, while MGM only had... four. It had been four years since it sold off its record company, in addition to relinquishing the distribution of its modest production schedule. Kirk reluctantly declared “we are now primarily a hotel company”.

 

Throughout the year, George Lucas was busy making his STAR WARS sequel, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. The plastic action figures of his earlier '77 blockbuster were dominating store shelves much as Mickey Mouse figurines had for decades.

 

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As a result, this year saw the official STAR WARS “after effects”. Most releases this year had the bulk of their production and filming done in 1977-78 in the mad rush to score another Lucas-Spielberg-ish mega-hit. Paramount blended sophisticated sci fi special effects with their most popular TV cult favorite, STAR TREK, and Fox, under director Ridley Scott, mixed chilling horror (the other money making genre of the decade) with space adventure in ALIEN. Despite its R-rating and gory shock value, there were still ALIEN toys to market to the small fry.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1979

 

Part 2: A return to family oriented entertainment... and the western

 

Home video, along with more successful film festivals like Sundance, would prove a saving grace to independent film makers in the 1980s, but the final years of the '70s were increasingly difficult for many struggling in fierce competition with the majors for what available theater space there was. In the declining double bill market, American International Pictures enjoyed one last mega-hit with THE AMITYVILLE HORROR before chief Samuel Arkoff sold out to Filmways Inc. for $30 million. Another of AIP's big releases in its waning days was an Australian import featuring a little known ex-“yank” Mel Gibson, called MAD MAX. Roger Corman, who had worked at AIP for many years was still chugging away with his New World company (with ROCK & ROLL HIGH SCHOOL a more modest hit this year), but it too was relying increasingly on foreign imports and independent acquisitions to stay afloat.

 

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One way to survive was to unite with a major studio much as “mini-majors” Orion Pictures and Alan Ladd Jr.'s new company (built with fellow 20th Century Fox veterans Jay Kanter and Gareth Wigan who all left that studio abruptly that summer) did with Warner Brothers. Even Francis Ford Coppola's Omni Zeotrope needed United Artists to help get THE BLACK STALLION (directed by Carroll Ballard) into theaters. Although modestly budgeted at $2.7 million, it was one of the surprise hits of the year, proving that family entertainment was far from dead. Even Mickey Rooney, who was less successful in THE MAGIC OF LASSIE a few years back, enjoyed renewed popularity with his supporting role here (echoing NATIONAL VELVET decades ago). Even bigger at the box office was the ITC (releasing through Universal) production of THE MUPPET MOVIE.

 

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Jim Henson's Muppets had moved from small screen to big screen with an impressive line-up of cameos (sometimes barely a minute on screen much like Michael Todd's old AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS) such as Milton Berle, Steve Martin, Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen (pictured above, in his last role), Elliott Gould, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Don DeLuise, James Coburn, Richard Pryor, Cloris Leachman and even Orson Welles, introducing them to a new, younger audience. The characters of Kermit the Frog, Fozzie, Gonzo, Animal and Miss Piggy were, of course, following the same path as the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE cast as stars of television first. However they also resembled, albeit in puppet form, the familiar animorphic personalities of the Disney cartoon characters who were in short supply this decade.

 

The Ron Miller-run Disney corporation was less successful in tapping the new craze in fantasy family-oriented entertainment, as THE BLACK HOLE was accused by critics and audiences for being too derivative and imitative of both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg despite how much those two borrowed from Disney's past in their own block busters. (The Spielberg produced, but not directed, 1941 even referenced DUMBO.) During the past decade, it had only released three animated features, two partly-animated features and roughly the same number of animated shorts outside its more limited 16mm educational market. (Despite how few and far between they were, even the shorter films did quite well, with THE SMALL ONE enjoying continued popularity after its December '78 opening.) Most of its non-theme park and merchandising income was dependent on lightweight “live action” comedies of the Don Knotts variety like THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG RIDES AGAIN.

 

Another Don, Don Bluth, felt stifled by the lack of creativity and led an exodus of animators during the often delayed production of THE FOX AND THE HOUND. They started Don Bluth Productions with a film that Disney refused to distribute: BANJO THE WOODPILE CAT. This was shown with holiday revivals of THE MUPPET MOVIE (initially released in May, but brought back and re-marketed in December).

