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THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE





THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE Series:


*(MARCH, 2016)  "BATMAN v SUPERMAN" / "MARVEL v D.C." - AND WHY D.C.'s ON THE RIGHT TRACK
*(MAY, 2014) INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT 5: "GOJIRA" / "GODZILLA" HOWEVER PRONOUNCED, HE'S KING!

*(DEC. 2011 / JAN. 2012) INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT.4: BOOMER ANGST AND THE 1970s
*(OCT. 2011 / Revised - JULY 2014)  INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT.3: HISTORY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

*(JULY / AUG.  2011)  INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT.2: TV AND THE 1960s, "TWILIGHT ZONE" & "STAR TREK"

*(MAY, 2011)  INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT.1:  COLD WAR AND THE 1950s



THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT. 4

DECEMBER 2011 / JANUARY 2012



“AND THE BAND PLAYED ON”: BABY BOOMER ANGST AND
1970s AMERICA COMBINE TO CREATE THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE GENRE FILM

by CEJ



The 1970s stagnation of American idealism gets thematic and visual commentary in LOGAN'S RUN (1976)   

     If the 1960s could be called the “adolescence” of America’s short history … and it’s arts a reflection of that attendant adolescent trauma, then surely the decade of the 1970s would see the maturation of both.  Which isn’t to say things were now hunky-dory, and every social and political ill raised (and protested) during the previous ten years had been satisfactorily dealt with, polished and now cataloged under “finished”.  Quite the contrary.  Fed and strengthened by the previous decade’s activism, and now taunted by an era of all new brick bats (a prolonged withdrawal from Vietnam, the Watergate scandal of the Nixon White House, a rise in global terrorism, long lines at neighborhood gas pumps; as well as environmental concerns, fear of nuclear devastation, and a distrust of the corporate mindset) the 60’s “Beast of Discontent” would grow to adulthood, break from the “fan boy” confines of the science fiction/fantasy/horror milieu and onto the center stage of popular mainstream media; bringing with it (as both reflection and reminder) the guilt of the Baby Boomers who now, raising children of their own, had to answer for a decade of excess.


Site Search Index:
play "Ball Of Confusion - That's What The World Is Today" (The Temptations, 1970)



 Nixon's Resignation - August 9, 1974

     Throughout the 1970s music,   books, films, and even the once hallowed realm of animation (previously the purview of Disney, Warner's Looney Tunes and M-G-M, but now usurped by the explicitness of Ralph Baskhi‘s FRITZ THE CAT-1972 “We‘re Not Rated X For Nothin‘ Baby!) brought a gritty harder edged real world honesty to the entertainment arts the likes of which had never been seen before or since.  So did television; … especially television.  Fueled by a mixture of collective Boomer guilt, fear, and even a kind of/sort of spiritual awakening, the new breed of viscerally and thematically explicit agenda-minded “counter-culture” media arts pushed hard in the face of staid social convention and status quo broadcasting with lightning-rod-controversial programs like ALL IN THE FAMILY and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.  And to the surprise of many, staid convention didn’t immediately knuckle under, but pushed back with equal force.  So, as the more socially focused mainstream medium of TV once again came under fire (as had happened during the live drama days of the 1950s), the dual responsibilities of intentionally “carrying the new gospel” as well as unintentionally reflecting the inner angst of the era, would once again fall into the lap of the genre film, only this time with a less subtle and more blatantly “preachy” agenda.
 

(1972)   

     Begun with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and PLANET OF THE APES (both 1968) and culminating with STAR WARS-1977 (at the time a genuine counter-culture phenomenon in it’s own right) the 1970’s Golden Age Of The Genre film would be a unique and (to this day) underappreciated mélange of elements - some intentional, and some by mere coincidence of subject and era, which would leave it’s imprint on not only the genre film, but on the history of American cinema itself. 


