Thursday, February 24, 2011

Genres: Films I Should Have Seen By Now from the 1970s

In the coming weeks the Thursday entries will focus on either popular genres (Western, Musicals, Horror, Comedy, Action, Sci-Fi, etc.) or on television series (yes, that means there will be at least one Doctor Who entry).  I’m going to cheat a bit on my own premise and schedule by starting with this entry of films from the 1970s that I really should have seen at this point in my life, but I haven’t.  So while future entries will focus on one particular genre, I’ll break this entry into a variety of genres.  Of course, what is great about many 1970s films is the degree to which they played with genre conventions and fused them with influences from art film and modernist filmmaking practices.  So some might argue that these genre labels are misleading (even though I"ll use Netflix labels as my guide); that may be true, and I look forward to hearing those objections in the comments section.

It might seem a bit odd to recommend films that I haven’t seen yet.  But part of my aspiration with this blog is to start a dialogue with people about what they’re watching and how they’re using the streaming services currently available.  So the fact that I’ve now admitted to having not seen these films will light a fire under me and force me out of shame to finally sit down and watch these, since they’re just sitting there in my queue and there’s really no excuse not to watch them.   And now I am subject to peer pressure from those reading this to finally see them.

This list is inspired in part by the recent list Time Out list of the 100 Best British Films of all time.  Topping the list was Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, which has been on my View Instantly queue for far too long (and yes, it was on there before the Time Out list came out). It is also inspired by the fact that Don't Look Now will only be streaming for another few days, expiring on March 1.  So hopefully this entry will light a fire under all of us to watch it.  As it turns out, there are three Nicholas Roeg films from the 1970s on the list (and a fourth from 1980, Bad Timing, is also currently streaming), so we'll start out with those.

Mystery / Psychological Thriller
Netflix: After losing their young daughter in a tragic drowning accident, John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura (Julie Christie) Baxter relocate to Venice, Italy, where they meet an elderly psychic woman who insists that she sees the spirit of the child. The couple is unsure of this stranger's visions, but John begins to have psychic flashes of his own, seeing the child walk the streets of Venice. Is he insane, or is there a deeper meaning to the sightings?  Netflix link.  

Once again, this will no longer be streaming after March 1, so let's take a look at it and share feedback in the comments section.  This is the title I'm most embarrassed not to have seen at this point, so perhaps I will watch it right after I post this.

Mobster / Crime Drama
Netflix: On the lam from his gangland cohorts, mob muscleman Chas Devlin (James Fox) gets more than he bargained for after taking refuge at the home of reclusive, faded rock star Turner (Mick Jagger) and his two bohemian gal pals (Anita Pallenberg and Michèle Breton). The two-bit enforcer soon finds himself ensnared in Turner's hedonistic lifestyle and trapped in mind games designed to challenge Chas's sense of identity. Netflix link.  

Since Nicholas Roeg seems to be getting all of the love in this list, let me recommend looking at this hard to find documentary on Donald Cammell over on You Tube (posted across seven separate 10 minute segments, the link is to the first segment).

Netflix: Horrific circumstances strand an urban brother and sister (Lucien John and Jenny Agutter) in the Australian outback, where they're found by an aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) who helps the pair return to their city. As they wander, the siblings survive danger with the help of their new friend. The bond between the three grows, but when they reach civilization, the aboriginal boy finds he's unwelcome. Netflix link.

Of course, as a Criterion Collection release, we're at a disadvantage to watch the stream instead of being able to watch the extras on the DVD.  This may change with Criterion's deal with Hulu, which may lead to having extras available to stream.  Meanwhile, here's a brief essay on the film by Roger Ebert on the Criterion Current webpage.

Mystery / Suspense
Netflix: Cut-rate private eye Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) finds himself caught in a labyrinth of mendacity and murder in director Arthur Penn's top-notch suspenser. Tapped to locate the runaway daughter (Melanie Griffith) of faded Hollywood star Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward), Harry heads to the Florida Keys, where what he considered a run-of-the-mill case turns into something much more. Meanwhile, his marriage is slowly disintegrating. Netflix link.

