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American Films Of The Seventies Essay, Research Paper

1970s Hollywood has been characterized as a "renaissance" and a "revolutionary" decade, mostly because of the exceptional artistic and personal filmmaking that flourished in the early part of the decade after a period of industrial decline in the '60s, and that found popular acceptance with a young, critically attuned audience craving something new. As Warren Beatty put it, the "lunatics" were briefly "running the asylum," as young directors, writers, and actors gained a measure of creative freedom to experiment with conventions of Hollywood stories and genres. The resulting films cast an unsentimental and often critical look at American culture without happy endings or identifiable heroes. While the filmmaker was staking his claim as an artist during this period, the industry as a whole was recovering its ability to make vast sums of money. Hollywood's 1970s "renaissance" had, in fact, a dual nature, with the industrial impact of the new blockbuster serving as an emphatic reminder that despite rhetoric about directorial autonomy and artistry, the Hollywood industry is and has always been guided by the bottom line. The emergence of the new blockbuster could be seen in the early years of the decade, with the later popularity of Jaws and Star Wars effectively demonstrating that not only were the substantial successes of The Godfather and The Exorcist not a fluke, but that with the right marketing and merchandising strategies, even more money could be made. By the end of the decade, the "renaissance" of marketing and the blockbuster had effectively subsumed the renaissance of cinematic artistry and critical engagement.The beginning of "1970s" Hollywood is actually most accurately placed at 1967, due to the release that year of Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty (who also produced it), Faye Dunaway, and Gene Hackman, and Mike Nichols' The Graduate, starring newcomer Dustin Hoffman, Katharine Ross, and Anne Bancroft. These two (notoriously) groundbreaking and European-influenced films signaled the direction Hollywood was to follow, bolstered by their great popularity with a young audience that shunned Hollywood's increasingly tired big-budget musicals and spectacles, such as Cleopatra (1963), Doctor Dolittle (1967), Paint Your Wagon (1969), and Star! (1968). With their stories of disaffected youth rebelling against the moral and economic strictures imposed by the older generation, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate appealed to an under-30 audience caught up in the escalating cultural battles of the late '60s in the wake of the Vietnam War and the rise of the counterculture. Beatty and Dunaway's shockingly violent deaths at the end of Bonnie and Clyde and Hoffman and Ross' ambiguous reunion in The Graduate spoke to the burgeoning skepticism with cultural institutions like law enforcement and marriage. The violence in Bonnie and Clyde, the filmmakers said, was no worse than in TV news stories about Vietnam.The films' thematic gloom, relatively frank treatments of violence and sexuality, and seemingly looser narrative structures and editing styles were also in part inspired by '60s European art cinema. This mode of filmmaking promoted the idea of the director as a serious artist or "author," and focused on difficult subjects, relayed through obscure and formally experimental narratives meant to reflect the randomness of life and thought. The work of Italian directors Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita and 8 ?) and Michelangelo Antonioni (L'avventura and Blow-Up), Swedish director Ingmar Bergman (Winter Light, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Persona), and especially the French New Wave directors Fran?ois Truffaut (The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim) and Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless, Contempt, Pierrot le Fou) were highly influential in this regard. Indeed, Bonnie and Clyde's screenwriters (Robert Benton and David Newman) originally submitted the script to Truffaut and Godard, as they had envisioned it as a New Wave film.Following the precedent set by the European art cinema, Arthur Penn and Mike Nichols became part of a late '60s wave of new American directors and films with distinctive styles and serious thematic concerns. These styles and concerns spoke to the new generation of moviegoers' desire for something different and were finally permissible in Hollywood films by the new G/PG/R/X ratings system instituted in 1968 to replace the antiquated Production Code that had been in place since the early '30s. Since filmmakers did not have to tailor film content for an audience of all ages, they could pursue any adult themes they wished. Already considered a maverick for his adaptation of the sexually scandalous novel Lolita (1962) and his Cold War black comedy Dr. Strangelove (1964), Stanley Kubrick redefined expectations about visual effects and storytelling in his philosophical science fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Although its opacity confused some critics, it was embraced by younger audiences as the ultimate head-trip. Sam Peckinpah's western The Wild Bunch (1969) pushed the depiction of violence to the extreme in the process of debunking myths of western expansion and heroic bloodshed; Peckinpah used the freedom of the new ratings system to show exactly what happens when bullets hit