A Clockwork Orange (1971)

clockwork

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, Warren Clarke

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Summary: Scientists use mind-control experiments to turn a gang leader against violence

Other Nominations: Director, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing

Positives

-The movie explores a lot of really interesting ideas in an intelligent way that you don’t see come up all that often in film. The film depicts an extreme “where society is heading” vision of the future based on the time of release, where everything revolves around sex, violence and teenage delinquency who are leading the charge with both; it does point out two things however: 1) the adults are just as culpable as the kids for this future and 2) that humans have seemingly always been obsessed violence and sex. The movie then moves on and asks a question built off of this: “is there a limit to what we should be able to do to achieve a ‘good’ society/populace or to ‘cure’ criminals”? And if we did, what would the larger implications be for the person and for society? And does brainwashing a person to be good=them being good? It also touches upon the issue of how difficult reintegration for released prisoners even if they have actually reformed. And finally by the end, we get what what I thought was maybe the most interesting observation of all-it speaks to humans half-assedly “solving” an immediate problem without thinking of the bigger implications of what they’re doing or trying to solve the bigger issue, and the “solution” often just creates another set of problems. A very intelligent movie that’s wrapped around what at first glance might look like an exploitive core.

-One other thing I wanted to point out that I found interesting: it shares a similar aspect to the next Kubrick movie we’ll be watching for this project: it somehow makes the audience feel sympathetic with a character who had previously done horrifyingly terrible things and is getting his just deserts. It speaks to how easy it is to manipulate an audience into an emotion without them really thinking about it; considering how much the film is interested in psychology and the overall tone the movie has, the director was likely well-aware of this, and is a feature not a bug.

-Considering he’s on screen for about 98% of the screen time and did a wonderful job, I’m surprised McDowell didn’t get a Best Actor nomination. As villainous as his character his, Alex Delarge is still intelligent, so you needed to find someone who’s menacing, amoral and and smart and also young enough to play the character-a tall challenge, but one he meets.

-The art direction is certainly…distinctive, but it ultimately does exactly what it needs to do make the audience fully understand what this crazy future world that is alien to us is all about. I know why it wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, but it still should have been.

Negatives

-I think it takes a bit longer than it needs to in the beginning-my main cut would have been the “William Tell Overture” sequence, as it feels unnecessary.

Overall

Great film that asks a lot of smart questions in an entertaining way.

Rating: A

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

fiddler

Starring: Topol, Norma Crane (her final film), Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, Paul Mann, Rosalind Harris, Michael Glaser (his film debut), Michele Marsh

Director: Norman Jewison

Summary: In Russia before the revolution, a Jewish milkman tries to marry off his daughters who have plans of their own

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Topol), Supporting Actor (Frey), Musical Score*, Sound Mixing*, Art Direction, Cinematography*

Positives

-I thought the songs were very good on the whole, with “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” being my favorites.

-For the majority of the movie, it has movie has a lot of energy and is pretty infectious, most of which comes from Topol who has this incredible force of personality, yet also has pathos when he needs to.

-Its theme of crumbling tradition & stability, with challenges to faith in changing times is solid even if I don’t think they dig deep enough to justify the 3 hour runtime.

Negatives

-When it turns into a straight drama, especially after the intermission, it works well enough, but I miss the fun vibrancy that goes out with it and was really the reason to watch. Previously, it was a very good musical, but after that, it’s just an above average drama about Russian Jews dealing with persecution, the revolution and changing times.

-As is standard for big movie musicals of the 60s to this point, it’s long-3 hours to be exact. I thought the aspects about the revolution were the weakest, as they don’t seem to have that great of an effect on the story and we already have enough big conflicts to deal with without adding another one that isn’t as well-developed.

Overall

Good musical even with its flaws and a proper sendoff as the last of a dying breed; after this, we only have Bob Fosse musicals (which are very different than stuff like The Sound of Music and Hello, Dolly!), a Disney animated musical, and one other that’s super-serious in tone and comes in 2012 (and is also a musical version of a story that I have reviewed a non-musical film version of already for this project).

