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The Defining Movies Of A Decade: 1970 - 1979

By The Pajiba Staff | Nostalgia | May 19, 2016 |

By The Pajiba Staff | Nostalgia | May 19, 2016 |

A Clockwork Orange - 1971

I’ve watched this film exactly once and don’t know that I could watch it again. Some people may turn away from examining the genius and the terror of this film because of the rape and violence. That may be why I can’t stomach the film in another viewing, but it does not decrease the impact of the film and the messages within.

Alex and his droogs rape and murder. They steal and destroy. They leave behind broken scraps of people and continue to pursue their deviant interests. Once Alex is caught for a crime, the decision is made to condition him to abhor violence and sex. The neutered predator is released into the wild and becomes the prey when his victims find him. Eventually Alex is beaten and half-drowned before being locked away. In an attempt to escape his confines, he leaps from a window and breaks himself in more than just the physical sense. His deviance is back.

Is it better to have a society filled with free-will or one conditioned to respond in a particular manner to stimuli? If a person is a violent criminal, does that remove their right to choice? Does making the violent passive eliminate all violence in society? Can you really change someone in a fundamental way? Even if you can, should you?

Holding the psychological, societal, and moral themes of the film aloft was a strong atmospheric style. Stanley Kubrick was a perfectionist and every frame of the movie is a testament to his own psychological and moral leanings. From the infamous scene involving Malcolm McDowell’s being held open by instruments that scratched his cornea to the unflinching depictions of violence, Kubrick’s style makes every scene look like a perfectly lit and staged photograph.

Kubrick was also able to encapsulate the idea that film doesn’t always have to be comforting. There doesn’t need to be a satisfying conclusion that leaves us feeling warm and happy. It can be dark, dirty, and bleak. Film can break you, sicken you, and show you things you never knew you needed to see. It is a reflection of all of us.—Jodi Clager

The Godfather - 1972, and The Godfather: Part II - 1974


No discussion of American cinema in the 1970’s can be had without these two movies being included. It just can’t happen.

I talk a bit further down about Francis Ford Coppola’s other 70’s behemoth, Apocalypse Now, and how in many ways it defined the best and worst qualities of this auteur-led decade. And that’s true. But if Apocalypse was the scarred and adrenaline-pumped mad genius skidding to the end of the rollercoaster, then The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, taken together as one, was the regal and majestic visionary with eyes glinting in the sunlight.

And taken together they must be, because here is a pair of movies that is as close to perfection as it gets in the American canon; a pair of movies seemingly built out of interlocking contradictions and contrasts: depicting deeply immoral characters within a strong moral framework; showing us the construction of a myth from the ground-up and ending up with a colossal mythology built around itself; telling its Great American Tragedy tale with an almost classical broadness while employing the most minute and careful characterisation — these things all combine like an alchemical miracle.

And speaking of the classical element: the visuals. Gordon ‘The Master of Darkness’ Willis’ cinematography is unparalleled in its splendour throughout. I had the good fortune of seeing a restored print of the two movies on the big screen a few years ago. Up until that point I had probably seen them maybe eight or ten times in my life, but that day I realised that I had never really seen them before at all. The deep browns and inky blacks, the splashes of gold, those incredible faces cast by Coppola, thrown into sharp relief by Willis’ camera — the glory of it defied description.

In all honesty, I could talk about these two films all day. Usually there is nothing I enjoy more than an iconoclastic teardown, here it would not only be impossible, but pointless, because with The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II Francis Ford Coppola and the 1970’s gifted to humanity something that comes close to being the very definition of cinema.—Petr Knava

The Exorcist - 1973


It took me decades after the theatrical release of The Exorcist to finally watch it. Sure, that first decade was just waiting to exist, but still. The movie had always been built up as the pinnacle of a horror movie. It was one of my first experiences with knowing everything about a movie without ever watching it because of how much it had embedded itself into pop culture.

For me, The Exorcist speaks to experimentation in motion pictures. It was made to terrify an audience and not merely scare them with cheesy plot, ridiculously underwritten characters, buckets of gore, or gratuitous nudity. It was made with an eye on talent for every part of the project: director, writer, actors, effects, music. It is very much a masterpiece that could not have existed in any other era of movie-making.