flesh. George Roy Hill's huge 1969 hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid similarly took on the western, presenting Paul Newman and Robert Redford as charismatic hero/outlaws who die violently rather than reform themselves. John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy (1969), an impressionistic character study of an odd friendship between Jon Voight's would-be gigolo Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman's grifter Ratso Rizzo, became the first X-rated film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Paul Mazursky's Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1969) looked at the effects of the sexual revolution on the generation just over 30, a group already ensconced in a secure upper-middle class life but young enough to feel that they're missing out if they don't try wife-swapping or honest infidelity.The film that offered the most unequivocal proof of the power of the young audience and new contemporary concerns was 1969's Easy Rider. Co-written (with Terry Southern) by its stars Peter Fonda (who was also the producer) and Dennis Hopper (who directed), Easy Rider depicted the cross-country motorcycle trip by hippies Fonda and Hopper and lawyer Jack Nicholson to find the "real America." Even as Fonda acknowledges that they "blew it" before an abruptly violent end, the spectacle of their drug- and rock-fuelled odyssey proved to be highly popular, making millions of dollars after costing half a million to make. In a year that marked a historic low point for movie admissions in the U.S., Easy Rider's high profit ratio helped convince Hollywood studio executives that edgier (and cheaper) films made by a new group of directors, writers, and actors in their 20s and 30s were worth the risk, as were the artistically adventurous films of slightly older directors such as Arthur Penn and Robert Altman.It is the work of this group of filmmakers that is seen as the creative signature of 1970s Hollywood. Whether they came from TV (Penn, Altman), from within the film industry (Hal Ashby), or from the new film departments at universities such as the University of California at Los Angeles (Francis Ford Coppola), University of Southern California (George Lucas), or New York University (Martin Scorsese), their films were marked by their love of film history, especially old Hollywood movies, and the influence of the European art directors through their personal, yet often elliptical, approach to subject and style. Coppola habitually shifted between "big" films, winning an Oscar for his screenplay for Patton (1970) and directing the musical Finian's Rainbow (1968), and personal work like The Rain People (1969) and You're a Big Boy Now (1966). Between directing the Oscar-winning 1972 blockbuster The Godfather and its narratively complex (and Oscar-winning) sequel The Godfather, Part II (1974), Coppola made The Conversation (1974), a dark, small film about a surveillance expert played by Gene Hackman, and produced American Graffiti (1973) for his writer/director friend George Lucas. Like Easy Rider, American Graffiti was another small film that seemed to come out of nowhere to make millions; even if its depiction of the recent, more innocent past of the pre-Vietnam early '60s was part of the appeal, especially with its pop hit score, sad revelations of what happened to the fictional characters after the film's conclusion kept the film from being simply empty nostalgia.After following in the footsteps of his contemporaries, like Coppola and screenwriter Robert Towne, by making Boxcar Bertha (1972) for schlockmeister Roger Corman, Martin Scorsese heeded iconoclast director John Cassavetes' advice that he use his talents to try something different rather than make exploitation movies. Scorsese returned to the milieu of his debut film Who's That Knocking on My Door? (1968) with Mean Streets (1973), an unvarnished and visually kinetic view of petty gangsters from his old Little Italy neighborhood. An Oscar-winning editor for In the Heat of the Night (1967), Hal Ashby directed the cult romantic comedy Harold and Maude (1972); The Last Detail (1973), a critically successful film about male bonding starring Jack Nicholson; and Shampoo (1975), a critical view of the sexual revolution and Nixonism, co-written (with Robert Towne) and produced by its star Warren Beatty. Mike Nichols continued his examination of sexual mores and male behavior in the harsh Carnal Knowledge (1971), starring Nicholson as an eternal emotional adolescent. Former philosophy teacher Terrence Malick wrote and directed two extraordinarily beautiful films, Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978), that told stories of love and murder in elliptical narratives emphasizing visuals over dialogue, with character voiceovers occasionally as confounding as they were informative. Arthur Penn dealt with the 1960s directly in Alice's Restaurant (1969) before returning to a story of the past to comment negatively about the present in his comic anti-western Little Big Man (1970), starring Dustin Hoffman as a one-time cowboy and adopted Sioux Indian who has seen it all.Robert Altman made his name directing the popular antiwar comedy MASH in 1970, beginning a prolific five-year span of work that matched technical experiments in layered soundtracks and widescreen visual composition with leisurely episodic narratives centering on details of character psychology and behavior. In addition to MASH, films