Rating: B-

*The French Connection (1971)*

connection

Starring: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi, Bill Hickman (who also did the stunt driving), Frederic de Pasquale

Director: William Friedkin

Summary: Two New York narcotics cops set out to bust a French drug smuggling ring

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Hackman)*, Supporting Actor (Scheider), Adapted Screenplay*, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Film Editing*

Positives

-Once the story gets moving at about the 30 minutes mark, it’s an outstanding, fast-paced and exciting police thriller; that it won Best Picture is surprising to me solely because thrillers don’t often get big Oscar consideration, but its accolades are deserved. Everything about it just meshes really well for the kind of gritty thriller they’re going for: the droning score and sound design, the obsessed anti-hero cop, the 70s New York scenery, Marcel Bozzuffi as a scumbag hitman (didn’t think I’d see him again), and the cinematography that makes the viewer feel like he’s in the middle of the action. All of these elements make even the lower-key points like the stakeouts feel engrossing to watch.

-This was Hackman’s breakout starring role in  movie after being a great supporting actor for a number of years-it always strikes me that in the 70s, people like Gene Hackman, Walter Matthau or Elliot Gould could become major leading men despite not possessing the usual qualities of one and that it a different time it never would have happened. He embraces the gray areas of his character-that he’s a really good cop who genuinely cares about cleaning up the streets, yet he’s also racist and dangerously obsessed once he gets a lead. He makes Popeye Doyle feel like a real person and his intensity is a constant throughout the movie.

-The first thing everybody thinks about when you bring up this movie is the car chase, and deservedly so-it’s high speed, feels genuinely reckless (and some say it actually was) and there are major stakes.

Negatives

-It takes a bit before things start ratcheting up, which is understandable but for a thriller, an extended portion of the movie that isn’t tense or exciting is an issue that has to be mentioned.

Overall

One of the great cop thrillers that was made at the height of that subgenre featuring great atmosphere, excitement and a star-making lead performance by Gene Hackman.

Rating: A-

The Last Picture Show (1971)

picture

Starring: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd (her debut), Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennan, Sam Bottoms (his debut), Randy Quaid (his debut)

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Summary: Changing times take their toll on high schoolers growing up in a small Texas town in the 50s.

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (Johnson)*, Supporting Actor (Bridges), Supporting Actress (Leachman)*, Supporting Actress (Burstyn), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography

Positives

-The movie is all about setting an atmosphere-this is a small, dead-end town without much of a future for anybody and has been dying a long, slow death; everything about it screams isolation, loneliness and the general feeling of staleness (more and more as time goes on), which is further enhanced by the black and white cinematography. It also does a wonderful job of creating teenagers who feel like teenagers with the high school age mentality, and whose liveliness and youth contrasts against the deadness of everything else so nicely. I don’t usually like films that rely so heavily on atmosphere and generally like a more straight-line plot, but this film does it as well as any and won me over.

-Whoever was in charge of casting did a mind-blowingly good job: look at the above cast list, and realize that at the time, all of them were unknowns except for Johnson who was past his prime; heck, Shepherd wasn’t even an actress, she was a model before this movie. Great performances all around, with Leachman, Bottoms and Bridges being highlights in my opinion.

-They did an excellent job of picking the films to show at the theater that the character watch over the course of the movie (Father of the Bride, which I reviewed for this, and Red River) along with the old-school western music (all music is diegetic, i.e. comes from within the universe of the film itself-in this case, through the radios the characters listen to). They are selected with purpose and either set the tone for the scene or mirror something about the characters/story at that point.

Negatives

-The movie doesn’t have that much of a plot, it’s more of an episodic movie about its characters and the town; this is fine and it’s great for what it is, but I have made my thoughts clear about what I tend to enjoy more in a movie.

Other Stuff

-At 9 minutes, 54 seconds, Ben Johnson’s performance is the shortest to ever win Best Supporting Actor. He’s good, but honestly I would have gone with Bridges over Johnson from this movie alone.

-The version I watched is the director’s cut from the early 90s which added in about 8 minutes more footage (which is pretty inconsequential) and is the only version of the movie still in print even if it’s not what the voting members of the Academy saw.

