Decades in Film: the 70s

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Hear the words ‘golden age of cinema’ and your mind would probably turn to icons like Fred and Ginger, Bogie and Bacall, Judy and the Munchkins, before you’d think of Hans and Chewbacca. And yet the Hairy One and Harrison Ford’s sarcastic space-cowboy belong to a decade of cinematic history that heralded a new dawn for Hollywood. It was at this time that the godfathers of today’s cinema, Scorsese, De Niro, Spielberg, and Lucas to name just a few, established themselves with films that were to shape popular culture for years to come.

Teenagers may have been invented in the 50s, but it was only twenty years later that their potential as consumers began to be fully exploited. Lured to the cinema by the gore and suspense of Jaws and Halloween and transfixed by Obi Wan’s light sabre, young audiences flocked to the cinema like never before. The renewed dedication of teenagers to Hollywood’s cause led to film studios recording astronomical profits and the modern day blockbuster was born.

Of course, it’s not only the big budget films that make the 70s a noteworthy period. In the same era that audiences were being transported to galaxies far, far away, cult classics such as Taxi Driver and A Clockwork Orange led their audiences through claustrophobic urban landscapes and shocked with disturbing depictions of alienated youth. For better or worse, the relaxed censorship laws inherited from the late 1960s allowed for films such as Straw Dogs to present their audiences with scenes of extreme violence, the likes of which had never before been seen in mainstream cinema. Indeed, ask your parents for their thoughts on films from the 70s and many of them would probably remember the controversy surrounding issues of ‘decency’ and many directors’ seemingly degrading portrayal of women in their works. Like the teenagers it targeted, cinema emerged from the seventies a far less naïve creature than was before.

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On a lighter note, no review of the 70s would be complete without mentioning Woody Allen. With Annie Hall Allen used words, not explosions to break down (fourth) walls and proved that amongst Hollywood’s grit and guts there was still room for films about the complications and impermanence of love.

The seventies might lack the old-fashioned charm and glamour of earlier decades, but the innovations made in filmmaking and the diversification of genre and subject matter prepared much of the ground for film industry as we know it today.