 

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Yet THE FOX AND THE HOUND was not the only never-ending production. Others were a lot more difficult and darker.

 

With a lengthy filming schedule from March 1976 through May 1977 in the Philippines, much publicized torture brought on the crew and one water buffalo losing its life (much to the shock of moviegoers seeing it happen on screen, since the country didn't have the same animal cruelty laws as the United States), Francis Ford Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW opened at the Cannes film festival to mixed reviews, but a great deal of attention and, fortunately for his Omni Zeotrope and United Artists, some profit. Joseph Conrad's jungle novel Heart Of Darkness was adapted to the setting of the Vietnam War and, according to Coppola, all previous Vietnam moneymakers of the past year were “about” Vietnam while his “was” Vietnam... in more ways than one.

 

A month prior to APOCALYPSE's premiere, on April 9th, another Vietnam epic, THE DEER HUNTER (released by EMI and Universal), won the Best Picture Oscar. A slowly dying John Wayne made one of his last TV appearances when presenting that award. Granted, it did get some criticism for its meandering storyline, relentless Russian roulette scene, some over-acting and the Cascades oddly intermingling on screen with the Appalachians despite thousands of miles in distance. At least this time, no deer were killed in its making since a tranquilizer dart was used on the star wapiti (and another wapiti hired took time out from his work in Connecticut Life Insurance commercials).

 

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Michael Cimino with COMING HOME Oscar winners Jon Voight and Jane Fonda

 

THE DEER HUNTER established director Michael Cimino as the industry's newest hot commodity. Again, United Artists was in a pretty confident mood, thanks to a string of box-office hits, to pull out $11 million to back a western he started filming later that same month...

 

… called HEAVEN'S GATE.

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Jlewis,

 

Nice job on 1979. Was that the last one you were going to post? I couldn't remember if you were stopping with '79 or '80. I know there was a conversation earlier in the thread between you and another poster who indicated they might cover the 80s. Just wondering is all.

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1980 will be posted this weekend.

 

I have '81 onward partially done. However I will be changing residences and may be limited on my computer use during the week. Therefore, it is open here if somebody WANTS to take over the eighties. Otherwise I will post '81 in... two weeks. Need some time to catch up.

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If you wanted to see films of yesteryear, the Late Late Show or the revival theater was still your best option. There weren't many Betamax and VHS machines in operation in 1979, although a handful of stores were starting with a sprinkling of library titles, mostly by 20th Century Fox working with Magnetic Video at this stage, and independent companies. George Atkinson had opened the first of this kind on Wilshire Boulevard in LA in December 1977. Schools and businesses were still mostly using the 16mm film format, but videos were increasingly cheaper for educational use; companies like Coronet Instructional, Learning Corporation of America and Encyclopædia Britannica Films were starting to release some of their product in the new format about this time.

 

6956187.jpg

 

Lord help me, I actually REMEMBER the days of Fotomat video rental.  (We didn't know where there was a Fotomat, but...)

I remember getting help from my parents to indulge on the never-before experience birthday treat--to an insane total of $65-70--of renting three movies for the week, and a player rental from another experimental startup hobbyist store, in 1980.  Yes, those big players where the drawer popped up, to insert the tape.

I remember browsing the thirty or so tapes on the store's shelves.

 

If you want more colorful advertising from the time, one site dug up all seventeen 1980-81 issues on .PDF of TV Guide's "prestige" spinoff magazine Panorama, which featured commentary on the TV/media industry but which attracted advertisers targeting the new Beta/VHS early adopters ("Watch All That Jazz at home!"), and the struggling few big-city cable networks.  ("Now watch sports anytime--ESPN, coming soon!")

http://www.americanradiohistory.com/Panorama-TV-Master-Page.htm

 

 and Fox, under director James Cameron, mixed chilling horror (the other money making genre of the decade) with space adventure in ALIEN. 

 

(Ridley Scott must have been jealous...)

 

1980 will be posted this weekend.

 

I have '81 onward partially done. However I will be changing residences and may be limited on my computer use during the week. Therefore, it is open here if somebody WANTS to take over the eighties. Otherwise I will post '81 in... two weeks. Need some time to catch up.

