on February 10, 2005
It is apparent to me that those that don't appreciate this documentary are missing out, and misleading potential buyers, on a great piece of filmmaking. How many films include Coppola, Hopper, Scorsese, Lumet, Christie, among others in a documentary?
The film illuminates on the profound and revolutionary techniques by these "student mentality" (meaning innovative) filmmakers and actors. It is such an interesting and hip documentary handled with care, with a great soundtrack and cool, and surprising, clips.
Those that want to grow as a filmmaker should watch and heed the words of these film icons. Sure, it's nostalgic, but it should be; a film involving the free-ing spirit of '70s films.
It'd be interesting if it included more nudity from the various influential films. Regardless, it is a wonderful companion to any aspiring filmmaker, and much better than Easy Riders Raging Bulls, which focuses too much on the excess of the era.
A Decade Under the Influence shows even the artistry of the money-making Corman, along the next generation of filmmakers! Great film! Deserves more praise from Amazon!
on September 23, 2003
The problems with both ADUTI and the similar doc EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS are: they are generally fawning in tone; they play fast-and-loose with the truth by presenting only selected bits of film history; and - most importantly - they attempt to explain the zeitgeist of the 70s by restricting their view only to movies, when movies are (and have always been) a milk container in the cultural icebox...taking the flavor of whatever's sitting next to it. The 'counterculture', or 'new aesthetic' (or however you want to phrase it) lasted longer and more meaningfully in other media (music, art, fiction) where there was substantially less money being invested. I love many late 60s/70s films...in fact, that whole era is genuinely fascinating...but 'explaining', or just examining in depth, that window in time is more properly the domain of a Ken Burns-length documentary series. (You'd need 10-15 hours just to take in the full view.) And blaming everything that didn't work or fell apart on either drugs, JAWS, STAR WARS, or all three, is as pat and false as showing a married couple sleeping in twin beds during the heyday of the Production Code.
For instance, Bogdanovich is trotted out like a High Lama of Personal Cinema but the audience never gets the sense of how his lousy old-Hollywood imitations like AT LONG LAST LOVE and NICKELODEON catastrophically imploded his career, right in the middle of that halcyon decade (and STAR WARS didn't have a blessed thing to do with it). We get clips from DIRTY HARRY and MAGNUM FORCE, as if Eastwood's proto-fascist genuflections before Ruthless Authority were somehow considered hip and edgy by the intelligentsia of the decade, when they were uniformly bemoaned and despised. We get many cloud-cuckooland memories intimating that 70s cinema reflected the audience's desire for meatier, more challenging fare, when nothing could have been further from the truth (the top box-office stars for much of the decade were not Dustin Hoffman or Robert DeNiro but Eastwood, Burt Reynolds and Charles Bronson). The biggest hits of the 70s were all spun off the AIP model, not the Truffaut/Godard model: sensation ruled the day, then as now. People stood on long lines stretching several times around city blocks to see THE GODFATHER or SERPICO because - as a Roger Corman ad campaign might have phrased it - they "rip the lid off today's shocking headlines!!"
It's one thing to say that Hal Ashby and Francis Coppola made terrific films (they did indeed); it's another to claim that they made films during a golden time when the audience was, for once, on the side of the Artists. That time has never existed. Before JAWS, before STAR WARS, folks were packing theaters for DEATH WISH, BILLY JACK and THE EXORCIST - and not because they were diehard Cahiers du Cinema subscribers.
And what is not even touched upon is the long-term effect of the heightened gory violence of 70s films. We hear auteur after auteur hiding behind that sad old trope of "in order to show people the HORROR of violence, we had to truly show the EFFECTS of violence". Gee, thanks, Teacher....I'd've never dreamed that getting shot in the head might actually hurt, otherwise. Too bad the nonstop,desensitizing, rolling-snowball-momentum of all those squibs and open wounds is with us still, and it is almost 100% due to the movies of the 1970s. Coppola's triumphs may be a thing of the past - but Moe Green getting shot point-blank in the eye is forever. Scorsese has run out of heartfelt Little Italy stories to tell us, but he's still 'teaching' us how it might feel to have your eye forced out of its socket by having your head squeezed in a vise, or simply how liberating & invigorating it is to be turning that vise on behalf of the Mafia. I recall a 70s-era Pauline Kael column called "Fear of Movies" where she chided the audience for being prim, prudish wussies afraid to viscerally experience the primal excitement of violent films; a year or two later, she was fretting over the increasing 'brutality' of mass-entertainment. Way to chart cause and effect, Pauline!
Sorry. But if you're going to celebrate the films of the 1970s, you have to shine a little light on the warts and moles under the makeup too...or you end up with a puff-piece. Which is the case here, good intentions notwithstanding.
