Something staggering happened to film-making in the 1970s. It was a zeitgeist thing, to some degree. On the back of the swinging sixties, pervasive moral attitudes were changing, which unleashed a hurricane of visceral cinemaphotography.
I may have more candles on my birthday cake than I am happy with, but I was too young to remember these films the first time around! Fortunately for me, mine was the first generation where VCRs were commonplace (although we had a Betamax!), and lax application of the certification system means I was exposed to a smorgasbord of wonderful film making at an early age.
The Godfather, Parts I and II
I am a Godfather nut. I wrote a dissertation on these films, which are based on Mario Puzo’s novel. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and starring Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino (with an incredible supporting cast), these movies have become a benchmark for modern cinema. Both films are three hours long, and I must have seen them both twenty times. Part II is marginally my favourite, but it’s a close run thing.
Spoiler alert – The Godfather Part III nearly spoiled the franchise! In fact, it made it a franchise, and that rarely bodes well in film-making.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Based on Ken Kesey’s terrific book, this details the story of ne’er-do-well Randle McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson at his rapscallion best), a career criminal who faked insanity (or did he?) to avoid a jail sentence. He clashes with the terrifying Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher in a career defining role) in a film that amuses and appals in equal measure. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was the first film I ever saw on our family Betamax, and it affected me hugely.
The Deer Hunter
Michael Cimino’s sprawling epic about the Vietnam war has some of the most harrowing scenes featured in cinema history. Be warned – the Russian Roulette scenes with a young Christopher Walken and Robert De Niro are staggeringly powerful. The Deerhunter is a little slow paced in the first half as it builds to its conclusion, but will stay with you for days afterwards. Weeks, even.
Robert De Niro owned the 70s. I would call his portrayal of damaged Vietnam Veteran Travis Bickle career defining if anyone else had played him, but De Niro’s body of work is stupidly rich, and it would do him a misjustice. And no-one else could have played the role anyway. Taxi Driver also features a very young Jodie Foster, and this role led to John Hinckley Jr trying to kill Ronald Reagan for her. True story.
Another Coppola film, this deeply flawed story of the madness of the Vietnam war features some of the most iconic lines in cinema history. Apocalypse Now features Marlon Brando at his deranged best, and with a strong supporting cast of Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper and Robert Duval, the film has become notorious for the problems encountered in its production. It’s a hard watch, but indispensable.
There are so many more. It was a golden age.