 

I'm not sure I'm up to the solo task, but I'd collaborate with someone--

Anyone who takes on 1981, but has no historical interest in the 80's Sci-Fantasy Summer of Love (forget that cheapo TV-movie, everyone knows it started with "Excalibur", two months before "Clash of the Titans" or Raiders), is professionally unfit for the job.

Or the Most Depressing Christmas ever (Ragtime, Ghost Story, Reds, Pennies From Heaven), which is still considered to be a bit of a legend.

 

And that includes anyone who generationally forgets that 1980's The Blues Brothers swept most critics' 10 Worst Movies lists of its day, because we'd just been assaulted by three years of Hal Needham car-crashes, and "Smokey & the Bandit II" was the camel's straw.

(Most of us stared jawdropped when loyal Chicagoans Siskel & Ebert gave the Blues good reviews, the traitors..)

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I'm not sure I'm up to the solo task, but I'd collaborate with someone--

Anyone who takes on 1981, but has no historical interest in the 80's Sci-Fantasy Summer of Love (forget that cheapo TV-movie, everyone knows it started with "Excalibur", two months before "Clash of the Titans" or Raiders), is professionally unfit for the job.

Or the Most Depressing Christmas ever (Ragtime, Ghost Story, Reds, Pennies From Heaven), which is still considered to be a bit of a legend.

 

And that includes anyone who generationally forgets that 1980's The Blues Brothers swept most critics' 10 Worst Movies lists of its day, because we'd just been assaulted by three years of Hal Needham car-crashes, and "Smokey & the Bandit II" was the camel's straw.

(Most of us stared jawdropped when loyal Chicagoans Siskel & Ebert gave the Blues good reviews, the traitors..)

 

 

After my brief unpaid sabbatical, I can private message you a working draft on '81 that you can play with. Ha ha! It will be a *collaboration*.

 

I kinda doubt you will be terribly fond of my post on 1980 since I am quite certain something important will be missed. However I am plopping it on here today anyway.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1980

 

Part 1: Final curtain on New Hollywood

 

Technically this was the last year of the seventies. Jimmy Carter was still president. Disco was still popular and hip-hop was just getting started. Video cassettes were still sold mostly in camera stores and mail order catalogs. The personal computer was practically non-existent in the average house-hold, although virtually everybody had access to a color television and a hi fi stereo record player by now... and school students were learning to cheat in math class with pocket calculators. The internet was something only sci fi writers could envision. Right now the film and TV industry was more worried about video enthusiasts infringing on their copyright protections; the futuristic horrors of YouTube and computer downloading was something they could never even dream of. There was much optimism that the eighties would be an even better decade for theatrical entertainment than the last. An enthusiastic Walter Cronkite, who kept America up to date in the sixties with the NASA program was now keeping America up to date with George Lucas' “space exploration”:

 

 

 

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While 20th Century Fox was scoring huge profits with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, both Lucas and Steven Spielberg (shown above) were busy combining forces in sprinkling a little of that “gold dust” over to Paramount with the filming of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, starring EMPIRE cast member Harrison Ford. This was already hoped to be the big hit for 1981 and gained more behind-the-scenes promotion than other films of the period once filming officially began on June 23rd. More importantly, this would be a “fun” movie, not a serious introspective study.

 

In the wake of all of this experimentation, sci fi and fantasy took the front burner for a change. Even King Arthur, considered old hat material subject to lampooning by the Monty Python cast, was making a come-back thanks to all of the medieval sorcery and magic in comic books and Dungeons & Dragons board games. After Orion Pictures rejected RAIDERS (along with several other companies), they had John Boorman supervising EXCALIBUR in Ireland with a grittier and more violent tone. Although Disney's animation department still needed to complete THE FOX AND THE HOUND, preliminary work had already started on THE BLACK CAULDRON to reflect the changing times.

 

In American movie-making, New Hollywood (movies as experimental “art” aimed at challenging audiences) hadn't yet been surpassed by High Concept (movies as “entertainment” designed with corporate marketing), but it was getting there. Even a classically independent John Cassavates, one of the “fathers” of New Hollywood, was adapting to the times with his cooperation with studio major Columbia in the filming of GLORIA, starring his wife Gena Rowlands in a can't-lose-with-audiences familiar mob storyline. However, there was still that final flowering...