"Cinematic success is not necessarily the result of good brain work but of a harmony of existing elements in ourselves that we may not have ever been conscious of, an accidental coincidence of our own preoccupations and the public's."
-Francois Truffaut, FILMS IN MY LIFE
This quote appears at the beginning of the first of the three episodes that comprise the docudrama A DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE. Even before the New Wave film makers like Godard and Truffaut, however, France of course had an established film history and an established history of intellectual discourse on film that went back at least as far as Renoir (who described cinema as a state of mind). Or to say that in a slightly different way the French do not just value individual films they value cinema and revere it as an art form on par with all of the other art forms and the French over the years have evolved a way of talking about cinema and theorizing cinema in an intelligent and insightful way. Thats something that America has never really had. We've had a few interesting film critics but criticism is not the same as thoughtful analysis of an art form. If you watch a documentary about French film you are going to get a very theoretical discussion going but American documentaries can not get away from telling the history of cinema from the cash angle. It is ironic because the film makers who made A DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE seem to be driven by a desire to answer the question why American films in the seventies were so good and why films now are so bad, but the documentarians are only interested in those independent films that made money and thus have some kind of noteriety and so they never abandon the cash angle. In America we have a kind of blue collar ethic when it comes to the arts; we do not like elitist things and so we refuse to discriminate between "film culture" (which sounds elitist) and the "movie industry" (a phrase which does not offend American sensibilities). Americans are willing to defend the marketplace and let supply and demand decide what cultural products will be made available for public consumption but they are not willing to acknowledge that art is not created by business men. I'm not knocking America just acknowledging that what is wrong with our film culture is that we don't have one; what we have is a film marketplace.
This documentary is very good at showing who influenced the American independents. The American directors of the early seventies were influenced by the foreign films of the sixties (hence the cover art and title of this documentary). In the seventies for a brief stretch of time we did have what looked like a film culture because a lot of very interesting people, mainly film students, were making some really original work but there was never any support system for these independents save for a few forward thinking voices at a few forward thinking newspapers and magazines. Even then American intellectuals interested in film (like Sontag) talked about foreign films not American films. Whats really missing from this documentary is a discussion of why Americans have such a hard time discussing "American art" and why they are so uncomfortable with the category. Of course its not just film that suffers in the American cultural marketplace but all of the art forms (and all forms of culture and intellectual life that attempt a more thorough analysis of ourselves than the mass-market entertainments offered by Hollywood). So its fitting that an American documentary about American cinema should begin with a French quote because there just isn't any homegrown film culture to speak of that supports the film artist. I think what Truffaut is saying is that an artist can only follow the dictates of his own interests and if the public happens to be in the same state of mind as the artist then you have a box office hit. In other words its a kind of accidental harmony that brings an artist recognition by a public. Truffaut and Godard made very few hits in their day but the French film culture that they helped establish never abandoned them nor pressured them to make concessions to the public taste. In the second episode Orson Welles is quoted as saying that a film is good to the extent that it reflects the person that created it. That seems to me to be a very apt way of stating the differecne between a piece of art and a piece of entertainment. French film culture supports artists; the American film industry only supports its artists so long as they bring in good box office.
This documentary is very good at explaining just how that cash rule was momentarily suspended in the early seventies and that for a brief time there was a place for the artist in the mass market entertainment world of Hollywood. In the early seventies the Hollywood formulas no longer seemed relevant to contemporary realites and the new generation of film makers, raised on the foreign films of the 50's and 60's, decided it was time to reflect American realites on film. This dose of realism interjected by Ashby and Altman and Coppola and Scorcese was not only artistic but it also brought young people to the movie theatres. Truffaut's quote is again enlightening on this matter. In the seventies film artists made films about marginal types because as artists in America they were marginal types and so they understood what being marginal was all about. And if some of the marginal films that these marginalized artists were making became popular it was perhaps simply because in the early seventies a lot of people felt marginalized in one way or another. Whether the public felt marginalized from the government, from the capitalist machine, or from each other (or all of the above), in the early seventies marginalization was in and it sold movie tickets. So for awhile America appeared to have something that resembled a film culture but I think the reality was that it was just a coincidence that artists and public both felt alienated at the same time about the same things. That would explain the brief success of independent film in the early seventies and the reason that that success could not last because without a lively film culture to support and sustain independent films they cannot compete with Hollywood. The independent film makers were capable of giving us something to think about, they were capable of subtlety and nuance and moral ambiguity but it was only a matter of time until Americans got tired of subtlety and nuance and moral ambiguity because that was not satisfying in the long run and it was only a matter of time until Hollywood concocted some new formulas for bringing massive audiences to the theatre.
Most of the interview subjects do not offer much insight into film history and the state of the art in the seventies and now but William Friedkin and Julie Christie each prove to be very insightful.
