I lived in Los Angeles, France, and New York City during the ’60s and ’70s, and though I was writing my doctoral dissertation on contemporary German and French philosophy, it is fair to say that my passion went overwhelmingly to film (and jazz). I was a regular at the underground film showings at the Midnight Cinema, and was addicted to the art films from Europe (Bergman, Fellini, Godard, Truffaut, Antonioni, Varda, Schlondorff, Wenders, Fassbinder, Herzog, Skolimowski, Malle, Chabrol, Rivette, Akerman, and Rohmer–to name a few of the more prominent.) And this leaves out wonderful films from Czechoslovakia, Spain, Cuba, Africa, and many other places. As a film worshipper, of course I loved Hitchcock, and took pleasure, occasionally, in American Screwball Comedies of the ’30s, as well as ’50s melodramas like Sirk’s. But my tastes were rooted in (my own post-religious) snobbery regarding the “seriousness” of European films (God! Death! Alienation!). A deeper attraction was owed, however, to the easier European standards regarding nudity and sex in mainstream films. Scopophilia ruled my film-going, but my justifications ran towards theory based in French existentialism.
My world was upended in my discovery of ’40s & ’50s film noir, while I was living in New York (there were seminal festivals at the Thalia and Bleeker Street Cinema). I saw immediately that earlier American cinema was great as art–pushed along by my knowledge of Godard’s love of these films, and by the wonderful writing of Manny Farber, who championed the “termite art” of Don Siegel and Hawks, Walsh, and Sam Fuller, against the pompousness of Welles, and other high-gloss Hollywood filmmakers. (Farber died only 4 years ago, age 91, having established himself in a major way as a writer, critic, painter, and professor. American culture is much in his debt.)
This new passion led to a decade of teaching courses in Film Noir, as I collected (alas, Beta format) videotapes of at least a hundred of the best of the noir canon.
What I hadn’t noticed in this little cultural trajectory is that American film was enjoying yet another renaissance. My own little cheat sheet on the history of American film would probably claim that the last great era of American filmmaking ended in 1977–the year that “Rocky” won the Oscar over “Network” and “Taxi Driver,” and immediately before the blockbuster syndrome completely took over the profit-making machinery of Hollywood. American silent film is unsurpassed (’20s). The screwball comedies and social soapers in post-depression ’30s films were unequaled in the world. Films noirs of the ’40s and ’50s were high art AS high entertainment. And the ’60s and ’70s brought us a golden age of American film that seems not to have a name. But it did have its dominant chroniclers and “critics”–namely Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, who were, in a much diminished sense, the disciples and scribes of this movement in a way similar to the role played by Truffaut and Godard in the explication of the aesthetics of the French New Wave. But with a difference: they did not themselves make movies. They made, or attempted to make, prevailing taste. And unlike most other American critics of the time, they did not pontificate from a distance, but rather based their criticism in unabashed boosterism, enthusiasm, superlatives, and complete conviction about the role that their own personal feelings played in evaluating the films they reviewed.
I’ll take Manny Farber any day over Ebert, Siskel, and Kael, but these critics did preside over America’s introduction to a new “golden age” of world-class film making. Just consider a short list of some of the better films made between, say, 1964 and 1978:
The Apartment, Cape Fear, Bonnie and Clyde, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, The Graduate, Medium Cool, The Wild Bunch, The Godfather series, Blue Collar, The Deer Hunter, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, Dirty Harry, Chinatown, Deliverance, Mean Streets, Badlands, The French Connection, The Conversation, and many more. These cannot be defined by genre, but there was this ferment, excitement, and cultural commitment in a large swath of educated Americans. Films still made a difference. Rather a miracle, when you remember that this was the time of the transition from hippies to disco in pop culture, and the era of the tragedies of Viet Nam.
Of course there were many great films after this period (Scorsese made Goodfellas and Raging Bull later), and I’m sure you can name many other contenders. But there was something special about the way American films appealed to grownup tastes across a wide swath of world film devotees from the mid-’60s to the late ’70s. I rarely go into a movie theater now, and it it not just because I have Netflix, Hulu +, etc.: first-run movies rarely seem worth the time and money I used to give eagerly.
