American Cinema of the 1970s: Themes and Variations

By Lester D. Friedman | Go to book overview
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Movies and the 1970s


We live in a swirl of images and echoes that arrest experience and play it
back in slow motion. Cameras and recording machines not only transcribe
experience but alter its quality, giving to much of modern life the character
of an enormous echo chamber, a hall of mirrors. Life presents itself as a
succession of images or electronic signals, of impressions recorded and
reproduced by means of photography, motion pictures, televisions, and
sophisticated recording devices. Modern life is so thoroughly mediated by
electronic images that we cannot help responding to others as if our
actions—and their own—were being recorded and simultaneously
transmitted to an unseen audience or stored up for close scrutiny at a
later time.

—Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American
Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations

Beyond the Strobe Lights

It is easy to make fun of the seventies. A smug glance at the so-called “Me Decade” unveils a kaleidoscope of big hair, blaring music, and broken politics—all easy targets for satire, cynicism, and ultimately even nostalgia: “The 70's epitomize bad taste, evoking a wasteland of synthetic disco clothing and avocado-and-gold kitchens” (Spindler 6). For many commentators, the first five years of the seventies remain merely a reverberation of the countercultural sixties and the last five a foreshadowing of the conservative eighties. As one wit remarked, “The perfect seventies symbol was the Pet Rock, which just sat there doing nothing” (Schulman xii). Recently, however, a new generation of scholars has looked beyond the strobe lights to illuminate how profoundly the seventies have influenced American life. For these scholars, the “long, gaudy, depressing Seventies reinvented America” (Schulman 257) and “marked the end of a postwar consensus” (Berkowitz 6). It was a “decade of social earthquakes” (SlocumSchaffer 211) that resulted in “real and permanent” (Frum xxiv) upheavals that brought “American thought and culture into a new era” (Hoeveler


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