Arthur Penn had a wide ranging career.  He was at the forefront of the changes in American cinema during the 1960s with Mickey One and Bonnie and Clyde (the latter of which is on Watch Instantly).  He ended his career with films like Penn and Teller Get Killed (1989).  But in the 1970s he was still considered a top director, with films like Little Big Man with Dustin Hoffman and this detective drama starring Gene Hackman and a young Melanie Griffith.

Romantic Drama
Netflix: Writer-director John Cassavetes crafts a relatable tale of romance about two utterly average people: Minnie Moore (Gena Rowlands), a museum curator recovering from a bad break-up with her married boyfriend, and Seymour Moskowitz (Seymour Cassel), an outspoken parking attendant. Nothing about Seymour seems "right" -- not his face, not his job nor his demeanor. But Minnie finds herself falling for him anyway. Netflix link.  

John Cassavetes is a key figure in the history of American independent filmmaking, and this is one of his lesser known efforts.  At some point you should also look at his other films currently available for streaming, including Shadows, Opening Night, Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and especially A Woman Under the Influence.  Also available, which I haven't seen, is A Child is Waiting, one of his films directed for a Hollywood studio before his return to independent filmmaking with Faces.

Netflix: Harry Collings (Peter Fonda) has been traveling around with his fellow drifter and friend Arch Harris (Warren Oates). Disturbed by thoughts of the wife (Verna Bloom) and child he left behind so long ago, Harry decides to attempt a reunion with them by working on the family farm. All is well until Arch is taken prisoner by a past enemy; now, Harry must choose whether to uphold his responsibility to the family or save his longtime friend. Netflix Link.

Truth be told, I have barely heard of this film beyond the browsing that I did while researching this entry, but the reviews and comments intrigued me enough to put it on this list.  With Warren Oates in the cast, I'm curious to see if it is like some other alt-westerns from the early 1970s like The Shooting (which now fetches $50.00 and up for a DVD on Amazon).  We'll see...

Political Thriller / Suspense
Netflix: After the assassination of a leading U.S. senator, journalist Joseph Frady (Warren Beatty) notices that the reporters who witnessed the murder are inexplicably dying. Frady investigates and finds that the assassination was part of a conspiracy involving a shadowy therapy institute called the Parallax Corporation. Driven by curiosity, he infiltrates Parallax in an effort to uncover the truth. Hume Cronyn co-stars as Frady's editor. Netflix link.
This film is well known enough, and was on television often enough when I was in high school, that you would think that I would have seen it by now.  Despite being out on DVD since 1999 (and apparently in stock at Amazon), this is not available on DVD though Netflix.

Black Comedy
Netflix: After a House of Lords member dies during a bizarre cross-dressing ritual, his nutty son, Jack (Peter O'Toole) -- who thinks he's Jesus Christ -- is bequeathed the family estate. As a result, his family members must scheme to steal back Jack's inheritance. This 1972 cult comedy, in all its murder and mayhem glory, takes a swipe at every swath of class-obsessed British society. Arthur Lowe shines as Jack's lucky servant, Tucker. Netflix link.

Another film that seemed to be on cable television often enough when I was in high school that you think I would have seen it.  Also notable as a title cited in the complaint comments for its exemption from the Time Out Top 100 British Films list mentioned at the top of the entry. Most recently Peter Medak has directed for American television, including episodes of The Wire, Carnivale, and Breaking Bad.

I look forward to your comments.  --JLK


  1. I saw Don't Look Now many years ago on TCM, I believe; I knew about the ending in advance, so it didn't really hit me as hard as I'd expected, though it's a well-crafted film (possibly too slick for me!)

    Lately my ideal film decade has been the 1970s. Paul Morrissey's Joe D. trilogy (& Women in Revolt) are on Netflix Instant currently! And Elaine May's criminally underrated Heartbreak Kid is only available streaming til March 1st as well, with no dvd option.

  2. Thanks Hannah,

    I hope to do a Warhol-related theme in the coming weeks (the Morrissey films and some others). And yes The Heartbreak Kid is great...I've been listening to old Nichols and May material lately and I need to re-visit her films again soon.