DEATH OF THE AMERICAN STUDIO, AND THE BIRTH OF "AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL" : 


     During the 1960s the television genre hits THE TWILIGHT ZONE and STAR TREK (actually proven a hit later down the line) were the Crispus Attucks of a bold new socio/political agenda on living room screens across the nation and around the world.  Finally accomplishing what earlier “higher brow” live drama programs like PLAYHOUSE 90 could not, ZONE and TREK surreptitiously and successfully brought to the fore of national debate topics previously considered too sensitive or controversial (racism, anti-Semitism, gender roles, etc.) for commercial mass consumption on the nightly tube.  Having taken the first volleys, and symbolically “laying their lives down” for the cause, in the new decade of the 1970s mainstream media would now take up the fallen flag, charging across the electronic battlefield with daring new experiments in programming like Norman Lear’s controversial ALL IN THE FAMILY (followed by his THE JEFFERSONS, MAUDE, SANFORD AND SON and GOOD TIMES), other socially minded shows like ROOM 222 and JULIA (with Diahann Carroll in the first ever lead role for an African American woman), the short lived but still influential THE RICHARD PRYOR SHOW, and the debut of TV’s long running SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE among others, all of them proving to be censorship, hot-button-topic nightmares for the networks, but welcome breaths of honest air for a populace at the time having had it’s fill of the prime time silly-fication of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, I DREAM OF JEANNIE, MR. ED and BEWITCHED. 

                                                               
                                  Wunderkinds Martin Scorcese (right) with Robert DeNiro (left)- 1976



     A similar revolutionary transition was happening at the same time on movie theater screens.  The recent failures of budget-busting epics like Fox’s CLEOPATRA-1963, STAR!-1968 and HELLO DOLLY-1969, Paramount’s PAINT YOUR WAGON-1969 and M-G-M’s KING OF KINGS-1961, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY-1962, RYAN’S DAUGHTER-1970 and others would lead to the financial collapse of the decades long “studio system”.  The venerable titans crumbled, the dust cleared, and from the ash would emerge a new breed of independent filmmakers and university trained so-called “movie brats” taking center stage and changing the cinema lexicon for the next ten years.



     During this “transitional juncture” the lasting influence of independent film company American International Pictures (AIP) on genre cinema in particular and the history of American film in general, cannot be overstated.  Producers Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson founded AIP in the mid 1950s in a bid to capitalize on the audience they felt mainstream Hollywood was ignoring - the teen market.  Mostly remembered for it’s history of thoroughly enjoyable (if deliberately low brow and low budget) science fiction, fantasy and horror … ehhh, epics? (among them BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER-’60, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES-’65, COUNT YORGA-’72, FROGS-’70, and even the more generously financed THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD-’75, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU-’77, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR-'79 and METEOR-’79) it would make it’s first industry inroads with modestly priced “dragster” flicks such as THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS-1955, HOT ROD GIRL-1956 and ROCK ALL NIGHT-1957.


AIP's James H. Nicholson (left)
with Vincent Price & Barbara Steele

      Following with a string of provocatively titled double-feature drive-in movie genre combos including I WAS A TEENAGED WEREWOLF-1957, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER-’58 and THE SCREAMING SKULL-’58, AIP’s hitherto untried demographically focused youth push was so financially successful it would force the major studios, almost all of them facing bankruptcy, to follow suit with a slate of “youth oriented” releases of their own. 

     Throughout the 1960s, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson starred in a long line of successful Arkoff/Nicholson AIP biker and psychedelic “head” films (many directed by “B” movie legend Roger Corman) such as THE WILD ANGELS-’66, THE GLORY STOMPERS-’67, THE BORN LOSERS-’67 (which first introduced the popular Billy Jack character to audiences), as well as THE TRIP-’67, WILD IN THE STREETS-’68 (“If You’re 30, You’re Through!“) and PSYCH-OUT-’68.  So by the time filmmakers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider had formed Raybert Productions at Columbia Pictures (later dubbed BBS when Steve Blauner became a third partner) they were willing to grant the popular acting trio of Fonda, Hopper and Nicholson a degree of carte blanche in the creation of what would eventually become their first major studio success.  It would also become one of the most profitable and influential “youth” films of the era - 1969’s seminal EASY RIDER.


