Silver Screen Streak List #16: Flickchart's 'New Hollywood'

Bring me the head of the American New Wave

Silver Screen Streak List #16:
Flickchart's 'New Hollywood'

Written by dorrk
26 March 2021

I came of age during the heyday of the Hollywood fantasy blockbuster, a 12-year-old during the summer of 1984 reveling in one transformative glossy popcorn movie after another. However, one of my most profound movie experiences came earlier, watching Kramer vs. Kramer at age 7 in 1979, and maybe that innoculated me with a taste for the earthy and intimate texture of 1970s filmmaking. I may have been entranced by the spectacle of movies from the 1980s, but I fell in love with the art of movies from the 1970s. It wasn't until my later teen years, when I discovered Taxi Driver (1976) and The Godfather, Parts 1 & 2 (1972-1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Exorcist (1973) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) (all among my 20 favorite movies of all-time), that I understood how the 1970s defined best what I craved from movies.

"New Hollywood" is one of a few nicknames for that period of American filmmaking that began in the late 1960s as the movie studios caved to counterculture pressure from inside and out and allowed a new crop of rebellious and movie-saturated young directors to put their personal visions on-screen. This era stretched into the early 1980s, by which time the reverberations of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) had shifted Hollywood's focus away from adult dramas and toward more expensive summer crowd-pleasers. However, some filmmakers from that era, like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, have not only remained relevant through their own continued reinvention, but the indie boom of the 1990s was saturated in “New Hollywood” influences, inspiring yet another new generation of filmmakers with the 1970s' spirit by-proxy.

Flickchart's "New Hollywood" filter spans from 1966-1982, from Monte Hellman's The Shooting to Hal Ashby's Lookin' to Get Out. It contains almost 300 movies, just over half of which are already on my chart, and two-thirds of those are ranked higher than 50%. One-third of my 100 favorite movies are from this period. Of the movies from the "New Hollywood" filter that aren't already on my chart, I've watched several before — many while reading Peter Biskind's excellent book on the period, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, at the tail-end of the 1990s — but I need to revisit them. Others I may have skipped because of my struggles to connect with a director's style (see John Cassavetes, below), some because of subject matter (see Midnight Express, below), but most of the others I haven't seen because there are just too many movies and too little life. Greg Dean Schmitz is doing me a favor by bringing this list to my Silver Screen Streak movie challenge and stands as good a chance as any one of a long, enjoyable streak. As long as Cassavetes doesn’t muck it up for both of us.


The First Two

I’ll watch the first two movies from each list, giving each participant the chance to avoid an instant exit and maybe even earn some free passes.

The first two movies on this list are:

In Cold Blood (1967); Dir.: Richard Brooks

In Cold Blood (1967)

Dir.: Richard Brooks

This true-crime drama is one I’ve seen before, but probably not since the days of VHS tapes. I also have a glimmer of a memory of reading Truman Capote’s book, but whether that’s fact or fiction is hard to discern. I’m a big fan of director Brooks’ preceding film, the western The Professionals (1966), but I don’t have a strong sense of him as a filmmaker or remember what makes this adaptation remarkable.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972); Dir.: Sydney Pollack

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Dir.: Sydney Pollack

I have a fondness for snowy westerns and Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford, so why have I never watched Jeremiah Johnson before? I’ve been saving it for a special occasion, and it looks like this is that occasion. No complaints about finally getting to this one.

THE NEXT EIGHT

If those first two movies fare well enough on my Flickchart, I'll continue through the following, as long as they stay above 50% on my Flickchart.

Midnight Express (1978); Dir.: Alan Parker

Midnight Express (1978)

Dir.: Alan Parker

Prison movies are a hard-sell for me, especially those which focus on the torture of prisoners. Midnight Express has loomed in the periphery of my movie tastes for decades like a threat. However, I tend to respect serious prison movies once I get past the hurdle of watching them. Alan Parker, however, is a wild card for me, with a few oddball gems but a filmography otherwise populated with stunted narratives that leave me unengaged.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976); Dir.: John Cassavetes

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

Dir.: John Cassavetes

Cassavetes is my big bugaboo in this list. I first watched a few of his moves in the early 1990s, but, although I like the type of rough vérité filmmaking he pursues, I often find the content of his movies incoherent bordering on the absurd, and the "truthy" acting hysterical and abrasive. This seems like one I would’ve sought out, a crime-flavored break from his screechy marital dramas, so I hold out some hope for this one.

The China Syndrome (1979); Dir.: James Bridges

The China Syndrome (1979)

Dir.: James Bridges

I remember this movie being a big deal when I was very young, one of the few movies (along with In Cold Blood) that our local TV guide rated 4-stars. I recall being underwhelmed when I finally watched it but may have been too young to have developed a taste for naturalistic docudramas. Bridges is another one of those directors who has his fingerprints on a few iconic movies from the 1970s but floundered in the next decade and seems to have next-to-no reputation today.

...and justice for all. (1979); Dir.: Norman Jewison

...and justice for all. (1979)

Dir.: Norman Jewison

Everyone knows the famous line from this satirical legal drama — “I'm out of order? You’re out of order! This whole court’s out of order!” — but it’s been a long time since I’ve watched this and I’m not sure how well its humor or social commentary will hold up today. One of the Achilles' heels of 1970s cinema is a tendency toward sloppiness in construction. In the best movies of the decade, this can add a kinetic, lifelike energy; but it can also make something that in its day felt profound seem amateurish and silly. Still, Pacino flapping his arms around and yelling is never a bad thing, is it?

Klute (1971); Dir.: Alan J. Pakula

Klute (1971)

Dir.: Alan J. Pakula

Although I watched Klute once during the late 1980s, I mostly know of this movie from references to it in the wider culture (specifically, Ron Howard's peak, Night Shift (1982)). Growing up, it seemed to have made a deep footprint in 1971 but without much direct impact on later generations. It's got a great cast — Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and Roy Scheider — and the steady hand of Pakula, so it’s one I’m looking forward to re-watching.

THX 1138 (1971); Dir.: George Lucas

THX 1138 (1971)

Dir.: George Lucas

Every kid who loved Star Wars in the 1980s heard about this early “weird” first feature film from Lucas. I think I tried to watch it once during my teen years but found it too slow and I’m pretty sure I never finished it. It will be interesting to revisit now, but my expectations are low.

Faces (1968); Dir.: John Cassavetes

Faces (1968)

Dir.: John Cassavetes

I’m not sure if it was this or Husbands (1970) that brought to a premature halt my Cassavetes exploration during my college years. If I streak this far through this list, however, it means The Killing of a Chinese Bookie fared OK, so I might have renewed hopes in that case.

Catch-22 (1970); Dir.: Mike Nichols

Catch-22 (1970)

Dir.: Mike Nichols

I watched this once in my early 20s, not having read the book, and figured it was one of those “unfilmable” novels with a story and ideas too complicated to translate to a major, star-studded movie. This is right in the sweet spot for Nichols, though, between my favorites The Graduate (1967) and Carnal Knowledge (1971), but my vague memories of it aren’t encouraging.


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