A Decade Under The Influence

A Decade Under The Influence


Reviewed by: David Stanners

A Decade Under the Influence puts a microscopic lens over the 1970s - Hollywood's modern equivalent of the Italian Renaissance. Or, at least, this is the gospel according to directors Ted Demme and Richard LaGravenese.

Their quest starts with all the big players - Altman, Schrader, Scorsese, Coppola lay their key influences on the table. Unfortunately, Demme and LaGravenese have rather arrogantly assumed that everybody watching will be an aficionado and so omit the name credits from under their interviewees. You better know your Altman from your Friedkin, or you may get lost.

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There is some interesting talk from the big boys, though - Coppola, Scorsese, Lumet, Altman - particularly their early influences from the French New Wave under Godard and Truffaut to the Italian masters, Fellini, Rosselini and Visconti. Urban classics, such as Taxi Driver, The Conversation, and The French Connection, all derived their gritty images of social realism, at least indirectly, from the European styles of filmmaking. Coppola and Scorsese pay particular homage to their protégés.

The Seventies was also the final round of an age where young directors/producers would use all their oratory skills to woo the studios into parting with cash for risky films. Or, if you're Roger Corman, you'd head onto the streets and shoot without permits, money, insurance or protection. This was America's answer to European art house cinema, where the subject mattered and truths were told.

Veteran Bruce Dern comes up with some funny anecdotes when recalling conversations with Jack Nicolson in their younger days. "You're the most boring f**k around here," he says, while shooting one of their early films. Later, talking about himself and Jack at the start of their careers, he admits they were never going to try to chase the legends like Newman, Brando and McQueen. "They're gone...OK? So we may not be handsome like them, but we're fu**ing interesting!"

Julie Christie also makes interesting observations on the near redundant roles of women in this ultra masculine era. She pays tribute to Jane Fonda, a pioneer in women's and civil rights, in and out of Hollywood, citing her as a key player in the campaign for serious female roles.

Demme and LaGravenese have done a decent job in documenting what is undoubtedly the most important era in modern US cinema. More pioneering genres were undertaken as a result of social and political vicissitudes. Carrying the weight of Vietnam and Watergate, filmmakers wanted to tell it how it was, and they did. It's just a pity so much of it in this documentary has been covered before. Little of what is said is novel, and few fresh stones are unturned in the interviews. There is no real mention of less celebrated, but no less talented, directors, such as Bob Rafelson or Terence Malick, which would have added a broader dimension. Still, there's enough material to satisfy both general viewers and enthusiasts.

Reviewed on: 17 Aug 2003
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Documentary outlining Hollywood’s 1970s heyday.
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Read more A Decade Under The Influence reviews:

Keith Hennessey Brown ***

Director: Richard LaGravenese, Ted Demme

Writer: Richard LaGravenese

Year: 2003

Runtime: 109 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2003

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