Syllabus: Deflated American Masculinity in the 1970s

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09/22/2010 1:46 PM |


In this new feature, with apologies to BookForum, Film Comment‘s Trivial Top 20®, and, indeed, Listicles, we assemble a list of necessary (and less than necessary) viewing on the subject of a particular topic. Dig?

The number one movie in America, The Town, is definitely not as good a movie as I think it is: it’s overdetermined in the way director Ben Affleck grounds fatalistic genre-movie archetypes (or grand cliches, it’s the same either way) in explicit ethnography. Gone Baby Gone had only one narratively necessary god’s-eye-view, with all other establishing shots at eye-level or closer; here, the local blue-collar boy who wants to shack up with the nice girl and leave his low life behind is contextualized by endless helicopter shots and time-lapse clouds passing local landmarks, as portent-filled as the opening title cards introducing us to the neighborhood of Charlestown. Still, there’s some nice local color, enough so that Anthony Lane, A.O. Scott and The L’s own Henry Stewart have invoked the quintessential scuzzy-Boston crime movie, The Friends of Eddie Coyle—compare The Town‘s population of “oxy’d-out Catholics adorned with silver chains, tracksuits and 02129 forearm-tatts,” to Eddie Coyle‘s familiar “neon-signed bars, formica-topped lunchrooms, yellow-wallpapered kitchens, fake wood-panelled trailers, deserted parking lots and highway rest stops… single-story faux-colonial banks like islands in a sea of asphalt; the exposed cement and icy air of the old Boston Garden.”

So, in honor of The Town‘s authentic invocation of a depressed white working class, let’s run down a syllabus on Deflated American Masculinity in the 1970s.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973)
I mean, Christ, just look at that still of Bob Mitchum.

Slap Shot (George Roy Hill, 1977)
Bad weather, profane alcoholism, and the pursuit of long-since impossible dreams, in the post-Watergate Rust Belt. It even takes place in (a different) Charlestown. As in: “What’s the story with that dog?” “That’s the dog that saved Charlestown from the 1938 flood” “Well, fuck him.”

Junior Bonner (Sam Peckinpah, 1972)
Steve McQueen, the last of the cowboys, lonely and bone-bruised in the opening credits.

California Split
(Robert Altman, 1974)
A laid-back hangout session with two anomic thrill-chasers. Elliott Gould was never more manic-depressive, except maybe in The Long Goodbye.

Blue Collar (Paul Schrader, 1978)
Film Forum’s description of this selection upcoming in their Heist Movie series: “Fed up with management and their own reps, Detroit auto workers Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto knock over union headquarters, netting a crummy 600 bucks and a ledger detailing mob linkups that gets them in steadily deeper waters.”

Fat City (John Huston, 1972)
Perhaps a half-dozen L film critics cited this “dreary, drunken” Leonard Gardner adaptatio; reviewing it on the occasion of a recent revival, Benjamin Strong described “two ‘professional’ boxers living in the pissant town of Stockton, California. Stacy Keach is Tully, a has-been fighter now devoted to the bottle, but inspired to seek former glory by Ernie (Jeff Bridges), a skinny, younger puncher who shows some promise. Neither of them, of course, will ever amount to anything—and that’s the beauty of this rare ode to losers. Shot under the blazing light of the NorCal sun by legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall, Fat City isn’t really about boxing at all, but about the brutal contest of everyday life.”

There are more, of course—”that’s what the 70s were about”, said one L film critic. Topics for even further research:

Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970) and The King of Marvin Gardens (“only the movie Wes Anderson has been ripping off for his entire career”; Rafelson, 1972)

Electra Glide in Blue (James William Guercio, 1973)

Rolling Thunder (John Flynn, 1977)

-The open road as void: Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971)

-Hickey & Boggs (Robert Culp, 1972) “Culp and Bill Cosby as two private eyes who fail at everything, with shitty personal lives, a sinking business, and a case they keep fucking up,” per a contrbutor.

And even the blockbusters: the broken white-collar frontiersmen of Deliverance; the punch-drunk palooka of Rocky; the dancing working-class stiff of Saturday Night Fever. And, of course.

One Comment

  • Yes. The Deer Hunter, too. And surreal Eraserhead maybe.

    Most of all I’d add Stroszek. You know there’s movies that let you come in and out as you watch them, and then there’s movies that pull you in on opening credits and don’t let you go till the end, or even for days or years after? Stroszek is one of those for me. I know it sort of doesn’t fit here since it’s about a down and out German guy coming to USA, but still, a meisterwerk.

    Also – Junior Bonner – first movie I ever saw on color television! Look at that color in the opening scene, can you even imagine the shock to the senses if you only saw B&W up to that time? My aunt got a big russian made color tv (Rubin brand?) and this was the movie that happened to be on that night.