Monday, December 12, 2011


JER: If you haven’t already noticed or if you are a first- time visitor to CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT, most of our film comparisons (or disagreements), recommendations and topics have involved the reflections of good films long past. You may also have noticed that the rarity of talking about any films made within the last 10 years. I think I can speak on behalf of myself and my ‘counterpart’ Johnny Chazz when I say,”movies just ain’t what they used to be!”

With that said I can confidently sally forth with looking into cinema’s past and pluck my topic of the week!

At a most recent Movie Party at my place, I had a viewing of Brian DePalma’s THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. Those who had attended mentioned how the film had represented or ‘marked’ the era that the film was made in, thus 1974. One of my buddies had even mentioned the possible remake of this cult classic! The mere thought made my legs give out….oh, and even worse… a possible remake of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW??? What??? These films defined an era that cannot be repeated or duplicated and it was these films that time-stamped the right actors, music, photography and even marketing that made them stand- out as the solitary works they are. 
1974's campy musical PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE

This inspired my topic of discussion: are there films made within a decade that carry that recognition of the era they represent? Confusing? Possibly, so let me give you my definition and what they stood for when they were made.

Automatically, I will make my first reference to 1955’s REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. It is a story about teenage angst that takes place in the 1950’s and was made in the 1950’s… get it? The film wasn’t made in 1980 to represent 1955, like BACK TO THE FUTURE was. The actors (James Dean and Natalie Wood) stood for their misunderstood generation and spoke to them at their level. They were relatable and what happened to them within the film made teenagers feel their frustrations because they were going through similar domestic issues as well. Boys impersonated the ‘puppy- dog’ looks of Dean and even bought up red jackets like the one he wore in the film. Strong topics such as overbearing parents, rebellious teenagers and uncontrollable young love were probably being revealed for the first time with such truthful impact.

It wouldn’t be fair to start the subject right in the middle of film’s history… we would almost need to go back to the beginning… the beginning of film.

Since the creation of moving pictures and the experimentation with images dating back to Thomas Edison playing with the kinetoscope between the 1890’s and early 1900’s, the fascination of capturing images and showing them back had always been the goal of a filmmaker. Even in the early films, going back to Georges Melies’ 1902 classic A TRIP TO THE MOON, imagination would blur the concept of straight capturing or filming of current era reality.

Fast- forward a few decades and we arrive into the 1930’s: Prohibition, speak- easies and gambling were making a stronger impact on the American lifestyle and brought forth the dawn of a new name for the bad guys: the mobster. Hollywood was ready to cash- in on the new bullies and create some of its own along the way.

LITTLE CAESAR (1931) starred Edward G. Robinson as ‘Rico’ and dealt with true events occurring at the same time the film was in production. It was the story of how a little known gangster wanted to rise to the top surrounding himself with booze, women, corruption and violence. The film was pivotal and very impactful for its time…

The same year would see James Cagney in PUBLIC ENEMY, telling the tale of a ‘hoodlum’ making his way through the crime wave of Chicago. Soon thereafter, other films began defining the era, such as Paul Muni as SCARFACE (1932) and ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938)… all of which represented the mob era of the 1930’s.

Moving into the 1940's, another war was boiling over and the world was either involved in or shook in anticipation from what the outcome might bring. Several films reflected the times including CASABLANCA (1942) and THE BIG SLEEP (1946)… but one film took a defiant stand against The Third Reich and the deviant mind that created the war… surprisingly enough, it was Writer/ Director/ Star Charles Chaplin’s  1940 controversial offering entitled THE GREAT DICTATOR! In playing the role of dictator Adenoid Hynkel, ruler of the nation of Tomainia, Chaplin was blasted for going too far and hitting too many resemblances between his character and that of Adolph Hitler. He was accused of being a communist sympathizer at the time, which only made matters worst.
See it for yourself, the 1940 trailer to THE GREAT DICTATOR

Having mentioned REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE earlier in my topic for the 1950’s, I can go right into the 1960’s. Times were changing once again, America’s innocence was lost with the assassination of JFK and quickly shifted into the Vietnam War. Two films can easily be categorized as those that defined the later 60’s: THE GRADUATE (1967) and EASY RIDER (1969). Both films plunged forward into forbidden topics and not only spoke of them, but almost dragged them out into the public’s eye for all to see and judge. THE GRADUATE touched on insecurities within relationships and offered the grand MILF in the character of Mrs. Robinson, played by Anne Bancroft. EASY RIDER was about freedom on the road, experimentation of drugs and the morality of human life and the appreciation of it. Cinema, it would seem, was starting to lean towards the interest of what young adults were saying and Hollywood was ready to start focusing its attention to a new breed of audience.

