Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: New Hollywood Marathon

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My largest and most glaring gap of cinematic knowledge, at least of American film, is easily the 1970s. I grew up watching the films of the Hollywood studios’ golden era, the 1930s-1950s, and of my own generation, the 1990s-current, but have only sporadically caught the films in between. Given that many of the greatest and most iconoclastic American films of all time come from the 1970s, I have decided that enough is enough, and this year I am going to eliminate my New Hollywood list of shame, which includes: The Godfather Part II, M*A*S*H, The Exorcist, Five Easy Pieces, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Badlands, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, and others.

easy-riders-raging-bulls.jpgBecause my knowledge of the whole era is a little superficial, I’m reading Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll Generation Saved Hollywood to give myself a background in the history and temperament of the era, and watching the films he discusses while I’m reading. And I figured, might as well share my journey through New Hollywood as I go. The list of films you’ll find after the cut is culled from Biskind’s book and Wikipedia’s entry on New Hollywood, leaving out some that I have already seen.

One thing that has fascinated me as I worked on creating this master list is how varied the films are – drama, comedy, action, satire, war, crime, romance, horror, western, science fiction, concert film and period piece are all among the genres represented. What they have in common: 1) a willingness to push the boundaries of what cinema was allowed to do and to explore themes of sexuality, antiheroism, and isolation that were previously taboo, 2) a sense of brashness and raw vitality brought by the eager young filmmakers wresting the reins from entrenched studios, 3) a tendency to focus on character and script rather than plot, and 4) a knowledge of and appreciation for cinema itself, from the masters of Golden Age Hollywood to the imports coming from Europe and Japan.

This quote from Biskind’s introduction I think sums it up nicely:

[The 1970s were] the last time Hollywood produced a body of risky, high-quality work — work that was character-, rather than plot-driven, that defied traditional narrative conventions, that challenged the tyranny of technical correctness, that broke the taboos of language and behavior, that dared to end unhappily. […] In a culture inured even to the shock of the new, in which today’s news is tomorrow’s history to be forgotten entirely or recycled in some unimaginably debased form, ’70s movies retain their power to unsettle; time has not dulled their edge, and they are as provocative now as they were the day they were released. […] The thirteen years between Bonnie & Clyde in 1967 and Heaven’s Gate in 1980 marked the last time it was really exciting to make movies in Hollywood, the last time people could be consistently proud of the pictures they made, the last time the community as a whole encouraged good work, the last time there was an audience that could sustain it.

And it wasn’t only the landmark movies that made the late ’60s and ’70s unique. This was a time when film culture permeated American life in a way that it never had before and never has since. In the words of Susan Sontag, “It was at this specific moment in the 100-year history of cinema that going to the movies, thinking about movies, talking about movies became a passion among university students and other young people. You fell in love not just with actors but with cinema itself.” Film was no less than a secular religion.

A few Row Three contributors have already shown an interest in writing about some of these as well; if you’d like to watch and share your thoughts about any of them, please do! See also the list at the bottom, which includes several films I’ve already seen and don’t intend to rewatch and write about, but someone else certainly could. If you’re not a R3 contributor and would like to join in, just email me and I’ll post your reviews with credit.

 

Would you like to know more…?

IMDB’s Top 250 – How Accurate Is It?

Like all of us who spend a good deal of time here on Row Three, I love movies. However, (and I say this without knowing the depth or breadth of each person’s particular obsession), the way we express this love differs from individual to individual. For instance, one of the particular ways that my affair with all things cinematic has manifested itself is in an enormous excel database, one that I have been maintaining for six years now (in fact, it all started six years ago yesterday). In this database, I have compiled, among other things, daily viewing logs for every day since August 16, 2002 (there’s no real significance to that date…it’s just when I decided to start keeping track of this information), which I cross-reference with an alphabetical list of films and the days on which I viewed them. On March 19, 2003, the day the U.S. first launched the war against Iraq, I was busy watching The Big Bird Cage, a Roger Corman-produced exploitation film starring Pam Grier. The film I’ve seen the most since August 16, 2002 is Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller, which I’ve viewed 10 times in the past 6 years.

