Aug. 01, 2012 - Issue #876: The Art Of Serving
The Story of Film (Episodes 9 & 10)Sun, Aug 5 – Wed, Aug 8
Directed by Mark Cousins
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Episodes nine and 10 of The Story of Film, Mark Cousins' chronicle of innovation and diversification in movies, immerse us in that beloved decade of widespread cinematic greatness: the 1970s. How great was it? These episodes, one devoted entirely to the New Hollywood, unleash a battery of reasons to believe in that golden time that may never again be matched.
Cousins proposes that the movie brats can be classified thusly: there are satirists (Buck Henry, Robert Altman), dissidents (Dennis Hopper, Robert Altman), and assimilationists (Peter Bogdanovich, Sam Peckinpah, Francis Ford Coppola, Terence Malick). I don't really buy these categories. I have an especially hard time thinking of the mysterious, hugely ambitious, hugely personal Malick, who made Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978), as someone who was mainly renewing old genres and styles, though I appreciate how Cousins aligns Malick's poetics to those of DW Griffith, and I was happy to see Altman occupy a couple of different camps.
What's useful about these categories is how they break down the dominant themes of the post-classical American 1970s into social commentary that thrived on the erosion of long-held taboos and genre revisionism as historical revisionism, ie: McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) or Chinatown (1974). Martin Scorsese is, of course, all over episode nine, with multiple nods to Taxi Driver (1976), its screenwriter Paul Schrader, and Schrader's own development as director—though those familiar with Schrader's work may be surprised to hear Cousins declare Light Sleeper (1992) to be his masterpiece.
Cousins is careful to emphasize that for all the triumphs of the New Hollywood, American movies in the '70s were nonetheless slow to embrace colour, ethnicity and women. So what a delight to see African-American filmmaker Charles Burnett and his masterful Killer of Sheep (1977) get such prolonged attention in episode nine. Which serves as a nice segue into episode 10, which will gradually bring us back to Africa, and introduce the so-called "third cinema" as exemplified by Senegalese filmmakers Djibril Diop Mambéty and Safi Faye, and to Latin America, where Cousins acknowledges the milestones made by Patricio Guzmán and Alejandro Jodorowsky.
But even when looking beyond the US, many of the peaks of the '70s remain within the borders of the long-established national cinemas, Germany's most especially, where the generation whose parents voted for or at least tolerated Hitler would use the movies to renovate their national identity. It's there that we meet Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog ("the most important landscape filmmaker since John Ford"), Margarethe von Trotta and the rigorously radical and insanely prolific RW Fassbinder.
Cousins also pays homage to the iconoclastic documentaries of Japan's Kazuo Hara, to England's Nicolas Roeg—of whose Performance (1970) Cousins says, "if any movie in the story of film should be compulsory viewing for filmmakers, maybe this is it"—and to Italy's Bernardo Bertolucci, who made two masterpieces (The Spider's Stratagem, The Conformist) in 1970 alone. Bertolucci tells a wonderful anecdote about a café meeting with Jean-Luc Godard, who said not a word but gave Bertolucci a postcard of Mao with a venomous comment regarding The Conformist's fatal concessions to bourgeois beauty written on the back. Cinematic beauty as political statement? It was in the '70s that the medium's battle-lines were most clearly drawn.
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