We could also look upon 1977’s SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER as a similar ‘young adult’ case study: this time representing the changing world of the 1970’s. Disco music ruled the nightclubs and both young men and women were dressing up in their best polyester suits and satin dresses as they blew their hard- earned week’s wages every weekend. The film took advantage of ‘cashing- in’ on the popular craze by filling every shot with both visual and audible ‘candy.’ In just a few short seconds of coming off the Paramount logo (the studio that released it) we are drawn into the very distinctable streets of Brooklyn and the slow crescendo of the disco anthem, “Staying Alive”, performed by the Bee- Gees.

But films didn’t just speak to the younger generation nor define it for the youth. Some filmmakers spoke loud and proudly for adults as well.

It would be unfair to just focus on a film or two from director Woody Allen, but instead, look at a large body of films. ANNIE HALL (1977), INTERIORS (1978), MANHATTAN (1979) and HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) are just a small list of case studies that might similar in range. They all take place in the boroughs of New York; they are both the humorous and serious topics of life lessons: divorce, infidelity, illness, parenting, dating, courtship and family imperfections. Allen might be considered the ‘director of contemporary classics’ as he knows great dialog, hand- selects the best cast to deliver his work onto the screen and within just some of the films mentioned here, captures the events of life within the East Side.

Another such director who was able to capture the human spirit and defined the decade of the 1980’s was John Hughes. Hughes was my topic on a previous CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT blog posting entitled “Remembering Director/ Writer John Hughes” (June 2011) in which I expressed in great detail and reverence the body of his films that helped me through my ‘generation’ with recognizing that dweebs, morons, nerds, princesses, jocks, tools, geeks, cool kids and metal heads all had their time to shine within the 1980’s. SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984), THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985), FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986) and even SHE’S HAVING A BABY (1988) showed us that even the man best remembered for adolescent fun needed to grow up, get married and start having children, too.

Corruption of the system had its blinders pulled off; when director Oliver Stone’s 1987 film WALL STREET had Americans take a long, hard look at what was now being acceptable in the world of finances and take- over. The scariest line to ever to be taken away from the film was the slogan: “Greed is good.”

By the 1990’s, films got a lot more creative visually but were almost starting to lose its flair for storytelling. Not all films were marked with this stigma…yet. That wouldn’t become more evident until the 2000’s… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 1991 offered a very real look into the increasing world of urban gangs when director John Singleton made his debut with BOYZ ‘N THE HOOD. Heading by a cast of unknown actors at the time (Cuba Gooding Jr and Ice Cube) the film opened awareness to the lifestyles of South Central in Los Angeles and the rules to which you live to survive and survive to live. This was also one of the first films to expose viewers to the ‘Crips’ and ‘Bloods’ gang war fought in the public, shamelessly taking lives in the daylight and where innocent bystanders can fall prey to stray bullets.
The explosive trailer for 1991's BOYZ 'N THE HOOD

1993’s PHILADELPHIA was one of the first ever films to tackle the topic of AIDS and the dangers surrounding it. Back in the early 1990‘s, when this horrible epidemic started to become more publicly known, was still a very infant disease and no one knew what it was or how you got it. Tom Hanks won an Academy Award for his daring portrayal of Andrew Beckett, a man fired from his very conservative law firm because of his condition and the suit he filed against the firm for wrongful dismissal. If ever there was a time of confusion and trumped- up rumors of contagiousness, it was the topic of AIDS in the early 90’s.

Of course, there are numerous titles and eras still yet unmentioned, but the topic is left to your recollection. Everyone will have either a favorite era genre or event in mind. At this time, I would definitely like to hear what Johnny Chazz has to say about the topic and what films and/ or directors he mentions… it’s all yours!

 JOHNNY CHAZZ: Let's begin this by seconding Jer's comment that movies are not what they used to be. The truth is that films today, for the most part, lack the very essence of what used to comprise an outstanding film including: quality script, strategic sets and lighting, quality actors and actresses, careful editing, strong direction and a narrative that is something that audiences can relate to.

This week Jer suggests that we take a look at the films that define the era they represent. This really should not be too difficult, and will span the decades from 1940 to 2010. Thus, I will select a total of at least three to five films to represent each decade representing a total of roughly thirty (30) films in this week's topic.

1940-1949: CITIZEN KANE (1941); PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940); THE MALTESE FALCON (1941). Here was a decade where black and white films dominated the screen, and Hollywood film-making set the barat a new level for future features to follow.

