A Decade Under The Influence

"Grim"

A Decade Under The Influence Review


A lot of myths surround American cinema in the 1970s: That it was a product of the drug culture, that film's been in decline since then, that Easy Rider is in any way a good movie. All points worth arguing, and it makes sense that the late director Ted Demme would want to pursue the matter. His film Blow was a love letter to '70s film, and showcased all of the wonderful things about the era (the open-mindedness, the need to experiment), as well as its flaws (willful overindulgence). A Decade Under the Influence is another love letter, and it has its problems. In its overenthusiastic urge to put '70s film icons on pedestals, it winds up ignoring the fact that the young turks of the '70s played a major role in destroying the film revolution they engineered.

Yet, for the most part, Decade is a hoot for film lovers, showing legendary posters and key scenes from classics like Klute, Chinatown, Bonnie and Clyde, The Last Picture Show, Annie Hall, and scads of others. That underscores the brilliance of performances by Robert DeNiro, Jack Nicholson, and Jon Voight, but the heart of the film are its interviews with the holy gods of '70s cinema: Martin Scorcese, Robert Altman, Dennis Hopper, Sydney Lumet, and over a dozen others. Sydney Pollack comes across as the wisest and most engaging of the interviewees. Early on, he points out how distant young directors felt from the stories they'd see in Hollywood blockbusters produced by the studios, which Schrader calls a "decaying empty whorehouse." Maybe Easy Rider was an awful movie - which it is - but it had a lot more to say to young America than Cleopatra and Hello Dolly.

Fair enough: Movies had indeed gotten less relevant by the late '60s and were aching for fresh blood. But Decade is downright exasperating in its suggestions that '70s film not only reflected the modern world, but forever altered it. Nearly everyone involved says that they "changed the world," which is the sort of thing Martin Scorsese is of course going to spew if he's being interviewed by eager acolytes like Demme, Alexander Payne, and Neil LaBute. Seventies films didn't change the world - they changed the world that movies looked at, and made movies worth arguing about again. But it didn't come out of nowhere, as Decade suggests. Film schools had launched for the first time, the means of production came cheap, and the studios had become swallowed by conglomerates that were too big to look at the small-budget films that snuck through.

Though it mentions some of these points, it isn't the argument that Decade makes, though. As pure hagiography, it argues that the world was changed by the relentless vision of filmmakers who those squares at the studios didn't get (some comments are offered about changes in race and sex, but they're mainly slapped on). What changed? Those damn grubby studios, says Decade. They gave up on the visionaries once they saw the profits from Jaws and Star Wars.

That's true, as far as it goes. But Decade never gets around to pointing out that the filmmakers shoulder some of the blame as well. Altman made Nashville and McCabe & Mrs. Miller, sure, but he also made a passel of throwaway films in the '70s. When Copolla bellyaches about how the destruction of movie quality is "not the filmmakers fault" but the result of greedy studios, you want to ask him, "Hey buddy, who forced the studios to give up on radical filmmakers by going insanely overbudget and past schedule with Apocalypse Now?"

It certainly wouldn't have hurt to at least mentioned the existence of Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, the massive boondoggle that reflected the overblown egos of '70s directors and destroyed studios' trust of "visionary" directors for the next decade. Such omissions might be rectified when IFC broadcasts an expanded version of Decade in August. But as it stands, Decade is mainly great directors talking about how great they are. Which is tiring, even if it's true.

Still under the influence.



A Decade Under The Influence

Facts and Figures

Run time: 138 mins

In Theaters: Sunday 19th January 2003

Distributed by: IFC Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Fresh: 23 Rotten: 7

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

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