Sunday, June 08, 2003

A Decade Under the Influence (IMDB) (Netflix)
One of the benefits of attending prep school in the early 70s was the opportunity every Saturday night to see nearly first-run movies, all selected by Mr. Stevenson, an English teacher with an eye for the R-rated. Many of those same films are featured in this documentary about American filmmaking during that turbulent decade, when the studios realized they had lost touch with their audience and let a host of outsiders, including Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin, Peter Bogdanovich and Francis Ford Coppola, in on the action. In return, we got Taxi Driver, French Connection, Last Picture Show and The Godfather, and a host of other groundbreaking films that were notable because they were also commercially successful.

Because my cinematic coming of age coincides with the heart of this documentary, it had a special resonance that may not be shared by others. Yet the 70s were a special time in Hollywood that might never be duplicated in terms of risk-taking, innovation and social awareness (certainly not in this Year of the Blockbuster Sequel). The two dozen filmmakers and actors interviewed here have put enough distance from those times to reflect intelligently, if somewhat nostalgically and uncritically, and one wishes for an even broader array of personalities. While not the definitive catalog of the decade, and mostly for the film lover, it's well-crafted and accessible, and has enough insights to give the period its due.