Something Happened: A Political and Cultural Overview of the Seventies

By Edward D. Berkowitz | Go to book overview

9
The movies as Cultural mirror

As intellectuals tried and failed to see the seventies as a whole and people of all sorts fought for their rights, movies offered tantalizing vignettes of the era. Watergate, the oil crisis, economic stagnation, urban conflict, and ethnic solidarity and pride all received perceptive movie treatments. The best films of the seventies used the form of established genres such as the detective movie or the gangster movie to comment on the state of American life.

In the seventies, going to the movies was not the universal experience that it was in the twenties, thirties, or forties. Television had replaced the movies as the most ubiquitous form of common culture. No longer turned out on a mass-production basis by studios that controlled all aspects of production and distribution, the movies of the seventies reflected the creativity of a new generation of directors who enjoyed unprecedented freedom to realize their artistic ambitions. The results were some of the best American films ever made, such as Chinatown and The Godfather.

For Americans the seventies marked the last time that one needed to go to a theater to see a movie. Soon after the seventies, video tapes would make watching movies on demand possible in one's living room and change the nature of the moviegoing experience forever. By then, too, the industry would be in thrall to the summer blockbuster that would crowd out the market for the smaller and more experimental products of the seventies. Hence, the seventies represented a unique era in the history of the movies; even critics who pointed to the dreary aspects of the period recognized the seventies as a time of great cinema.

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