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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Filmmaking > Decade Under The Influence (Documentary)

A Decade Under the Influence


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: C     Film: A-



It is probably fair to say that the 1970’s produced some of the most important films in all of cinema, especially in the United States, if nothing else.  It was during this time that America was in chaos.  The 1970’s were a crazy time indeed.  Every decade mirrors the events of the decade preceding it.  With Vietnam coming to a close there would be many changes going on in America.  It was a time of uncertainty and mistrust in Government.  Rights were being granted to African Americans and women like never before.  The sexual revolution had blown through in full swing and people began to have the attitude that they would speak their minds.  Indeed it was a crazy time!


In the world of filmmaking another phenomenon occurred; that is – producers started to let the directors make films without interference.  This was practically unheard of, since the ‘so-called great Hollywood Studio system’ produced some of the best films, how could this be?  Well, many of the giants that ran those companies and studios were dead, leaving the studios in unrest, which meant if anything was going to happen, new producers had to place trust in these young hotshot directors.  Many of these directors were inexperienced, but they had passion for making their films, and so they did.  The result: The Godfather I and II, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, The French Connection, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Deliverance, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, What’s Up Doc?, Rocky, Chinatown, Marathon Man, Jaws, Star Wars, Halloween, and many other spectacular productions within one decade. 


It is impossible to not look back now and think about how much effect these films have had on us since.  Not only that, but most of these films were in some way influenced by what happened prior to that to some degree.  Although what differentiates this time period is the simple fact that many of the directors such as William Friedkin, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Sydney Pollack, Francis Ford Coppola, and Peter Bogdanovich were highly influenced by much of European cinema mixed with some of the traits of the leftover Hollywood system.  Most of the influence fell towards Luchino Visconti, Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, and many others.


Presented on the IFC network came the series A Decade Under the Influence, which explores through interviews with directors and actors what was going on during this time period, and why it happened.  What works so well is the fact that it is a retrospective that was bound to happen.  This is the type of material that film enthusiasts long for.  Directed by Richard LaGravenese and the late Ted Demme, the film would even see a short-lived theatrical release.   Demme contributed as much material as he could before he died in February of 2002 from a heart attack, which was due to a cocaine addiction apparently.  LaGravenese comes from a writing background turning out screenplays and stories for films like Bridges of Madison County and The Fisher King. 


The film is broken down into three segments, which work better as a whole.  Although some of the material becomes repetitions it is also very inspiring to hear some of these now giant directors talking about how they made their break.  It is also refreshing seeing all of these films pulled together in one segment.  In fact this entire documentary serves a nice companion to The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002), put out by Warner on the life of Paramount’s saving grace, Robert Evans.  Most of the big pictures of the late 60’s and 70’s would not have been without Evans, such as The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, Harold and Maude, Chinatown, Marathon Man, just to name a few. 


While the material here is presented very strongly there are certain segments that could have been longer.  For example, what about the Blaxploitation of this time period?  Even with Roger Corman and Pam Grier appearing in this documentary, certain films of this era are never mentioned such as Hell Up in Harlem, Black Caesar, Across 110th Street, and Shaft.  It also seems that only films from Warner and Paramount are acknowledged, which makes us wonder if the other studios held back with allowing their material to be used.  


Another segment that could have been included would be war pictures made during this time, or a deeper focus on other genre’s exclusively, such as the horror genre.  Films like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now could have been linked to the post-Vietnam 70’s and our disillusionment that lingered.  Not to mention other political events such as Watergate.  How about All the Presidents Men or The Parallax View?  Even the mention of the documentary Hearts and Minds from 1974 would have led to a great discussion on the questions we were asking ourselves about our own governments during this time; the incidents at Kent State and many other political upheavals. 


A Decade Under the Influence is certainly one of the better documentaries put forth by Docurama, even though it makes our mouths water for more material.  It is something that even the most knowledgeable film expert will enjoy, or enlighten those not familiar with this era and its influence.  Presented here in a standard letterboxed 1.85 X 1 ratio, the DVD demonstrates decent quality since the documentary was shot on video versus film.  The Sony HDW-F900 CineAlta camera was used and was intended for High-Definition playback at 1080p/24.  Despite being shot by some of the better digital cameras on the market, we can still see the limitations during the interview segments and compare them to how the ‘actual’ films look in clip form.  Digital has nothing on film.  The interview footage looks ok, but backgrounds and moving patterns contain the qualities associated with digital. 


Audio playback in only available in stereo, which is ok for the interview segments, but the question is…why not do a 5.1 mix since most of the clips are shown from certain films are available on DVD with new 5.1 mixes or at least some sort of surround mix?  This may have lead to some unevenness though, so the simple stereo setup gives us a decent presentation for what the material covers. 


The back cover states that the program runs 180 minutes, which is wrong.  The program may have run 180 minutes when it was divided into its three sections, each running 60 minutes including commercials.  The true runtime is about 138 minutes.  Extras are minimal only consisting of some extra interview material from many of the directors and actors.  It has its place in the film, since it felt short to begin with.  At least this material is here.


A Decade Under the Influence ranks among some of the best documentaries within the past year alongside Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Bowling for Columbine, and The Kid Stays in the Picture, while its DVD release does not contain near the extras included on the DVD’s for those other films, this one gets the job done nonetheless.  Fans of the 1970’s filmmakers will want more, but who knows when our next dosage of goodies will come.  In a day and age with sequel after sequel being dumped into our cinemas and digital effects replacing actors, it is hard to say what will become of the new Hollywood, if there is still such a thing.



-   Nate Goss


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