 AIP's Samuel Z. Arkoff

     Raybert / BBS would follow RIDER with FIVE EASY PIECES-’70, A SAFE PLACE-’71, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW-’71, and THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS-’72, as well as creating and producing the hit youth-oriented TV series THE MONKEES (1968 - ‘69).  Surely the success of Raybert / BBS would never have come to fruition without Arkoff and Nicholson establishing the new market demographic.  And with both AIP and Raybert having constructed a new filmmaking and distribution paradigm, a group of university “movie brats” rose to seize creative control of the now revamped industry.  They'd include Martin Scorcese (himself a “grad” of the AIP / Corman “stable” with BOXCAR BERTHA-’72), who's terrifying urban gangster saga MEAN STREETS in ’72 would be followed in ‘76 by the even more terrifying TAXI DRIVER, Brian de Palma (SISTERS-’73, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE-’74, OBSESSION-’76, CARRIE-’76, THE FURY-’78),  George Lucas (a cameraman on the Rolling Stones’ legendary GIMMIE SHELTER-1970 who would also write/direct THX-1138-’71 and AMERICAN GRAFFITTI-’73),  Francis Ford Coppola (AIP’s DEMENTIA 13 in 1963, as well as FINIAN’S RAINBOW-’68, THE GODFATHER-’72 and THE CONVERSATION-’74) and Steven Spielberg (DUEL-’71, THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS-’74, JAWS-’75) - although Spielberg never officially attended a major film university as did his contemporaries.  In the 2004 History Channel / Van Ness documentary EMPIRE OF DREAMS, STAR WARS creator Lucas would describe the industry-wide shake-up, studio collapse and restructuring as “… a state of confusion (where) a lot of (young) filmmakers got to make projects they ordinarily wouldn’t have gotten to make.  And I got caught right in the middle of it”.


 Raybert's THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS (1972)    






 
  Despite the openness of the new era, on TV breaking new thematic ground still proved to be a battle fought in weekly increments analogous to captured inches of ground on the Normandy beach head.  While instantly emerging as a ratings juggernaut, CBS’s comedy series ALL IN THE FAMILY (1971 - ’79) - wherein bigoted WWII vet and current Brooklyn family man Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Conner) would weekly come to grips with the changing multi-cultural world around him, still became a lightning rod of controversy and censorship over it’s blatant discussion of formerly taboo topics (certainly in prime time) such as homosexuality, abortion, rape, menopause, political fanaticism, the KKK, divorce and the dodging of the U.S. military draft among others.  In fact a network disclaimer before the airing of it’s pilot episode stated:




    
“The program you are about to see is ALL IN THE FAMILY.  It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns.  By making them a source of laughter we hope to show, in a mature fashion, just how absurd they are”



"Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (orig. airdate 1/10/69)

     This was the same exact thing the January 1969 STAR TREK episode LET THAT BE YOUR LAST BATTLEFIELD had already done in a more cloaked and therefore less controversial manner two years prior.  So while network shows continued to dook it out with sponsors and censors (even SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE’s Dec. 13th, 1975 episode hosted by Richard Pryor would for the first time institute a cautionary seven-second broadcast delay), on the big screen genre movies would once again take up the torch of "message", only in this new decade with the same thematic explicitness of their non genre kin.  Movies like LOGAN’S RUN, ROLLERBALL, THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN would share not only screen space but for the first time even equal critical prestige with harrowingly realistic excursions into contemporary Americana like THE FRENCH CONNECTION, SHAFT, CLAUDINE, NETWORK, SERPICO and DOG DAY AFTERNOON.  While still failing to garner Oscar consideration, such a degree of critical appreciation of the genre film as a bonafied and legitimate art form would never happen again. 


pg. 1,2,3,4,5
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