 

RAGING BULL, billed in typical New Hollywood fashion as “a Martin Scorsese film” since the director was more important than even the top star, was considered by the newspaper critics of the time as the crown jewel of the decade's movement. In 1989-90, when many critics voiced how disgusted they were with the overall quality of American films in that decade (being more corporate and less artistic in tone), this 1979 filmed production would make more “best of the decade” lists than any other... as if to suggest that the very best of the eighties could only be a product of the seventies.

 

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Echoing the gritty New York in Scorsese's earlier TAXI DRIVER, French director Louis Malle took on ATLANTIC CITY, mostly a Canadian production picked up by Paramount distribution but with established familiars Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon. Despite different origins, it fit in well with the New Hollywood woodwork. Yet Malle had a very different background than America's Young Turks, getting his start working on Jacques Cousteau's undersea documentary THE SILENT WORLD and indirectly becoming part of France's original New Wave when he tested censorship waters with THE LOVERS in 1958. Two years back, he featured star Sarandon with Brooke Shields (a household name this year with Calvin Klein ads and THE BLUE LAGOON) in PRETTY BABY, which covered New Orleans' red light district of the pre-World War 1 era.

 

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By 1980, there was increasing ridicule of New Hollywood's “vanity projects”, at least among commentators less focused on promoting some artistic cause. Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING would gain some respect over the decades and, financially, it was successful as it followed last year's spook pic AMITYVILLE HORROR. There was, however, plenty of scoffing of Jack Nicholson's method acting, reminiscent of decades old Richard Widmark and Marlon Brando. His “Here's Johnny” became as familiar a stock phrase as “You know what I do with squealers?” and “Hey Stella!”, but often with more amusement than respect.

 

No ridicule for the box office champ of the decade, Robert Redford, when he got behind behind the camera as an “auteur” himself with ORDINARY PEOPLE. An ensemble acting piece for its stars Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, character actor Judd Hircsh and newcomer Timothy Hutton, this was very much a hybrid of both New Hollywood and High Concept. Paramount knew it had a good thing going and would produce many more of these family dramas over the next decade to compete with TV's own flood of family dramas. Columbia's KRAMER VS. KRAMER was its immediate predecessor at Oscar time and the Best Pictures of the new decade tended to alternate predictably and safely between this genre and the historical epic.

 

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Redford directing Hutton on the set, November 1979.

 

This was the kind of movie that established Hollywood was more comfortable with rather than all of the more experimental stuff that challenged suburban theater goers in Indiana or Texas. Contemporary to Redford's drama was the Loretta Lynn biopic COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, sort of the country music version of THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY two years back but with prime acting by Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones and an even wider appeal for “fly-over” America. In previous decades, musical biopics were only moderately successful (apart from a boom period in the forties with YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and THE JOLSON STORY) but many favored these types of films as easier to grasp than New Hollywood's think-pieces.

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A Year In Hollywood: 1980

 

Part 2: Corporate Hollywood takes over

 

When one looks at Variety's top money makers of the year, most were mainstream comedies with more of a slapstick slant than such critics' introspective darlings as MELVIN AND HOWARD and Woody Allen's latest, STARDUST MEMORIES. Heading the lists were AIRPLANE!, STIR CRAZY, PRIVATE BENJAMIN, THE BLUES BROTHERS and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II. A funny Clint Eastwood in ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN was being favored more than a serious Clint Eastwood in BRONCO BILLY. Likewise, 9 TO 5 had funny Jane Fonda (with Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin) instead of serious Jane Fonda.

 

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Serious Fonda would, of course, be back at work that summer with her father Henry in ON GOLDEN POND, but this drama was essentially an all-star adaptation of Ernest Thompson's popular play that was not too-too far removed from ORDINARY PEOPLE in its multi-generational (but easy to fathom) conflicts. It also boasted fellow veteran Katharine Hepburn (initially Ingrid Bergman was in the running when casting was being done in November 1979) and had the full funding of both ITC and Universal. If there was any challenge to be made, it must be made if a core audience was already out there.