such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), The Long Goodbye (1973), California Split (1974), Thieves Like Us (1974), and Brewster McCloud (1970) were as noteworthy for their atmosphere as for characters played by Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and such other Altman regulars as Shelley Duvall and Keith Carradine. His 1975 epic Nashville, about fame, the entertainment business, and politics, told through the interwoven stories of two dozen characters with a cast that included Carradine, Duvall, Lily Tomlin, Karen Black, Ronee Blakely, and Michael Murphy, is considered to be one of the artistic highpoints of the decade for its narrative invention and astute cultural commentary. Altman systematically worked his way through contemporary revisions of such classic Hollywood genres as the war movie (MASH), western (McCabe and Mrs. Miller), detective movie (The Long Goodbye), gangster movie (Thieves Like Us), and musical (Nashville). Like Altman, other '70s filmmakers frequently revised classic genres or created generic hybrids. These films revealed a knowledge of old Hollywood forms while rethinking them in a contemporary, often pessimistic manner. Both Coppola and Scorsese addressed the gangster film, as Coppola's Godfather movies used the Mafia as an operatic metaphor for the malignance of capitalism, and Scorsese's Mean Streets stripped away any of the small criminal's glamour while focusing on the moral struggles of Harvey Keitel's observer Charlie. Scorsese reworked the musical's vision of romance and happy endings along more somber lines in New York, New York (1977), while Bob Fosse used song and dance to meditate on life and death in All That Jazz (1979). The western was revised and eulogized from 1969 to 1976 in films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1970) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Arthur Penn's Little Big Man (1970) and The Missouri Breaks (1976), Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976), Don Siegel's The Shootist (1976), and Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter (1973) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles (1974) was an outright western parody, with the heroes riding off into the sunset in a stretch limo. Brooks also parodied the horror film in Young Frankenstein (1974) and the Hitchcockian thriller in High Anxiety (1977). Director and film critic Peter Bogdanovich paid homage to the thriller in Targets (1968), screwball comedy in What's Up Doc? (1972), 1930s child star capers in Paper Moon (1973), and the power of movies in general in his social drama The Last Picture Show (1971). Roman Polanski, William Friedkin, Brian De Palma, and John Carpenter were among the directors who followed Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) in relocating the horror film's monsters closer to home and the self (and usually increasing the gore) in such new horror movies as Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Carrie (1976), and Halloween (1978). Polanski, Altman, and Penn transformed the hero of the detective film from the effective investigators embodied by Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe in the 1940s to impotent figures at the mercy of their corrupt environments: Jack Nicholson can only look on in despair at the climactic violence in Polanski's Chinatown (1974); Gene Hackman is left circling in a boat on the ocean in Penn's Night Moves (1975). Altman's The Long Goodbye is just as bleak, but in a nod to the notion that the hard-boiled private eye is just a movie fantasy, Elliott Gould's "smart-ass" Philip Marlowe gets the last word and walks away at the end while "Hooray for Hollywood" plays on the soundtrack. In hybrid genre films, directors and writers transposed thematic and visual elements from one genre to another, disrupting assumptions usually attached to that genre. Some critics reacted negatively to Bonnie and Clyde because Penn presented the exploits of the Barrow Gang in a tone verging on slapstick comedy, thus making the escalation of violence that much more shocking. Halloween, a horror film set among small-town families, combined elements of family melodrama with its horror scenario. The western, a genre that seemed repeatedly to be announcing its own demise, was blended with several other genres during the decade. Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), written by former film critic Paul Schrader, combined the western, film noir, and horror in its story of extreme urban alienation, presenting Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle as a lone cowboy-esque psychopath prowling New York City in his cab, increasingly enraged at the "savages" he encounters. Don Siegel's Dirty Harry (1972) also placed the western in the city, with Clint Eastwood's eponymous cop taking the cowboy's ambiguous position against civilization's bureaucracy by punishing its outlaws. Michael Cimino adapted the western's conflict between civilization and savagery to the war film in The Deer Hunter (1978), manifesting the personal toll of that battle through the Vietnam War. George Lucas returned to the old-fashioned good guy/bad guy values of traditional Westerns in Star Wars (1977), which at the same time reclaimed science fiction from 2001's metaphysical modernism in favor of a sense of unalloyed heroism.The dark tone of these films was often bolstered by antiheroes alienated from the world around them, struggling to maintain a sense of masculine self, and often losing out to a culture