Not a few moviegoers who grew up on ’70s cinema are having a rude awakening. Films that were released in 1971 are marking their 50th anniversary this year. Some bloggers have noted that back in 1971, anyone who marked a 50th anniversary was born in 1921!
It’s the same time span, yet what a world of difference! Movies made back in 1921 had no color and no sound. (As Norma Desmond declared in Sunset Boulevard, “I can say anything with my eyes!”)
In contrast, today’s 50-year-old movies seem as fresh as they were when they were originally released. Following the collapse of censorship in Hollywood, filmmakers became more daring. It was a parade of gratuitous nudity, foul language, and graphic violence. Caution was thrown to the winds as the by-word in filmmaking was “permissiveness,” and not “woke.”
Leaders of the pack were Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, whose violence can still shock today’s audiences, and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Sexually provocative films like Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show and Mike Nichols’ Carnal Knowledge were commercial and critical hits. And there was Jane Fonda, who won her first Oscar Best Actress for playing a prostitute in Klute.
Clint Eastwood was Dirty Harry, the iconic police detective who believed in extrajudicial killings. Eastwood also made his directorial debut with Play Misty for Me. It was the original Fatal Attraction, and it co-starred Jessica Walter as the scorned woman whose fury couldn’t be matched by Hell itself.
Ethnic groups were represented in exploitation movies like Shaft, which won Isaac Hayes an Academy Award for his groundbreaking music. Like Shaft, Oscar’s Best Picture, The French Connection and cult favorite The Vanishing Point each had a thrilling car chase. These chases weren’t driven by CGI but by tire-burning, real cars, daring stunts, and virtuoso editing.
In contrast to the awkward cartoonlike speed of silent movies, slow motion was commonly used by modern filmmakers to emphasize a certain action or character. Summer of ’42 probably started the trend of introducing the beautiful, unattainable girl (Jennifer O’Neil) in slow motion—the better to heighten her effect on the loins of the 15-year-old male lead. For a more hypnotic effect, her luxuriant hair is gently blown by the sea breeze. Michel Legrand’s lush score is the icing on the cake. Thus, like the boy in the movie, audiences are spellbound.
‘Summer of ’42’ probably started the trend of introducing the beautiful, unattainable girl in slow motion
Rest assured romantic movies and musicals were still being made. In fact, Fiddler on the Roof was 1971’s biggest blockbuster. But like the rest of its “batchmates,” the film had a sense of cynicism and grit, and the end of old traditions. In its own way, the story reflected the end of an era in moviemaking.
Less successful at the box office was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Yet compared to Tim Burton’s remake, this musical was much darker in tone, but also much funnier. To this day, more youngsters are discovering this gem. For us older folk who get to watch it again, seeing the late Gene Wilder sing Pure Imagination leaves us feeling so nostalgic. More than ever, this song composed by Anthony Newly with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse still resonates with us.
I saw the movies I mentioned here either on network TV or VHS and DVD. Having seen them, I noticed a common trait: the visuals were often stunning. The kind of film they used made the world seem bigger, authentic, and raw. Magic hour shots were the norm, and they gave an existentialist mood to films like The Vanishing Point.
As for Philippine cinema, the only movie I can remember is Lilet, which starred Celia Rodriguez (playing the title role) and Ronaldo Valdez. Wow, they looked beautiful then, and they’re still beautiful now.
Lilet also has an astounding supporting cast composed of Vic Silayan, Tita Muñoz, and Paraluman. It’s supposed to be a horror film in the tradition of the “psycho-biddy” epics made popular by Joan Crawford. It’s beautifully photographed, and won Rodriguez the FAMAS Award for Best Actress.
It’s also enjoyably campy, thanks to Tita Muñoz, who plays the matriarch pretending to be paralyzed from the waist up. When Valdez says she’s been faking it all these years and that her injury was just “a simple fracture sa balakang,” Munoz gets up from her wheelchair and hisses at Valdez, “You stupid fool!”
She delivered that line as if it were written by William Shakespeare himself. The reaction of Vic Silayan, who plays her son, is priceless. We watched it every afternoon on GMA 7 just for that scene. That’s why I still remember their lines.