This documentary is fairly good at telling the history of why certain early seventies films may have struck a common chord with the public but it really doesn't go very deep into the root problems inherent in American life that make (some of) us Americans fear art, subtlety, nuance and prefer crass blockbuster thrills. I think this documentary is content to just document the early seventies independent directors and stars but I think the reason many people are dissatisfied with this documentary is that they want more substantial conversations not just a collection of nostalgiac clips from great seventies films accompanied by some behind the scenes anecdotes w/ directors and stars. Plus the documentary really just deals with the big names like Altman and Coppola and Ashby and Scorcese and the big stars and really doesn't bother to try and turn us on to any names we might not already be familiar with. It also doesn't deal with film criticism of the seventies or film theory (French, black, feminist, or any other)and how these things contributed to the new kinds of directions films took. In other words its a documentary about independent cinema geared toward the public taste which means these documetarians only talk to the big names that have acquired box office clout over the years. The documentary is good but its not as thorough nor as critical as it could have been; in sum the documentary is not as bold as its subject matter.
This quick, glitzy documentary, which looks at the maverick filmmaking that reshaped Hollywood in the late 1960s and throughout the '70s, has its ups and downs. At first I thought the lack of a central narrative voice, "telling" us what we're supposed to know, was kind of cool: "Yeah," I thought, "We're smart enough to understand what happened, and all these intelligent, thoughtful rebel filmmakers -- Coppola, Scorcese, Altman, Hopper, Dern, Eastwood, et al. -- can guide us through the history better than any dumb old narrator can... After all, they *lived* it, man...!!" But, sadly, this was not true: by the end of the three segments, I felt a little lost, and even a little cheated... I wasn't really sure what these advocates of independent cinema were trying to tell me, and while the parade of film clips and archival artwork (wish I'd taken notes!) was entertaining, it wasn't particularly well contextualized. The story arc, as such, was that Hollywood, having lost its bearings (and ability to produce hit movies) by the mid-1960s, almost accidentally discovered the rich offerings of low-budget, independent cinema. Suddenly, young, unproven writers and directors were given unfettered creative license, and throughout the 1970s they pushed the boundaries of artistic expression, breaking down taboos against exploring sexual, political and drug-related themes, as well as demolishing the boundaries of language and onscreen violence. Then, as the '80s opened, the push towards producing blockbuster hits reestablished the dominance of the old studio system. But the material between these central points is a diffuse parade of spectacle and insider asides, not as well structured or as informative as it could have been.
Also, on a technical note, why was the DVD version so hard to navigate? What was up with having to start up each segment of this film separately? Watching it on VHS might actually have been more rewarding...
on September 5, 2008
In 2003 the Independent Film Channel produced a nearly three hour long three part documentary called A Decade Under The Influence (a nod to the 1974 John Cassavetes film A Woman Under The Influence), about American cinema during the 1970s. The general posit of the film, co-directed by Ted Demme and Richard LaGravenese, is that the 1970s were a `tweener period between the collapse of the old Hollywood film studio system and the rise of the Lowest Common Denominator summer blockbuster mentality, ushered in by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, that destroyed the template of directors having control and authorship of their works.
Now, anyone that has even a passing interest in film- American or otherwise, cannot disagree with this premise. The problem is that the documentary itself is all style (including a great opening musical track) and no substance. In short, it's an MTV-like hyperreal and scattershot take on the films from that decade which were anything but hyperreal and scattershot. Imagine Steven Spielberg bemoaning the loss of Orson Welles when his career is the utter antithesis of that man's. Hypocrisy is a word that floats to mind. That or an ironic streak beyond sharp. Go with the former, people!
The film starts out with an homage to the European greats of the 1960s, who helped inspire the younger Americans. It also has the usual 1970s crowd of filmmakers- from greats like Woody Allen, Robert Altman, and Martin Scorsese to once-greats like Francis Ford Coppola and Hal Ashby, to has-beens like Peter Bogdanovich and William Friedkin, to never weres like Monte Hellman. And there are some classic clips from Easy Rider, The Godfather, Bonnie And Clyde, Chinatown, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Midnight Cowboy, Taxi Driver, The Graduate, Annie Hall, Network, and others, but it's all perfunctory, surface, and vain. Not a single film nor scene is really looked at, analyzed, put into a blender and studied for why it worked, why it worked in the context it did, nor why such scenes are absent from the films of the Peter Jacksons and Michael Bays....This film lacks any real insight and is too fawning, as if a study of a small group of adepts who have a secret they don't want others to know. The problem is that their secret is well known and their acting like they can keep it is just plain silly....A critic like Kenneth Turan or Roger Ebert would likely have remedied those sorts of shortcomings, but, as with many possible fruitful avenues it could have gone down- such as viewing the decade through the lens of a dozen or two key films, and analyzing scenes for what they meant and how they expressed their points, the whole film fails. It lacks the substance and edginess that it claims for its very subject matter, even though some good insight is provided by, of all people, the British actress Julie Christie.
