American Cinema of the 1970s: Themes and Variations

By Lester D. Friedman | Go to book overview

1975
Movies and Conflicting
Ideologies

GLENN MAN

American movies of the year reflected the perceived split between commercial mainstream films and those that appealed to specialized audiences fueled by auteurism, the art cinema, and counterculture values.1 The traumas of Vietnam and Watergate were fresh enough to feed into the production and reception of films that were critical of the country on the eve of its bicentennial. The nation's economy matched the instability of its politics. According to Michael Barone, after Nixon had been driven from office, “Prices were rising at rates most Americans had never experienced…. Real wages and incomes had gone into a decline … [and] the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, had lost control of the production and supply of crude oil to a bunch of Persian Gulf sheiks and monarchs” (535). Progressive movements continued to rock the nation. The feminist movement pushed hard for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment; the American Indian Movement's violent resistance on behalf of Native Americans influenced the passing of the Indian Self-Determination Act, which paved the way for tribal self-governance. Meanwhile, the civil rights movement had evolved into the forced integration of schools through busing, which, following a federal court order, spawned racial violence in South Boston.

A major publication was E. L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime, set in 1906 America and interweaving the stories of fictional and historical personages around an upper-middle-class white family, a Jewish immigrant family, and African American characters, all blended into a vision of the enterprising energy of a nation steeped in racism, poverty, and violence. In television, the parodic, anarchic humor of “Saturday Night Live” premiered on 11 October with George Carlin as host, while Archie Bunker's Black neighbors, the Jeffersons, debuted in their own show, having moved from Queens to an Upper East Side apartment, prompting their Black maid, Florence, to utter, “How come we overcame and nobody told me anything about it?”

-135-

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