The original classic 1941 trailer to THE MALTESE FALCON

1950-1959: The decade of the melodrama - that's what really defines this era. Additionally, the Japanese and European invasion into film-making became increasingly important during this time period. My selections? ON THE WATERFRONT (1954); SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950); VERTIGO (1958); SEVEN SAMURAI (1954); WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957)

1960-1969: Oh my - what a decade, and how difficult this will be to only choose three. Oh well, here it goes: 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968); 8 1/2 (1963); BREATHLESS (1960). I imagine that I left out close to 100 films that could represent this category, but I will settle on these for the time being. Fellini, Godard and Kubrick (Antonioni left out....quite triste about that) bring new ideas, new approaches and new angles to film-making - a quality and work of art that both commented on society while making a mockery of it simultaneously. The directorial techniques and performances during this era will never be surpassed in our lifetimes.

1970-1979: THE EXORCIST; ANNIE HALL; TAXI DRIVER. The struggle with inner turmoil defined this decade as love and romance were completely placed on the backburner. What a blessing for audiences.......

1980-1989: A disastrous decade for film as only "movies" began to surface on the big screen. Entertaining audiences became the focus and that simply was not good enough. Three films that best define this era? RAGING BULL (1980); BLUE VELVET (1986); CINEMA PARADISO (1988). Well, at least I found three......

1990-1999: CASINO
1995 FARGO 1996); SCHINDLER'S LIST1993

2000-2009: MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001); TRAFFIC (2000); THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2006). Now, where is the escape door from this decade? Mercy.....and of course you can now see what we are left with in 2011.
Let's look back at the classic 1950 trailer for SUNSET BLVD.
JER: I see where you were going here, but I think you kind of missed my point. Example: Although 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) was a milestone film and clearly set the bar for science- fiction film from the late 60’s on forth…it isn’t a film about the 1960’s… it is a futuristic film.

Again, SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) was an excellent film that boldly showed audiences what the Holocaust was, is still not a film about the 1990’s… it is about the 1940’s.

Regardless, the films mentioned are strong and can be validated in its own way for the era they were made in… not the era they are representing based on the events or the pop culture of its time stamp. Speaking for myself, I think of countless films made in certain decades that couldn’t have been made in another. The right actors, script, direction, cinematographer, music and locations need to fall into place. If any one piece fails, then the entire project should be scrapped. To this date, I know of certain films produced in the mid 50’s and into the 60’s that might had been a better film had the movie’s score not sounded so comical or ‘cartoonish’. You could look back at anything starring Sandra Dee or Patty Duke for examples. I’ll even through in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961) as a clear example of a film that defined its era, but is too over- the- top and is, in my opinion, a highly overrated movie from the start. This might be another future topic, however, so I might just leave it alone for now…

So, are there any films you feel define a particular era you find interesting? Maybe one you grew up in or that takes you back to a time that was much simpler and enjoyable? Let us know your thoughts and comment back to us with your favorites. We always look forward to hearing what you have to say! Until next time, when JOHNNY CHAZZ takes his turn at the keyboards… we will, as always, SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

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  1. Your blog here is interesting and both of you seem to have different thoughts here as to what defines each era for movies. My opinion is that great movies define eras, not the subject material or the plots. In my mind i actually think that a movie like Breakfast at Tiffanys is still a classic even though it was a little cutesy, it is much better than most of what is being put on at the movies today. Also, Breakfast at Tiffanys was a pretty good film for the time when it was made since it had so many of the iconice images and philosophies of the sixties. Ghandi in the 1980s was an example of a movie that was not an eighties movie, but it was surely one of the better movies of that decade.I guess I have to side with Mr. Chaz this week since his list of movies were really some of the best in each decade and that is ultimaytely what defines each decade. The great, great films are what bring the decade to life. (Bryan. Naperville, Illinois)

  2. Hi Bryan and thanks for your comments... I (JER) can agree with you on your thoughts about films and I think that all three of us (including JOHNNY CHAZZ) are in full agreement thtat films today do not equal out to what the films of yesteryear were and how they were made and presented. JC always comes up with great classic lists and recommendations...I seem to lean towards the more contemporary. Thanks again!

  3. I really like all the movies you both talked about this week. Some of them are my favorites of all time also. Enjoying the blog and keep up the good work!!! Kassie from Tucson, Arizona)

  4. Hi Kassie and thank you so much for taking the time to comment on our page! We really do hope you are enjoying the site and that you visit us often and let us know if there is a topic you would like us to talk about in the near future! Happy Holidays!

  5. In my opinion, most of the movies with tons of cuts are pretty boring. Continuous cutting makes the movie actually feel really long and drawn out and it ends up boring the viewer and audience.

    Jimmy, Florida.

  6. Hi Jimmy and thanks for your comments. This is reference to the other blog post from JOHNNY CHAZZ talking about edits in film. Agreed that too many cuts tries to make up for lack of direction or camera operation from the cinematographer. The editor has to come in and save the film!