A Decade Under the Influence

I just rented the very cool Independent Film Channel documentary, A Decade Under the Influence, which examines the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s. The film, directed by Richard LaGravenese and the late Ted Demme, mixes talking-head interviews with prominent ’70s filmmakers and footage from some of the decade’s most influencial films.

The three-part documentary offers an effective overview of the decade starting with the decline of the studio system in the late 1960s, which allowed young Hollywood filmmakers, such as Scorsese, Coppola, Ashby, and Rafelson, to enter the scene. I also deeply enjoyed the archival footage of John Cassavetes directing several scenes in his classically improvisational style. In general, the narrative of the films follows a relatively standard account of the 1970s focuisng on a decline of the studio system followed by a re-entrenchment due to the success of Jaws (which also marked the success of that newly dominant genre, the high-concept film). I think it’s a pretty accurate narrative, and I was pleased that, for the most part, the filmmakers tried to counteract the “Heaven’s Gate myth” of overly excessive filmmakers.

The documentary does uphold the “Rocky myth,” the argument that mainstream audiences had simply tired of moral ambiguity after all of the scandals and crises of the decade (Watergate, Vietnam, Three Mile Island). I’d point, instead, to the studio practice of larger budgets tailored toward huge opening weekend gross profits, which tends to obscure smaller films (with a few notable exceptions).

Still, the documentary had several great moments, including William Friedkin’s explanation that an exterior shot of the family home in The Exorcist was inspired by a Magritte painting (I think it might be The Empire of Light, but I’m not certain). Also enjoyable were the interviews with Julie Christie and Ellen Burstyn who challenged the gender politics of New Hollywood. More than anything, the documentary made me wish I subscribed to IFC.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe without commenting