A Decade Under the Influence

A Decade Under the InfluenceSynopsis: The ’70s films that changed everything

The 1970s was an extraordinary time of rebellion, and of questioning every accepted idea. As political activism, the sexual revolution, teh woman’s movement, and the music revolution contributed to social unrest across the country, American cinema witnessed the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers. Galvanized by a new freedom of expression, these ground-breaking artists began targeting their films towards a new kind of audience, with stories that reflected the ever-changing reality of the era.

A love letter to an amazing era in film, A Decade Under The Influence enlists a cast of pioneering writers, directors and actors to talk about the time, their films and their colleagues.

A virtual cinematic scrapbook of the decade, filmmakers Richard La Gravenese and the late Ted Demme include a cornucopia of clips from such classics as Easy Rider, The Godfather and Coming Home. The result is a fantastic celebration of the artists and films that left a vital and lasting stamp on America’s national cinema and identity.

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A Decade Under the Influence 8.5

eyelights: the candid interviews. the broadness of its scope.
eyesores: the players in absentia.

‘A Decade Under the Influence’ is a three-part documentary mini-series that delves into American cinema of the ’70s, the motion pictures, the directors, the actors, the writers, and the industry, as they shifted away from the crumbling studio system of old and forever changed the way cinema was made.

Originally aired on the Independent Film Channel, it was also released in cinemas in a truncated version in 2003. Thankfully, the DVD offers the full three-hour mini-series in individual episodes, as well as some bonus interviews for those who simply can’t get enough. And, really, who could?

The series is filled to the brim with then-new interviews with the many faces that played a part in what amounts to a massive generational shift in contemporary cinema. Many of the participants are featured throughout the series, although some only show up in selected segments.

The list of interviewees is bloody endless, and it’s a wonderful treat for cinephiles who might know the names, but not the faces – some of which usually remain off-screen. Noticeably absent, however, are George Lucas and Steven Spielberg – major figures from that era that helped reshape the game.

What’s terrific about this series is that it doesn’t merely focus on the big names, such as ‘Easy Rider‘ or  ‘The Godfather’. Since it intends to give a larger view of how the shift took place it also features the smaller motion pictures, and appropriately gives us a perspective on what roles they played.

The first episode is about the end of the studio system, the new wave taking hold, and how the young filmmakers were given a chance to get started (BBS productions is discussed, for instance). They were all cutting their teeth making low budget films that flew under the radar. Once ‘Easy Rider’ became a hit, of course, there was no turning back.

The second episode is about how low expectations were, that the studios never expected these filmmakers to be successful. Out of it came a new breed of Hollywood stars, unlike like those seen before – certainly not as glamourous. The films were more political and feminism had significant impact, rewriting women’s roles on and off the screen.

The third episode is about the success of these ’70s filmmakers, and how it transformed everything. How ‘Jaws’ became the first blockbuster of this new era, how ‘Star Wars’ changed how the game was played, and how the excesses of the late ’70s ground a lot of them to a halt (ex: ‘Heaven’s Gate’, which was considered a disaster at the time).

When I first watched this mini-series, I pretty much spent the whole time jotting down the names of films that were intriguing but that I’d never heard of, of actors and filmmakers whom I wanted to explore. Even though I sought many of them out, I still had to jot down a few names down this time around.

‘A Decade Under the Influence’ is a must-see for anyone interested in learning about American cinema from the mid ’60s to the late ’70s. Even though it’s difficult to resume that era in merely three hours, it’s an excellent primer for anyone. Plus which there are so many fascinating and revealing interviews.

Who wouldn’t want to be under this influence?

Post scriptum: there’s a decent article with Richard LaGravenese, one of the two filmmakers here. It’s well worth checking out.

Date of viewings: August 10, 2013+February 21, 2014

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