Overall

One of the best films ever at setting a mood and an atmosphere, and was the launching pad for a ton of noteworthy actors who do great work here.

Rating: A-

Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)

nicholas

Starring: Michael Jayston, Janet Suzman (In her film debut), Tom Baker (in his credited film debut), Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Jack Hawkins, Michael Bryant, John McEnery, Roderic Noble

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Summary: Story of Russia’s last czar Nicholas II, and his ill-fated family

Other Nominations: Actress (Suzman), Costume Design*, Original Score, Art Direction*, Cinematography

Positives

-The movie does a good job presenting a fair (if not fully accurate) and fairly interesting depiction of the people and events from the birth of their son Alexei to their eventual abdication and execution. Despite it being made during the Cold War, it presents the Romanov’s unsympathetically and their own total incompetence as the reason for their downfall and that there were good reasons for why the Communists came into power. For whatever inaccuracies there were, it’s hard to be fully accurate when most of the unbiased relevant, really personal information about the Romanov’s didn’t come out until fall of the USSR.

-Considering there alot of relative unknowns in the movie, the main performances are all good. Although things would have been better if they had lived it up, Jayston, Suzman and Baker (as Rasputin, and is interesting to see him pre-Doctor Who) all feel very realistic.

Negatives

-This is a very dry and restrained movie across the board and some more sizzle would have really helped make this an easier watch. While the story and characters are interesting, everything is so flat-even Rasputin, which works, but is unexpected. I can see why it failed at the box office even if wasn’t a bad movie at all.

It’s overly long at 188 minutes w/o music breaks. The biggest problem is that the movies loses a lot of steam towards the end: do we need 40 minutes of movie after the revolution while they’re in exile? The most interesting part of the story by far is over and just seeing them in exile for that long is a bad decision. It would have been better just to show Lenin coming into power, then have some text at the end about their ultimate fate (which everybody knows already).

Other Stuff

-Hawkins voice had to be dubbed by this point, as he had his entire larynx removed due to throat cancer from years of chain smoking and it was physically impossible for him to speak.

Overall

This was a better movie than I was expecting as there is a lot of substance there; the problem is that it’s like an unseasoned steak, it needs something to liven it up and it also needed to end sooner.
Rating: C+

1971 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1971

Dirty Harry: The film that made Clint Eastwood more than just a Western star and ushered in the “loose-cannon cop who doesn’t play by the rules” genre. I do not like the politics of the movie (and boy are they more relevant than ever), but the performances (both Eastwood and “The Scorpio Killer” Andy Robinson) and atmosphere still make it worth watching no matter who you are-if you’re from the Bay Area, even more so. In the National Film Registry.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller: Robert Altman was one of the best and most versatile directors of the 1970s, and this was his unsurprisingly idiosyncratic take on a Western. Despite only getting one Oscar nomination at the time (Julie Christie for Actress) and mixed reviews at the time, it is now considered one of the best Westerns of all-time and was #8 on AFI’s Westerns list. In the National Film Registry.

Harold and Maude: When you think “quirky, black comedy underground cult film”, this tops that list-it’s about a young man obsessed with death who befriends a 79 year old free-spirited woman that blossoms into a romance. One of the rare films to be on the AFI Laughs, Passions and Cheers lists.

The Hospital: Paddy Chayefsky won the Oscar for Original Screenplay and was once again ahead of the curve, much like he was six years later for Network: talking about the problems with the modern American health care system. In the National Film Registry.

Straw Dogs: When a movie released the same year as A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection and Dirty Harry is singled out for being overly violent, boy is that saying something-it wasn’t even released in uncut form in the UK until 2002. The film has and always be controversial for how people perceive its thoughts about vigilante revenge and rape, but nonetheless, it is generally considered one of Sam Peckinpah’s best works.

Shaft & Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song: The two films that established the Blaxploitation genre as something to be reckoned with in the next decade and established the main tropes of the genre, even if Sweet Sweetback’s tone is very different than most. Shaft is (I believe) the only Blaxploitation film to win an Oscar (Issac Hayes for his legendary theme to the movie) and is in the National Film Registry.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: Even though it didn’t make a dent at the box office upon its original release, TV and home video turned this into a beloved classic, and pretty much the only musical I ever watched as a little kid. It got a Best Original Score nomination, but not anything else. In the National Film Registry.

