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Docurama presents
A Decade Under The Influence (2003)

"I was totally convinced that they were all talented. And I was positive that they would all be successful. I had no way of knowing that they would be so insanely successful."
- Roger Corman, on his many protégés

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: October 06, 2003

Stars: Robert Altman, John Avildsen, Peter Bogdanovich, Marshall Brickman, Ellen Burstyn, John Calley, Julie Christie, Francis Ford Coppola, Roger Corman, Bruce Dern, Clint Eastwood, Milos Forman, William Friedkin, Pam Grier, Dennis Hopper, Sidney Lumet, Paul Mazursky, Mike Medavoy, Polly Platt, Sydney Pollack, Jerry Schatzberg, Roy Scheider, Martin Scorsese, Sissy Spacek, Robert Towne, Jon Voight
Director: Richard LaGravenese, Ted Demme

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:35m:34s
Release Date: September 30, 2003
UPC: 767685955734
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-B-B C+

DVD Review

Wasn't that a time? This loving look at the films and filmmakers of the 1970s was produced originally for the Independent Film Channel, and depending on your age and familiarity with the films being discussed, this can be either a walk down memory lane or an introduction to some of the great movies of the previous generation that you may have heard of, or caught a glimpse of, or didn't even know existed. It's a lot of ground to cover in less than three hours, but many of the crucial participants are on hand to discuss their work and how it completely transformed American movies.

Co-directors Richard LaGravenese and Ted Demme cut between film clips and talking heads, without any ponderous narration, which was a wise choice, especially when the people here are so articulate, smart, funny, and fun. The whole is broken down into three hour-long installments—the first, Influences and Independents, introduces us to the bloated studio system of the late 1960s, churning out expensive and boring movies that no one wanted to see (e.g., Hello Dolly!), and that had nothing to offer to the surging youth movement and counterculture. At a time of Woodstock and Hendrix and the Beatles and Vietnam, Hollywood studios still thought that people wanted to go see Cesar Romero.

A couple of things happened—the studio system collapsed, and actors and directors were no longer under the thumb of executives; the 1960s happened; and a whole new variety of influences were felt—the beats, the nouvelle vague, campus art-house cinema, just to name a few. And so with the brashness of youth, filmmakers like Dennis Hopper and Francis Coppola and John Cassavetes and John Schlesinger told the studios that they could make better movies, and movies that would actually make pots of money. Now, the studios were listening.

Much of this is a clipfest, and it's fun to revisit or discover movies like Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, or Harold and Maude, or The Graduate; even better are those being interviewed, including Paul Schrader, Peter Bogdanovich, and the still-radiant Julie Christie. She's especially good talking about the lure of America—"Sex, drugs, anti-authoritarianism, and the great quest for freedom" was the '70s American ethos, in her well-chosen words. In many ways the big breakthrough film was Easy Rider, made for pennies and insanely profitable—now the young whippersnappers were promoted from the kids' table.

The New Hollywood documents some of their greatest successes—with Coppola and The Godfather and The Conversation; William Friedkin with The French Connection and The Exorcist; even Woody Allen and Annie Hall. This was that rare moment when the most financially successful movies were also the movies of the highest artistic quality, and other young voices were being heard—Robert Towne is especially intriguing discussing his script for Chinatown, and Martin Scorsese emerged with Mean Streets. A couple of slightly older filmmakers ran with the young fellows, too, including Robert Altman in his most fertile period (M*A*S*H, Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller), and Sidney Lumet in his: Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Network.

There's a certain amount of hero worship in the documentary, but that's fine with me, because many of these guys are my heroes, too. Also, one of the poignant and unspoken aspects of this is seeing the passage of time in these people—the young Turks of the '60s and '70s are pudgy and graying, balding and yes, old. (But, really, what's the alternative?) Finally, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is more politically oriented—Milos Forman discussing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as a metaphor for Communism, and the changes in the business, too. Heaven's Gate was a well-publicized flop, and newspapers started running weekend grosses like baseball box scores; and the unprecedented financial successes of films like Jaws and Star Wars brought in the market researchers, who thought that they could make art the same way you make chicken nuggets. (Surprise! You can't.) There's an elegiac tone in here, particularly for the late Hal Ashby, whose credits included Coming Home, Shampoo and Being There, and for Paddy Chayefsky, who was mad as hell and wasn't going to take it anymore.

Not every great film and filmmaker could be covered in this limited amount of time, of course, but there are some folks higher up the food chain who would have been terrific additions to this: Spielberg, Lucas, Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and especially Warren Beatty. Also, there's a sense that many of these people have told these stories before—if you've never heard Paul Schrader describe his script for Taxi Driver "like an animal inside my chest," you probably have never heard or seen him interviewed before. And, to be a little bit persnickety, the title is something of a misnomer, in that it's not exactly a decade we're talking about—Easy Rider and Bonnie and Clyde, so crucial here, are '60s films, and there's some bleeding into today. (When Scorsese, for instance, talks about clashes back in the day between directors and studios, it doesn't sound all that different from the voluminous press coverage of Gangs of New York.) To some extent also women get short shrift—Christie, Sissy Spacek, and Ellen Burstyn are all well spoken, but as they frequently were in the films under discussion, women aren't always especially well represented.

But there's lots of wonderful stuff here, and it's well worth checking out, especially if you labor under the delusion that an old classic is something like Forrest Gump.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The new interview footage looks lovely, though the clips vary in quality; the ones from The Godfather look especially scratched up. A transfer that's always at least satisfactory.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Sound quality is sufficient, and the lower tones sound especially rich—it's a reminder that a movie doesn't have to be obnoxiously loud to have some aural interest.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Speaking in Strings, Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, Sound and Fury, Brother's Keeper, Sophie B. Hawkins: The Cream Will Rise, Todd McFarlane: The Devil You Know, Go Tigers!, Keep The River On Your Right, Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, Lost in La Mancha
10 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD credits
  2. Docurama catalog
Extras Review: Ten extra bits of interview footage are the highlights of the extras package; especially good (and missing from the feature) is cinematographer Haskell Wexler, discussing his working relationship with Hal Ashby on Bound for Glory. Bios are for Richard LaGravenese and the late Ted Demme; the Docurama catalog is complemented by eleven trailers for other DVD releases.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

A respectful and fun homage to the last great era of American filmmaking, this documentary is interesting in its own right, and will probably leave you armed to the teeth with prospective rentals for your next trip to the video store.

 


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