to which they cannot reconcile themselves or which is out of their control. Even friendship cannot spare these men their pain and isolation. Jack Nicholson was the exemplary lost or doomed man in films such as Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces (1970), The Last Detail, Chinatown and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). Robert De Niro's characters are compelled to action by violence in Mean Streets, The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter and Raging Bull (1980). Al Pacino achieves power at the expense of his soul in the Godfather films and struggles in very different ways against the system as a cop and a bank robber in a pair of films directed by Sidney Lumet, Serpico (1973) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Gene Hackman's cop in The French Connection (1971) was not exactly likable; his characters in The Conversation and Night Moves end up broken men after trying to thwart crimes. In contrast to his glamorous off-screen reputation, Warren Beatty played a series of dreamers condemned to lose in Bonnie and Clyde, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Parallax View (1974), and Shampoo. "Golden boy" Robert Redford critiqued the American obsession with winning in The Candidate (1972) and Downhill Racer (1969). Like Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, loners Gene Hackman and Al Pacino forge a friendship only to have it disrupted by physical tragedy in Scarecrow (1973). Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, and Ned Beatty confront psychological and physical crises of masculinity that leave indelible mental scars in John Boorman's Deliverance (1972); Robert De Niro cannot save Christopher Walken's traumatized vet from the fate he chooses for himself in The Deer Hunter.Films about the troubled white male antihero were circulating at a time when American popular culture was attempting to address the political fallout of the '60s and '70s from the gains of the civil rights movement and women's liberation, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal. Just as the breakout Hollywood films of the late '60s dealt with the turmoil of the moment directly (Easy Rider) or through historical parallels (Bonnie and Clyde), various '70s films were enmeshed in the complex politics of the time. Regarding Watergate, the central political scandal of the decade, such paranoid political thrillers as Alan J. Pakula's The Parallax View and Sydney Pollack's Three Days of the Condor (1975) evocatively dealt with individuals who stumbled upon vast government conspiracies and find themselves unable to stop what they discover. Even if Robert Redford's Bob Woodward and Dustin Hoffman's Carl Bernstein succeed in uncovering the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post in All the President's Men (1976), the story itself is a reminder of the corruption in Nixon's administration, as a teletype impassively catalogues the results of the Watergate investigation and Nixon's resignation at the film's conclusion.In the wake of civil rights and the more militant Black Power movement, African-American life was represented on screen in low budget "blaxploitation" action movies usually aimed at African-American audiences, as well as in more mainstream movies that went beyond previous Hollywood depictions of African-American life. Led by Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), blaxploitation films such as Shaft (1971), Superfly (1972) and Cleopatra Jones (1973) presented strong African-American heroes who triumphed over the bad guys and The Man. In an anomalous display of Academy hipness, Isaac Hayes' theme song to Shaft actually won an Oscar. The cycle, however, was exhausted by the mid-1970s due to objections to the violent and sexual content of the films and the repetitiveness of the plots. Different aspects of the African-American experience were also the subjects of various mainstream films produced in part as a response to the stereotypes of blaxploitation. Sounder (1972), starring Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson, and Black Girl (1972), directed by Ossie Davis, were family dramas that went beyond Hollywood stereotypes. Sidney Poitier directed and starred in a black western, Buck and the Preacher (1972), along with Harry Belafonte, and directed and co-starred with Bill Cosby in the comedies Uptown Saturday Night (1974) and its sequel, Let's Do It Again (1975). Michael Schultz's Car Wash (1976), with Richard Pryor, was partly a series of comic bits but also suggested the numbing nature of such dead-end work. Lady Sings the Blues (1972) was a dramatic Hollywood bio-pic of legendary singer Billie Holiday, with Diana Ross as Holiday and Richard Pryor proving his acting skills in a supporting role.Conflicting responses to the women's movement could be seen in the number of "women's films" that attempted to deal with being female in changing times but did not always offer progressive ideas. In Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974), Ellen Burstyn learns how to fend for herself as a single mother but then heads towards marriage with Kris Kristofferson. Jane Fonda's prostitute in Pakula's Klute (1971) likes the independence of her work, but she has to rethink that stance when Donald Sutherland has to protect her from a homicidal stalker. Fonda has a liberating romance with Jon Voight's paraplegic Vietnam vet in Hal Ashby's Coming Home (1978), but he sends her back to the marriage that