Get Carter: The 1970s had plenty of violent movies featuring a lone man taking out criminals, but this one is both unique and one of the best. In movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish, the main character, for whatever you think about his actions, is still presented as likeable and is the person you are rooting for in the movie; in Get Carter, violence isn’t glorified and Michael Caine’s gangster character is soulless and brutal and is a villain in a world of other, even worse villains.

Sunday Bloody Sunday: One of only a few movies to be nominated for Best Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay but not Best Picture. It swept the BAFTAs that year, but despite strong critical acclaim (then and now), was not given a Best Picture nomination. Also, it stars the guy who sang “One Night in Bangkok.”

1971 Nominees in Review

A Clockwork Orange: A

The Last Picture Show: A-

The French Connection: A- (Won Best Picture)

Fiddler on the Roof: B-

Nicholas and Alexandra: C+

This is what I’m talking about, one of the best groups ever where you have a number of great movies and the others are still decent to pretty good. I’m still surprised that The French Connection won considering The Last Picture Show feels more like the kind of film the Academy generally rewards. A Clockwork Orange has left a huge legacy, but they were bold by even nominating it in the first place, and it had no chance of winning. Looking forward to more good things coming the rest of this decade.

1972 is considered one of the greatest nominee slates of all-time-we have: The only movie to win 8 Oscars (including Director and Actress) but not Best Picture; John Boorman’s big success that allowed him to waste millions of dollars making Zardoz and Exorcist II: The Heretic; A Best Picture nominee from Sweden that wasn’t from Ingmar Bergman (although it does have Liv Ullman in it); The first of Francis Ford Coppola’s 4 straight Best Picture nominees and the one that’s usually considered the best; and the first Best Picture nominee with a majority black cast.

Airport (1970)

airport

Starring: Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, Helen Hayes, Van Heflin (his final film), George Kennedy, Maureen Stapleton, Barry Nelson, Lloyd Nolan, Dana Wynter

Director: George Seaton

Summary: A mad bomber plots to blow up a jet on a snowy night

Other Nominations: Supporting Actress (Hayes)*, Supporting Actress (Stapleton), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Costume Design, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-While the acting varies wildly, I really liked some of the performances. Hayes is easily the most memorable thing in the movie playing a wily old woman who repeatedly finds ways to stow away on flights and I can see why she won the Oscar (although I’ll be able to judge better later, as 4 of the 5 nominees were also in BP nominees). Stapleton and Kennedy don’t get a ton of screentime, but both were good as well, with Kennedy having way more fun with his role than anyone else besides Hayes.

Negatives

-Most everything else. The dialogue is horrendous, it’s boring and lifeless most of the time, feeling like a really expensive B-movie from the 50s or a TV movie with the amount of cheesiness it has (including how many times they mention how amazing the Boeing 707 is, clearly as compensation for access to the planes), but somehow lacks camp value, and it does a very poor job of building suspense. While it is nice that they spent a good chunk of time with the characters before we get in the air, they’re way too many storylines for most of them to feel properly developed; we have: Heflin has a bomb on the plane (the main conflict), Martin & Bisset’s relationship and her pregnancy, the Lancaster-Seberg-Wynter love triangle, the airport trying to get one of the planes out of the snow so it stops blocking a runway, the plane noise causing pressure on the airport from locals (which gets no payoff at all) and Hayes life as a stowaway. It fails in most aspects and is one of the weakest Best Picture nominees since the mid 1930s, but it made tons of money so there you go.

Overall

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jmb0IbuBowl. I’m probably being overly-harsh on this movie, but man we should be past having movies like this get BP nominations in 1970-it doesn’t even have the great disaster spectacle at the end that the 30s disasters movies San Francisco and In Old Chicago had. On the other hand, nothing about it really made me angry, and without it we would have never gotten Airplane! Here’s hoping the other disaster movie Best Picture nominee, The Towering Inferno, is better.

Rating: D+