So I like old music, and I like old films. By old, I mean pre-1980s before movies and music took an artistic dip, with some exceptions of course. I blame Thatcher. I was born in the 60s and my earliest memories of TV and radio come from the early 70s (the first film I saw at the movies was Grease in 1978 – a classic), but considering I started becoming rather infatuated with both in my early teenage years, almost all of my favourite bands and films come from a time before my obsession started. I believe the best ten years of ‘popular’ music made came between 1964-1974, and the best movies just a few years later. Why? There was a huge cultural shift in the mid 1960s, freedom of expression exploded and artistic creativity, fuelled by drugs and world and social events, ran riot.
Movie directors in the 1970s, on the back of this huge social shift, were making movies which ten years previously would not, and could not have been made. Violence, drugs, sex and ‘obscene’ language did not feature highly in films from the early 60s, but ten years later these things were widespread. Not that these ingredients make good movies, but with a greater accepted freedom of expression, moviemakers had none of the previously erected barriers to hold them back.
Trying to pick my five favourite movies from the 1970s makes me wish I’d started a ‘top ten’ blog feature instead. But hey, I’ll just use this pre-list blurb to mention those that could have made a top ten. A Clockwork Orange, Midnight Express, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws and Annie Hall… all classic, cult, must-see movies.
My top five movies from the 1970s…
- Taxi Driver (1976) – Taxi Driver is a captivating cinematic study of alienation, paranoia and misguided desire. Travis Bickle, a Vietnam vet ridden with insomnia and haunted by New York’s squalor, is driven by the need to cleanse, which leads to an obsessive personal vendetta against wrong-doers and society’s “scum”. Brilliantly scripted, stylistically superb and visually stunning, this is Scorsese and De Niro at their very best, which is about as good as it gets.
- Quadrophenia (1979) – I’ve watched this film at least thirty times, the first twenty as a teenager. I was never a mod, but the music, style, and rebellious youth culture, perfectly captured from start to glorious finish, had a massive impact on me, as did The Who’s incredible soundtrack. Mods, rockers, uppers, downers, fist fights, fondles and friendships, loaded with inspired humour and most of all… Phil Daniels’ performance as Jimmy, influenced a generation.
- Papillon (1973) – Before reading the book this was the best movie I’d ever seen. Then I read Henri Charrière’s incredible novel and top spot was lost. Based on Charrière’s own true story, the film centres on one man’s obsession to escape the French penal colony of Devil’s Island. The sheer dogged and brutal determination, which after several failed attempts leads to Papillon’s eventual escape, along with his compelling relationship with Dega (played by Dustin Hoffman) is a perfect celebration of the human spirit. An inspirational film. An even better book.
- Apocalypse Now (1979) – Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is the Vietnam War film. Unashamedly grand, overblown and visually opulent, the stunning beauty of much of the setting is dovetailed brilliantly by horror and madness. Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando get top billing, but it’s the mesmerising cinematography and harrowing sequence of events which, despite lasting a lavish 2hrs 33minutes, does not slow or hint at losing your attention for a second.
- Dirty Harry (1971) – Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry and the city of San Fransisco reek of iconic heroism. The story is of a rebellious cop who, tired of the force, decides to take the law into his own hands in a violent and brilliantly dramatic chase to capture a sick, grotesque psychopath. Stunning performances and panoramic skylines laced with Eastwood’s immortal one-liners and symbolic expression result in the best cop versus baddie movie ever.