oppressed her. The Turning Point (1977) contrasts the lives of two dancers, played by Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, to suggest that a woman must choose either a career or a family, and the unhappiness of Bancroft's career dancer undercuts the equality of the choice. Diane Keaton's murder by one of her pick-ups turns the story of her liberated sexual life in Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) into a vile cautionary tale; even if all of the men around her, especially her father, are horrid chauvinists, she is still the one who has to die. One film that offered a positive view of female friendship and a female character who pursued her work and romance was the period piece Julia (1977), starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, and based on an autobiographical story by Lillian Hellman. Paul Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman (1978) does suggest that a woman isn't necessarily defined by her man when Jill Clayburgh's divorcee chooses her job over a trip to Vermont with artist boyfriend Alan Bates. The end of the decade, however, saw the popularity of such "male weepies" as Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Ordinary People (1980) that featured self-involved women as the villains and men who could be both mothers and bread-winning fathers, one more sign of the extent to which Hollywood could not quite come to terms with feminism.The Vietnam War, unlike World War II, was such a divisive and inflammatory subject that the only film explicitly made about it while the war was going on was John Wayne's flag-waver, The Green Berets (1968). Otherwise, the chaos of the war was addressed only indirectly in films such as The Wild Bunch and MASH. A few years after the 1975 fall of Saigon, however, Hollywood films began to deal with the war and its negative impact; Coming Home was one of several Vietnam films released in 1978. Who'll Stop the Rain, starring Nick Nolte, dealt with the corrupting power of the war in its story of heroin smuggling from Vietnam to the U.S.; in Go Tell the Spartans, set in 1964, members of the military already have their doubts about getting involved in Vietnam. Michael Cimino's epic The Deer Hunter, starring De Niro, Walken, John Cazale, and Meryl Streep, got the most attention of the 1978 Vietnam films and won Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Walken), Best Picture, and Best Director (Fonda and Voight got acting Oscars for Coming Home). In his portrayal of how the war affected the lives of several working class steel workers, Cimino used the deer hunt, physical paralysis, and, most notoriously, Russian roulette to reveal the mental and physical trauma caused by the war. The film generated enormous controversy among those who objected to its negative depiction of the Vietnamese and its fictional devices, especially the Russian roulette sequences. Coppola's Apocalypse Now, released in 1979 after two years of delays, represented the war as a "heart of darkness" after the novella of that title by Joseph Conrad. Martin Sheen, as a captain already on the edge, begins a mission to find the violently AWOL Colonel Kurtz, during which he meets such figures as Robert Duvall's napalm- and Wagner-loving officer and Dennis Hopper's jittery photographer. Sheen's surreally violent final confrontation with Marlon Brando's Kurtz climaxes Coppola's portrayal of the war as a relentless nightmare.Even though it did well at the box office, Apocalypse Now has come to be seen as one of the films that marked the end of the 1970s Hollywood artistic renaissance. Its torturous three-year production and budget excesses, blamed largely on Coppola, made studio executives wary about giving directors too much freedom. This is not to say, however, that the new blockbuster Hollywood suddenly replaced the new artistic Hollywood. The economic renaissance occurred almost simultaneously with the creative one; traditional Hollywood institutions like the star system and the genre film continued to be popular in the midst of the director-driven wave of personal filmmaking and experimentation. Whether they were conscious critical revisions or more straightforward contemporary updates, various genres continued to thrive while others were revived. Despite the late '60s failure of Paint Your Wagon, film adaptations of such other Broadway musicals as Norman Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Bob Fosse's Cabaret (1972), and, most spectacularly, Grease (1978), found popular acceptance in the 1970s. The horror film drew audiences with The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Carrie, Halloween, and Alien (1979). Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl (1977), with Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason, Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977), starring Allen and Diane Keaton, and Warren Beatty's Heaven Can Wait (1978), pairing Beatty with Julie Christie, helped the romantic comedy to endure; Annie Hall's Best Picture Oscar was a rare win for a comedy. Sylvester Stallone's phenomenon Rocky (1976) maintained the tradition of the boxing film. Science fiction with advanced special effects proved resoundingly popular with George Lucas' Star Wars and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). A newer genre, the disaster movie, enjoyed a brief period of prominence by playing on fears of nature and technology run amok with all-star, and potentially all-doomed, casts. The Airport movies