Urban Cinefile
"I get lots of roles the American stars don't want to do. American stars don't want to kill the baby. I'll kill the baby. I'll kill any baby for a good part."  -Terence Stamp
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday July 19, 2018 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



The 1970s witnessed the emergence of a new generation of American filmmakers. Galvanised by new freedoms of expression permitted by changes to film censorship in 1968, directors including Scorsese, Friedkin, Coppola and many others told stories reflecting the turbulent times in which they were made. Interspersed with clips from their work, the filmmakers discuss the significance of this remarkable decade of American movie making.

Review by Richard Kuipers
"Cinematic success is not necessarily the result of good brainwork, but of a harmony of existing elements in ourselves that we may not have ever been conscious of. An accidental coincidence of our own preoccupations at a certain moment of life and the public's interest." - Francois Truffaut, from The Films Of My Life.

A Decade Under The Influence opens with Truffaut's observation and what follows is a fascinating dissection of the convergence between public taste and artistic ambition that made the 1970s the most dynamic and atypical decade in Hollywood history. Newsreel footage of the Hello, Dolly premiere in 1969, in which the narrator tells us that "stars have lost their relevance" sets the scene as a who's who of the era describe the conditions enabling young talents like Coppola, Scorsese and Friedkin to make films that major studios would not have dreamt of backing before Vietnam, Watergate and the 1968 Democratic convention.

Just about everyone who had anything to do with this amazing period speaks candidly and intelligently about the times and the films they made. Sydney Pollack, Paul Schrader, Robert Altman, Dennis Hopper, Paul Mazursky, Peter Bogdanovich, Bruce Dern...the list goes on. Each has something significant to say and there's no shortage of amusing anecdotes about the bizarre origins of classics from the era. Network (1976) was made as the result of a court settlement in favour of writer Paddy Chayefsky; Nashville (1975) was instigated as a "country and western picture" after Paramount bought a record company in Nashville. Although it's a little light-on for women, there are fabulous contributions too from Julie Christie, Polly Platt (co-writer of Peter Bogdanovich's seminal Targets (1968) and, best of all, the super-foxy Pam Grier, who describes the vibrant climate of the early 70s as being "a time when whites could go and see James Brown without being called a nigger-lover".

Alongside the supreme collection of clips and filmmaking stories recalled here, it's the social commentary that makes this documentary more than a nostalgia piece. It's a vital examination of America in the dark days of divisiveness over Vietnam, mistrust of the political process in the wake of Watergate and the violent end of flower power at the Rolling Stones Altamont concert on December 6, 1969.

Anyone interested in the issues discussed here should also seek out the excellent documentary The Weather Underground. Directed by the late Ted Demme (The Ref, Blow) and Richard Lagravanese, A Decade Under The Influence is essential and illuminating viewing for film lovers as it reveals what happened when out-of-touch studio bosses really didn't have a clue and decided to open the door to filmmakers able to connect with a public that wanted to see the reality of its own lives on the screen. Even with 33 minutes of additional interviews this hardly seems long enough and my sole complaint is that it doesn't run for another couple of hours. Classy, comprehensive and a must-see.

Published April 1, 2004

Email this article

(USA, 2003)

CAST: Documentary Featuring Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood

PRODUCER: Gini Reticker, Jerry Kupfer, Ted Demme, Richard Lagravanese

DIRECTOR: Ted Demme, Richard Lagravanese

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Clyde Smith, Anthony Jannelli

EDITOR: Meg Reticker

MUSIC: John Kimbrough

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella Entertainment/The AV Channel

DVD RELEASE: February 13, 2004

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2018