Losing the invasive, loud, and barbaric testing that Regan MacNeil has to endure to find the root of her illness would be unavoidable in later decades, erasing some of the stress and build-up of the film. The use of computer effects would be detrimental to the feeling of unease we feel when Pazuzu shows his control of Regan’s body. The Exorcist would not have the same impact in any other decade.—Jodi Clager

Jaws - 1975


Long before Steven Spielberg was an admired auteur and cinema god, he was a jorts-wearing up-and-comer tormented by a monster movie that was going wildly off the rails. Two of his leads loathed each other. Jaws’ hero vessel had a habit of sinking and taking the day’s film reels for a dip into the ocean. Worse yet, the robotic shark “Bruce”—meant to strike fear in the hearts of the movie going public—was most often a busted bit of junk thanks to the high salt content of the waters off of Martha’s Vineyard. The schedule was screwed, the budget was ballooning by the day. But, this scrappy and visionary director persevered like his career depended on it (which it probably did) with the help of a charismatic cast that boasted Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss, a stellar screenplay by Carl Gottlieb and Peter Benchley that balanced terror with humanity, a chilling and soon signature score by John Williams, and Verna Fields, the icon-making editor who knew the perfect amount of frames to make a Bruce go from hokey to horrific. (Notably, both Williams and Fields took home Oscars for their genre-defining work here.)

Jaws went from production hell to history-making hit, becoming the first Hollywood “blockbuster.” Audiences flocked to see this shark tale of terror again and again. Reports of people fleeing the theater and blacking out only added to its biting allure. And the effects were massive. Aside from spawning subpar sequels and countless rip-offs, the film launched Dreyfuss and Spielberg, who’d reteam for the poignant and eerie science-fiction classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind two years later. More remarkably, Jaws changed the way studios made movies, inspiring producers to dream bigger. Inspired, they aspired to make movies more than entertainment, but events the summer crowds would rally over, paving the way for Star Wars.

With all this, it was little surprise that Jaws was welcomed into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry for preservation, deeming it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It’s a film that shifted how the world saw movies, evolving expectations, challenging filmmakers, and inspiring a new generation of storytellers. It’s also just a master class in what makes a movie great. Keep focus on the characters, and then no matter how ridiculous and unreal the ending may be, the audience will be with you. Because no matter how many times we’ve seen it, we all want to see that son of a bitch shark smile! —Kristy Puchko

The Muppet Movie - 1979


For whatever reason, and as unfair as it may be, the ’70s always feels a bit faded to me, maybe it has something to do with the way film from that era has been preserved, or maybe it feels somewhat like a semi-chromatic valley in between the tie-dyed hues of the 1960s and the neon glam of the 1980s. Outside of disco, when I think of the ’70s I think of dry detective shows like the Rockford Files or Kojak.

The Muppet Movie feels completely antithetical to that however, and betrays the sense of whimsy and absurd irreverence for the time period that Henson’s team of characters so perfectly embraced through their history of talk show appearances and tv variety shows. The Muppets have always inhabited a place in between timeless and timely, strumming the banjo to folksy tunes while drifting their way across the country while also cracking Hare Krishna jokes and hanging out with a rock band.

While they’ve adapted to every decade since with various levels of success, the Muppets as we know them were born in the 1970s, and they exist as a reflection of Jim Henson’s perspective on the world, as it was, as he imagined it could be, and also as he remembered it growing up as a child of the ’30s and ’40s. Considering that we’re as far removed from the 70’s now as Henson was from his childhood, it’s both beautiful and melancholic to look back at that decade through the lens of the Muppets at their prime, not unlike Gonzo standing away from a bonfire singing about going back there someday.—Riley Silverman

Apocalypse Now - 1979
‘There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane.’


In the popular narrative of American film-making, the 1970’s occupy a particularly revered spot. For better or worse an era of unprecedented directorial freedom and control, its oft-cited bookends are 1969’s Easy Rider and 1980’s Heaven’s Gate. The first opened up the studios’ eyes and convinced them that renegade outside perspectives could be financially viable, and the latter brought it all crashing down in a furious storm of ego, delusion, and colossally ballooning budgets. It’s a period that has been much-studied (anyone who hasn’t read Peter Biskin’s iconic account of it, ‘Easy Riders and Raging Bulls,’ should do so immediately) so I won’t repeat the thesis here, but I will say that of the numerous, incredible, mind-blowing classics released in those few years, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is in many ways the most emblematic of it all. Again, for better and for worse.

For me personally it was the first movie that I really appreciated as a movie. I had been watching and enjoying films all my life up until then, of course, but it wasn’t until The Doors, a drunken Martin Sheen, and the sound of a fan dissolving into the rotor blades of a helicopter over the Vietnamese jungle that I really got what movies could do — what giant, collaborative processes they were; what wonderful tools of editing, sound, direction, and cinematography they could employ to carve a vision out of the marble. Coppola’s mad and egotistical jungle vision took some carving — see the documentary, Hearts of Darkness, for the almost Biblical account of the madness that was the shoot — and it presaged the fall of 1970’s New Hollywood before Heaven’s Gate made it a reality, but goddamn it if it isn’t a fantastic, monstrous work.—Petr Knava