in 1970, '75 and '77 put such stars as Burt Lancaster, Helen Hayes, Charlton Heston, Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Jacqueline Bisset, and Olivia de Havilland either in cursed jetliners or on the ground dealing with the impending plane crash. The Poseidon Adventure (1972), with Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, and Shelley Winters, capsized a luxury liner with a tidal wave; Earthquake (1974), with Heston, Ava Gardner, and Lorne Greene, used Sensurround to enhance its tale of Los Angeles being hit by the Big One. Irwin Allen's The Towering Inferno (1974), with Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Fred Astaire, William Holden, and Jennifer Jones among those trapped in or battling a burning skyscraper, was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar alongside more challenging films like The Godfather, Part II and Chinatown. Disaster movies often focused as much on the midlife crises of middle-aged white men as on their titular disasters, bizarrely cross-breeding elements of melodrama and science fiction with the tradition of Grand Hotel-style all-star vehicles.The disaster genre's all-star casts and the 1970s successes of various stars maintained the viability of Hollywood's custom of making a movie's star (or stars) the prime audience draw, along with or despite the film's "quality." The Sting (1973) re-teamed Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and improved upon the popularity of that star pair in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Redford was already a favorite star attraction that year for the romance The Way We Were (1973), co-starring Barbra Streisand. Milos Forman's hit and Best Picture winner One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest had the advantage of being based on a best-selling novel, but Jack Nicholson as misfit McMurphy was also an ideal match between star and role. For other star vehicles, the perceived artistic value of the movies mattered far less than the attraction of the leading player; they were just star-driven entertainment. In part making fun of his tough guy persona from the Dirty Harry movies and the westerns while playing into it, Clint Eastwood bolstered his star popularity with the orangutan comedy Every Which Way But Loose (1978), the highest-grossing film of his career until Unforgiven. Burt Reynolds had been praised for his acting in Deliverance, but it was the comedy chase movie Smokey and the Bandit (1977) that proved how much of a draw Reynolds could be as a light-hearted good ol' boy. The 1970s star most identified as a blockbuster attraction in his own right, for a year anyway, was John Travolta. While the Bee Gees disco soundtrack and trendy subject were part of the appeal of Saturday Night Fever (1977), the movie's enormous success was also greatly due to TV star Travolta's presence in the lead role. His acting was praised even when the film occasionally was not, his disco dancing imitated, and he himself desired. Grease, the most popular movie of 1978, seemed to solidify Travolta's star power as a song-and-dance actor and sex symbol; one of the most important aspects of the movie that made it "critic-proof" was his presence. Grease and Saturday Night Fever were part of the mode of filmmaking that came to dominate Hollywood practice from the late 1970s through the present: the blockbuster. While the studios gave more creative freedom to the young renegades in the early '70s, they did not entirely abandon bigger-budget films meant to appeal to a wide, and as the decade went on, increasingly younger audience. Indeed, it was movies made by some of those new filmmakers that raised the standard for how much money a blockbuster could make and solidified the industry's economic recovery after 1969; a recovery had been signaled partly by the substantial successes of the romance Love Story and the first Airport movie in 1970. Coppola's The Godfather had the rare distinction of being as wildly popular as it was artistically accomplished and thematically adventurous; despite a restrictive R-rating, it decisively broke the all-time box office record set by The Sound of Music in 1965. In 1973, George Roy Hill's The Sting came close to matching The Godfather's record, and William Friedkin's The Exorcist topped it. The new blockbuster turned a corner in 1975 with the release of Steven Spielberg's Jaws. Spielberg, one of the youngest of the new generation and whose only previous theatrical feature was the small road movie The Sugarland Express (1974), did not inspire confidence from his studio, Universal, when the shoot went way over budget and schedule. He was vindicated when Jaws, a PG-rated summer thriller, broke records yet again and became the first movie to return over $100 million to a studio. Spielberg's reign only lasted until 1977. For his next film after American Graffiti, George Lucas wanted to take the special effects advances of 2001 further and make the first feature of what he envisioned as a multi-part science fiction epic, but despite his prior hit, the project was considered a risk. When Star Wars was released, however, the combination of the visual effects, iconic characters, and heroic story for all ages turned the film into the most popular attraction of all time by far, as young fans went back to see it over and over. Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, released late in 1977, proved that Lucas's effects-driven blockbuster was not an anomaly; its attitude of child-like awe similarly cemented the appeal of a more "innocent," less somber thematic point of view. Saturday Night Fever, released late in 1977 as well, continued the re-orientation of the blockbuster toward a youthful audience through its subject and star, despite its R-rated content. 1978's Grease became the most popular movie musical of all time, as audiences, especially the Travolta fans too young for Fever, defied the critical consensus that it was white-washed trash and enthusiastically embraced its somewhat clean, but definitely cute view of 1950s romance. The 1979 re-release of a PG version of Saturday Night Fever aimed at the Grease audience effectively confirmed that the under-18 demographic had become the most vital target for the new blockbuster.The increasing profitability of the blockbuster was due not only to the appeal of the films themselves, but also to changes in how movies were released and marketed (and ultimately conceived). The young audience became even more important because they would buy merchandise associated with the movies, as well as simply going to the movies themselves. Realizing by the late '60s that the old distribution system of opening a film gradually across the country, accompanied mainly by print ads, was no longer effective, the Hollywood studios began to adopt new marketing and distribution methods like TV advertising and saturation releases to many theaters all at once. TV's efficacy had been proven on a smaller, regional basis by the successful 1971 movie Billy Jack; the TV ads accompanied its release in a large number of regional theaters. Jaws became a turning point for distribution as well as box office when it opened in over 400 theaters, preceded by three nights of TV ads during prime time on all the networks. Inspired by the success of Jaws, the number of theaters for a potential blockbuster's opening increased steadily throughout the rest of the decade; Grease opened in over 900 theaters. Besides TV ads, movies were marketed through other products such as soundtracks and toys. Saturday Night Fever and Grease demonstrated the potential profit in linking a movie's music with its marketing, as both films were preceded by the release of hit singles from their soundtracks to build anticipation for the visual spectacles. The music was an ad for the movie and vice versa; the soundtracks themselves became music business blockbusters. Star Wars and Close Encounters also had popular orchestral soundtracks and hit themes. The selling of Star Wars toys became the equivalent of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in terms of setting a standard for non-music merchandising; hundreds of millions of dollars of Star Wars products had been sold within a couple of years of its initial release.With the new blockbuster's repeatedly record-breaking successes, the Hollywood industry had not only recovered economically by the late '70s, but had learned how to make more money in different ways from various movies than it ever had in the past. The escalating budgets of blockbusters like Close Encounters and Superman (1978), however, began to hint at the increasing dependence the studios would have on pre-sold or easily marketable "high concept" attractions like the presence of a star, or a sequel to a previous hit to hedge their ever-larger bets, at the expense of the riskier artistic projects. Movies like Jaws and Saturday Night Fever were easy to sell precisely because they were high concept films: movies whose story and appeal could be reduced to one key image or ad graphic, like a shark or a white-suited Travolta, that would be reproduced in TV and print ads, posters, and on different products like T-shirts, records and toys. The profitability of this kind of marketing in turn encouraged the production of high concept movies in the last years of the decade (and beyond) with simplistic storylines describable in "25 words or less" and aimed at an under-21 audience that would avail themselves to that marketing with little effort. Even if a lot of money was spent, the film had a better shot at being sold effectively enough to make it back. Superman already had a known logo; all it needed was a movie. The increasingly expensive, character-driven, thematically complex and adult-oriented films of the Hollywood director-artists, however, could not be reduced to snappy TV ads or spun off into toys; it was fortunate for the United Artists studio that Apocalypse Now found its audience.Unfortunately, United Artists was not as lucky with Heaven's Gate, Michael Cimino's 1980 follow-up to The Deer Hunter, which became synonymous with big-budget overinvestments in the young '70s filmmakers. Demanding and receiving full creative freedom from the studio, Cimino eventually spent an estimated $40 million (Grease cost approximately $9 million, Star Wars, $10 million) on a sprawling western epic with no stars and an obscure narrative. Critically lambasted, the original version was swiftly pulled from theaters and made only about $1.5 million after it was re-edited and re-released, helping to bankrupt United Artists. The critical praise that Scorsese's Raging Bull received the same year did not help the expiring '70s artistic renaissance either, as it did not make the money to match its excellent notices. 1980's top box office attraction underlined the industry's direction in the next decades: The Empire Strikes Back, the much-anticipated sequel to Star Wars.

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