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With: Robert Altman, John G. Avildsen, Peter Bogdanovich, Marshall Brickman, Ellen Burstyn, John Calley, Julie Christie, Francis Ford Coppola, Roger Corman, Bruce Dern, Clint Eastwood, Milos Forman, William Friedkin, Pam Grier, Monte Hellman, Dennis Hopper, Sidney Lumet, Paul Mazursky, Mike Medavoy, Polly Platt, Sydney Pollack, Jerry Schatzberg, Roy Scheider, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, Sissy Spacek, Robert Towne, Jon Voight
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Ted Demme, Richard LaGravenese
MPAA Rating: R for language, and images of sexuality, violence and drug use
Running Time: 138
Date: 01/19/2003

A Decade Under the Influence (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

By now certain film buffs revere the 70s as perhaps the greatest period in American filmmaking, and the new documentary A Decade Under the Influence confirms that notion.

For their film directors Richard LaGravanese and the late Ted Demme round up a batch of 70s filmmakers and stars and get them talking.

In the 1960s, the Hollywood studio system was at an end, and producers were grinding out bland, expensive epics that no one particularly wanted to see. (Paint Your Wagon is the most often cited example.)

Suddenly a group of young filmmakers -- inspired by European directors, by John Cassavetes and by Roger Corman -- began making a new kind of reckless cinema that addressed the moods and emotions of young America. Drugs, sex, violence and language became new filmmaking tools.

Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda's Easy Rider is considered the catalyst for the movement, but much bigger and better works followed. The movie traces the decade and shows clips from such significant works as All the President's Men, The French Connection, The Godfather, Mean Streets, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, etc.

Interviewees range from rock star directors like Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, Sydney Pollack, Robert Altman, William Friedkin and Sidney Lumet. In one spirited moment, Bogdanovich talks about the benefits of the auteur theory and the Cahiers du Cinema way of thinking, while Lumet dismisses the whole thing and sings the praises of William Wyler.

The movie extends its reach to actors (Julie Christie, Pam Grier, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn) and even screenwriters (Polly Platt, Robert Towne), who reminisce about everything from poor women's roles to writer's woes.

Certainly it was an exciting time, which all came to an end when Jaws and Star Wars created the Blockbuster System -- which of course reigns to this day. A Decade Under the Influence does not blame Lucas and Spielberg, though. It concludes that whereas both producers and audiences were open to new ideas, both are now happy with the same old thing.

For all its passion, A Decade Under the Influence comes across as merely a celebration of the 70s rather than an analysis of it. It fails to mention that many 70s movies have not dated well (Serpico, Shampoo) and that many recent films still run rampant with that irreverent, subversive spirit: Jackie Brown, Bulworth, The Thin Red Line, Eyes Wide Shut, Gosford Park, and many more.

Nevertheless, the new doc succeeds as both a primer for newcomers and as eye candy for established film fans. LaGravanese and Demme even apologize for titles and filmmakers they forgot to mention, such as Sam Peckinpah (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia) and Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop). Maybe next decade.

DVD Details: Additional interview footage with several filmmakers, including Coppola, Bogdanovich, Lumet, Friedkin and others. Filmmaker bios.

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