A Decade Under the Influence

You could make the argument that there were better decades than the 1970s in the history of American cinema, but you'd be dead wrong. No matter how you slice it or dice it, that decade was not only the last great era of American film, it was also the best era. Sure, some of cinema's best works may come from other decades, but no other period had as many great, seminal films.

Recently released on DVD, the documentary A Decade Under the Influence examines the '70s and attempts to explain why it was such an important time in the history of film. Co-directors Richard LaGravenese and the late Ted Demme do a solid job of establishing what America was at the start of the '70s--a nation rocked by social and political change. This was a country divided by Vietnam, transformed by the Civil Rights movement, redefined by the Sexual Revolution and disillusioned by Watergate. All the normal rules that had applied to society were up for interpretation, and a group of young filmmakers took advantage of the moral ambiguity that defined the nation. The result was such landmark films as Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy and The Graduate.

Originally produced as a three-part documentary for the Independent Film Channel, A Decade Under the Influence features interviews with some of the most pivotal players of the '70s, including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Dennis Hopper and Jon Voight. Though it's the most comprehensive chronicle yet of American film in the '70s, A Decade Under the Influence works more effectively as a primer. Sure, there are plenty of people not interviewed and even more films that never get discussed, but as an introductory course to '70s films, it's a great place to start.

Space Is the Place

Legendary experimental jazz musician Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Solar Arkestra star in this bizarre mix of science fiction, blaxploitation and hallucinatory filmmaking from 1974. Trying to describe director John Coney's film is like trying to describe an acid trip to someone who's never even been high on cough syrup. The plot has something to do with Sun Ra coming back to Earth to save the black race--by taking them to outer space. At least that's kind of what the plot is about. It's all very confusing, but for those who like to get high before watching movies--not that I'm condoning such activity--break off a nice big piece of black hash and have at it.