 

MGM only had one substantial musical hit with FAME during this post disco and pre-MTV era, but the always ambitious Kirk Kerkorian was still eager to expand his financial empire and try to supervise more than one company. His first unsuccessful attempt was a proposed merge with 20th Century Fox when they were at their worst back in 1971. Then came a series of attempts with Columbia Pictures that culminated on September 30, when he sued them for violating an earlier agreement he had made to acquire 25% interest. They, in turn, counter-sued him for teaming with associate Nelson Bunker to take over the lady with the torch. In a rather peculiar and quite amusing twist, David Begelman (the production head who stirred so much trouble with Columbia in the beginning with his embezzlement scandal) was swiftly hired by both Kerkorian and MGM as the ultimate statement of his attitude towards his rival company.

 

Sadly, the fortunes of Kerkorian took a horrible downturn on on November 21st when his prize possession, the Grand Hotel of Las Vegas, set fire and claimed 84 lives.

 

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Although not devastating in terms of human loss, the misfortunes of another company would later give Kerkorian his wish for a corporate merge shortly. Transamerica had been running United Artists since 1967, but had battled with the long established team of Krim and Benjamin until the duo decided to jump ship and launch their own company Orion Pictures. In 1979-80, they had a string of hits through Warner Bros. distribution with TEN, THE GREAT SANTINI and CADDYSHACK, despite the untimely passing of Benjamin. For a while, UA was also raking in their own money (and, thank you, 007, Sylvester Stallone and Woody Allen for making it possible), but then they invested in Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE.

 

This western started on a budget of $11 million and, by March 1980 when Cimino was busy in the editing rooms (trying to bring down the running time to “just” five hours and 25 minutes in length), had mushroomed to a staggering $30 million. Where did all of the money go? Gossip was flourishing that the director was high on cocaine, but that was just a silly gossip brought on, in part, because ex-Paramount boss Robert Evans recently pleaded guilty himself for trafficking and the industry was under investigation.

 

Cimino was, of course, a meticulous and detail-obsessed filmmaker who wanted his baby to be perfect. He made sure no studio or conglomerate big-wig would interrupt with his vision, even if dollars went down the drain as he took as many as fifty takes just to get That Perfect Shot. Cimino himself was instantly shunned as an outsider to the industry because many seeking backing for their own projects were turned away on account of too much of the UA revenue being soaked in his “baby”.

 

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Worst of all, newspaper critics were being taken very seriously at this time regardless of what the public's opinion may be and one particularly scathing review by the New York Times' Vincent Canby on November 19th (citing it “fails so completely that you might suspect Mr. Cimino sold his soul to the Devil to obtain the success of THE DEER HUNTER and the Devil has just come around to collect”) would help prompt UA to withdraw the film and reissue with many more additional cuts, making it more confusing for general audiences.

 

The destruction of United Artists under the weight of HEAVEN'S GATE brought an abrupt end to much of the New Hollywood experimentation of the seventies. Although some like Spielberg and Lucas were allowed to play with the Tinsel Town toy chest, the era of blank checks and over optimism was gone and this debacle confirmed all of the worst fears of the establishment in power that anybody “undisciplined” under 45 should not be trusted. The new decade would be a more conservative one dominated by pre-sold and heavily marketed material, boasting a pleasing-to-the-eye video game “look”. It would be the golden age of the brat-pack comedy out to please the teenage demographic, the action adventure with exploding planes and fire-arms and, to get the occasional Oscar nods, the “feel good and come to terms” drama. After Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, even the United States economy was focused more on Wall Street speculation than entertainment speculation, as the big wheelings and dealings were no longer done behind the walls of a film or TV studio but in New York... and even the fortunes of established icons like Disney were not immune to somebody like “Irv the Liquidator”. On the plus side, entertainment on a mass scale would change dramatically, redefining what “a movie” really was, thanks to a boom in cable TV and VHS. Thus, began a gradual restructuring of the industry that continues to this day, as each movie and TV company became simply a subsidiary of a bigger conglomerate.

 

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It is always about entertainment, whether created for the screen or for the eager tourist.

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Excellent job, Jlewis. I sincerely appreciate the contributions you've made to the Year in Hollywood thread this summer. 