One of the spreadsheets I put together as part of this database was a list of IMDB’s Top-250 films, which I did with the express intent of watching every film on that list. To date, I’ve been fairly successful, with only 8 films on the list that I still need to see. The problem is that the top-250 I laid out for myself was from December 15, 2002. Looking at today’s IMDB top 250, the number I have yet to see has jumped to 17. Furthermore, only five of the films I haven’t seen from my original 2002 list are even on the newest top 250. Three of them (The Others, You Can Count on Me and The Man Who Would Be King) have dropped off completely.

Even the five that appear on both lists have shifted positions since 2002, some significantly:

Das Boot (#36 on the list in 2002, #66 on the current list)
Double Indemnity (#44 in 2002, #54 now)
It Happened One Night (#112 then, #130 now)
Arsenic and Old Lace (#131 then, #241 now)
His Girl Friday (#148 then, #231 now)

The new additions to the Top-250 that I haven’t seen are:

The Lives of Others
Oldboy
Kind Hearts and Coronets
Brief Encounter
Sleuth (1972)
The Lady Vanishes
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The Kid (1921)
Stalker
Ace in the Hole
Hate (La Haine)
Great Expectations (1946)

Now, the additions of The Lives of Others, Oldboy, and The Diving Bell and Butterfly make perfect sense; none of those films had been released at the time the 2002 list was compiled. What’s surprising is that the remaining nine are considerably older, and were around in 2002. Kind Hearts and Coronets, released in 1950 and completely left off the 2002 list, is now #140 on the current Top-250. Why the 110-position surge? I originally thought the answer might be DVD related, that the release of the film to the home market may have influenced its standing, but Kind Hearts and Coronets was first released on DVD in the U.S. three months prior to the 2002 list I copied (I don’t know when it was released in other markets). Has the film found a recent audience, or did a few zealous Alec Guinness fans ‘stack the deck’, taking the time to create hundreds of accounts on IMDB in order to vote it onto the list?

Other films have also changed significantly. Some (released around 2002 amid a great deal of hype, only to see the furor dwindle by 2008) make sense. Others don’t. Here are a few of the other ‘list shifts’:

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (dropped from #5 in 2002 to #20 today)
Citizen Kane (#4 in 2002 to #29 today)
Lawrence of Arabia (#22 then, #35 now)
Raging Bull (fell 20 places, from #51 then to #71 now)
Touch of Evil (down a whopping 35 places, from #58 then to #93 now)
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Still other films on 2002’s list have now dropped off completely, and not just ones that were at the bottom to begin with:

All the President’s Men (was #171 in 2002…gone today)
The Iron Giant (#198 in 2002, also gone today)
Miller’s Crossing (from #205 to oblivion)
The Untouchables (#215 to nowhere to be found)
Clerks (#217 to nothing)

Of course, not every film has dropped. Some have even increased in popularity over the last 6 years:

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (#27 in 2002, #5 today)
Pulp Fiction (up 13 places, from #19 in 2002 to #6 today)
12 Angry Men (from #24 in 2002 to #10 today)
Fight Club (was #37 in 2002, and now it’s #23)
A Clockwork Orange (jumped from #64 in 2002 to #48 today)
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And for the record, the #’s 1 and 2 films in 2002 were The Godfather (#1), followed by The Shawshank Redemption (#2). Today, #’s 1 and 2 are The Shawshank Redemption (#1) followed by The Godfather (#2)

So, how reliable do you feel the IMDB top-250 list is in determining the likes and dislikes of its contributors? Can it be heavily influenced by a ‘fad’ mentality (The Dark Knight is still sitting at #3 overall on the current list), or does it do a good job in detailing the tastes of the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of film fans who vote on a regular basis?

What do you think?