Sunday, March 23, 2008

About the '70s

Little Miss Atilla links my post scoffing at the idea of this year's Democratic convention will replicate Chicago in '68 with Ross Douthat's rumination on how Hollywood's anti-war, anti-Bush agenda has spawned a revival of "the paranoid style" in movies.

This "paranoid style" -- especially denoting films with suggestions of malign conspiracies involving government -- Douthat associates with the 1970s.

While I don't have the leisure to engage Douthat's larger point (which is a very large thing, indeed), I would caution against the tendency to overgeneralize about eras. Not everybody in the Roaring Twenties was zipping around in a Stutz Bearcat, guzzling bathtub gin, and dancing the Charleston with a flapper. Likewise, not everybody in the '70s was in a post-Vietnam depression, snorting coke, and hanging out at Studio 54.

Particularly because Douthat is very young (about 27), I am a bit leery of his sweeping generalizations about things that happened before he was born, so excuse my nitpicking:
The Oscars that had gone to The Godfather (1972) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) went to Chariots of Fire (1981) and Gandhi (1982) and Out of Africa(1985). Eighties Hollywood was still grappling with the Vietnam War—in Platoon(1986) and Full Metal Jacket (1987), among other films—but the rumpled liberal
truth-seekers who raced, wide-eyed, through the thrillers of the ’70s were increasingly replaced by the likes of Tom Cruise dogfighting with Russians in Top Gun (1986) or Patrick Swayze leading his “wolverines” to victory against Soviet invaders in Red Dawn (1984).
Where to begin? OK, the Academy Award for Best Picture can only be awarded to films released in a given year. The fact that there was nothing like The Godfather or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest released in 1981, '82 or 85 does not mean that the Academy was rejecting what it had formerly celebrated. And Douthat's a bit selective with his '70s Oscar-winners: The patriotic Patton won in 1970 and Rocky won in 1976.

While Platoon won Best Picture in 1986, it's kind of silly to mention Red Dawn in this list, since it was not nearly as successful as the super-blockbuster Top Gun. (The reputation of Top Gun has suffered because it's been so widely imitated, but it was far more influential than the anti-war flicks of this era.)

Oh, and Out of Africa is one of the most wretched films ever made. A girlfriend convinced me to take her to see that. Tedious beyond words, and I've never thought Meryl Streep was attractive.

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