 

My original goal was to start with the very first sound films and go up to 1959. You convinced me to cover the 60s, and you have now added the 70s plus 1980. The information is most valuable and exceeds what I thought the thread might accomplish. Thank you.

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Excellent job, Jlewis. I sincerely appreciate the contributions you've made to the Year in Hollywood thread this summer. 

 

My original goal was to start with the very first sound films and go up to 1959. You convinced me to cover the 60s, and you have now added the 70s plus 1980. The information is most valuable and exceeds what I thought the thread might accomplish. Thank you.

 

Awww... thanks.

 

I like EricJ's approach to this too... making it more of a personal journey, covering one's movie experiences through the years. Unfortunately, lil' ol' me didn't visit the theaters as often as he did. My parents were MEAN!

 

Martin Scorsese's PERSONAL JOURNEY series of 1995 began with him talking about the impressionable movies of his childhood such as DUEL IN THE SUN and the picture books he got from the library that influenced him as a kid in NYC. Of course, we may need to start a separate thread here like you had to with your own Essentials.

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Awww... thanks.

 

I like EricJ's approach to this too... making it more of a personal journey, covering one's movie experiences through the years. Unfortunately, lil' ol' me didn't visit the theaters as often as he did. My parents were MEAN!

 

Martin Scorsese's PERSONAL JOURNEY series of 1995 began with him talking about the impressionable movies of his childhood such as DUEL IN THE SUN and the picture books he got from the library that influenced him as a kid in NYC. Of course, we may need to start a separate thread here like you had to with your own Essentials.

I like the idea of personalizing films. I like the idea very much. 

 

One thought that crossed my mind was moving back to Los Angeles (which I am still considering for next year). And taking up residence again in my old neighborhood in West Hollywood. I lived there back in 2003 to 2004. I realized during the year I lived there, I had experienced a lot of living Hollywood history everywhere I went. So I've been wanting to revisit all that for a 12-month period and do my own 'Year in Hollywood' for 2017 or 2018, where I am chronicling my experiences.

 

But that is probably best for a blog. Of course, one issue with personalized accounts, is that they may appeal to the individual who wrote them, but unless they are getting at deeper universal truths or function as some sort of amusement or entertainment, they will not have much relevance for readers. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I will try to get 1981 up by... maybe tomorrow. Had to cut it down because it got too big. I will probably spread these out on a weekly basis since I only have five paragraphs for 1982 so far and Real Life is interfering.

 

Trying to con EricJ to cover a few years since he actually likes the 1980s. As for me, I am debating how much space should be dedicated to Howard The Duck. Since the three of us have radically different styles and approaches to this material, it would be fun to maintain The Variety here.

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I will try to get 1981 up by... maybe tomorrow. Had to cut it down because it got too big. I will probably spread these out on a weekly basis since I only have five paragraphs for 1982 so far and Real Life is interfering.

 

Trying to con EricJ to cover a few years since he actually likes the 1980s. As for me, I am debating how much space should be dedicated to Howard The Duck. Since the three of us have radically different styles and approaches to this material, it would be fun to maintain The Variety here.

 

Thank you for continuing with the 80s. There's no rush...if you need to take a break, no worries. You've already provided so much good information.

 

I will refrain from advising you on HOWARD THE DUCK. LOL

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Thank you for continuing with the 80s. There's no rush...if you need to take a break, no worries. You've already provided so much good information.

 

I will refrain from advising you on HOWARD THE DUCK. LOL

 

 

Don't worry, I already lectured JLewis on PM about how

A) Lucas didn't direct HtD (IMDb is your friend),

B ) Lucas was basically giving projects to his old obnoxious American Graffiti buddies, to 

C) Try and raise money for Skywalker Ranch--And when he couldn't, had to sell off his old CGI unit instead...Guess what happened to that one?

 

If all you remember about the 80's was Howard the Duck, you just weren't there, and JL says if it isn't all he remembers, it's all he's interested in.

 

(I had to go back and look at the beginning of the thread--Okay, so the thread actually IS about the history of the industry and not the movies themselves.

I wasn't paying much attention to the corporate-studio industry, so all I know is the movies and how they reflected their times.)

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