I can’t embed the video, but click here to watch on YouTube: one of the best-edited dance videos ever, using clips from Rita Hayworth movies (plus Astaire, Kelly, and many other greats), doing “Stayin’ Alive” as you never thought you’d see it!!!
Public Service Announcement: I read that the tempo of this song is exactly right for pumping the chest, using CPR…
E. B. White, one of two or three of my favorite writers, wrote “Memorandum,” in his book of essays, One Man‘s Meat, in October, 1941–just a couple weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The title refers to his listing the approximately 200 chores that need to be done before New England winter sets in on his Maine salt-water farm–each sentence beginning with some variant of “Today I ought to…” After a few pages he notes that the sun is going down, and he has spent the afternoon at his typewriter, thus avoiding the work, postponing acceptance of winter. He decides to go into town, since he “ought to get a haircut.”
If you run a large farm in Maine, October is a time of reckoning. Chores not completed will be impossible a month later, and a price will be paid, up to–and maybe including–disaster.
For a city-dweller like me a similar memorandum could be written to myself in October, (I ought to put on the storm windows, clear out the spent tomato vines, shut off the water-line to the outside faucet, put away the hoses, put on snow-tires, have the furnace inspected, take in the outdoor furniture, and so on.) But April involves a much longer list in preparation for putting in the gardens, and preparing for warmer weather, while doing repairs necessitated by winter’s toll on paint, stain, asphalt, and plantings. And this year the list is heavily augmented by other more pressing factors: F. has a photography exhibit to prepare for the month of May, and we have decided to reconfigure in several household categories–vehicles, home improvements, and budgeting strategies, among others.
So this is all in the way of saying that this blog gets shoved aside for a few days, to allow more hours per week to be spent looking for used vehicles, drawing up lists, AND doing what’s needed around the place (new window boxes, new garden plans, painting, and much more.)
I will leave everything online as it is, so feel free to check back from time to time in case I found time to post new entries, or to read older posts that you may have missed. But I will no longer wake each day thinking about what might be fun to write or put online.
Thanks so much for your kind responses and interest, and have a great Spring, which arrives officially in a few days. Having no hair, I will not be going into town to get a haircut, but if you know anyone selling an old 4-cylinder Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, I might be interested, since that garage MUST be cleaned out before gardening season!
The current New Yorker has an article about Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video collage, “The Clock”
You could actually use this 24-hour work as a clock, if you played it non-stop on a home monitor, and synchronized its start with the actual time. Fascinating commentary on life, film, aging, simultaneity, as well as a visual museum of thousands of familiar images in time.
You can get an idea of this massive work in the clips below, if you have the…uh…time to watch them:
And here’s an interview with Marclay concerning his work with turntables, vinyl records and other materials back to the 1970s
Douglas Gordon made a film, “24 Hour Psycho” that showed the Hitchcock film at 2 frames per second, so that it lasts 24 hours.
(Great if you need to write a term-paper about the shower scene for your film class).
Warhol made “Empire,” an 8-hour film of the Empire State Building, in which nothing much happens.
I think I’d prefer to see Marclay’s “The Clock” myself, but museums don’t usually stay open all night, and I tend to sleep every night. I guess I’ll have to wait for it on Netflix…
Nostalgia everywhere! The Artist (Silent/BW!). Woody’s Midnight in Paris as imagined by every francophile of my/his generation. Huey! Melancholia! And other fading attractions… Last few years I arrive at the TV show aghast that I have seen only one or two of the nominees. I was a film professor! We have our reasons. Steeped in the underground films of the 60s, the arthouse films from Italy, France, and Sweden (50s and 60s), the American classics of the 70s, we don’t find much meat in the last 20 years of formulaic bottom-line grindhouse repetitions. OK, I know,The Artist is edgy, divine, gorgeous. But only if you have no real memory of classic silent films: the photography is pure Hollywood 40s, the acting is “let’s pretend,” the story, predictable. Chaplin, Keaton, Arbuckle, Brooks, Lloyd, Gish, Jannings? No way. …And what were those other nominees? Should check Netflix, I guess…