Then there is the smugness. Don't get me wrong- guys like Coppola and Scorsese made great films in that decade, and while Scorsese's only gone downhill in the last decade, Coppola's artistic drought is nearing thirty years since Apocalypse Now. And while Scorsese is not totally condemnatory of modern Hollywood, Coppola seems to buy in to the `Evil Suits' theory of American film destruction. No doubt that that is mostly to blame, but many of these young directors got big egos and vanity took over, resulting in critical and financial disasters like Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, or the crash and burn personal lives of filmmakers like Peter Bogdanovich (whose career never recovered) and Roman Polanski (whose career did). The only person in the film who even comes close to telling these truths is a production designer from Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show- Polly Platt, who blames the loss of the edginess that the 1970s films had on just this fatness and sassiness, claiming that the young auteurs, especially, got old, rich and lost touch with the very things they and their films once were icons for....
A Decade Under The Influence is a so-so attempt to reveal the depths of a subject better left for a ten or twelve hour PBS documentary by one of the Burns brothers. That's because the two directors of this film are too soft and intimately related to the subject matter (as example, Ted Demme's uncle- Jonathan Demme, was one of the young 1960s auteurs). A more objective approach to the film was needed, and this lack of objectivity is the underlying problem that results in all the film's aforementioned problems. In short, while they are the symptoms, a lack of objectivity is the cause, and the best documentaries always strive for objectivity, lest they become Michael Moorean agitprop. And that's a fate and storyline as bad as any lame Hollywood suit could brainstorm.
on August 1, 2012
It does a great job of explaining why the public lost interest in the mid 1960's American studio assembly line type of blockbuster and why the young new wave got Americans excited about going to the movies again. It does a lousy job of explaining why those early 1970's pioneers have enhanced the indie movement but not the big budget movies since. Still 4 stars based on what is here rather than what is not. The closing credits make it clear they wanted to include many more filmmakers and movies but simply lacked the time.
on September 9, 2003
Even if you don't necessarily agree with the underlying premise that the 70s were a "great" decade in film making this film will remind you that at least it was the last period in American filmmaking that encouraged substance and creativity. The interviews with the various filmakers, writers and producers are informative and entertaining in their candor. For anyone who loves film this is a must see and something that reveals new information with each viewing.
on February 9, 2009
This three-hour in-depth documentary by the late Ted Demme (brother to director Jonathan Demme) covers the groundbreaking approach to filmmaking by the "newer breed" of directors who began to make their mark in the mid-'60's into the '70's. It shows a group of directors who were from a different genearation and, after graduating film school, took a new approach to filmmaking. They cast off the technique of "old-school" directors and experimented with pioneering views. It shows the transformation of tackling storylines with a new "truth", taking films from a type of "audience escapism" and placing a grittier realism into them to match what actually goes on in life. Dozens of films are explored, including MASH, Easy Rider, Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy, The Graduate, The Godfather. Vintage clips are generously interspersed thoughout the documentary. This film shows now-famous directors and their thoughts on incorporating the '60's take on Vietnam, Women's Lib, Civil Rights into their films...more specifically, shows a group of directors who exemplify the rebellion of the time by bucking the system and standing up to "the establishment". Lots of interesting interviews and clips here!!
This is a very good 3 part documentary on how the death of the major studios made it possible for young college educated film makers to take over the movie business for a short period of time. The film frames its point of view over some 60s films such as Easy Rider and Bonnie and Clyde at a time when big budget movies such as Hello Dolly were bankrupting the studios. Small films could be made cheaply and if they made a lot of money, the studios had no problem bankrolling them. Stars and movie makers right out of college or trained in the horror film genre under Roger Corman were given chances at big studios. The results were such films as Mean Streets, Targets and The Conversation among others. More mainstream films emerged such as All The President's Men and Jaws. The period ended as more money were spent on these films and studios were bought up by large corporations with philosophies of marketing. Now art wasn't expected, but well marketed films that were sold like product became desirable. Very good documentary feature with clear insight into what happened to the film industry in the 70s.
This is the film for you to learn about all the independent spirit that seems both in it's height, and in it's originality, which has paved the road for our famous, our entertaining directors of today. This is not to say that there is not a better picture to be made of the seventies, but it's the best one that's out at this time. Get it if you have interest in Filmmaking History, and here how the independent movement really started. A time when art was more important than ignorant obedience for a film with a talking fish. Hear about how athe great films changed the way people saw movies. Hear about it, and love it.