Tuesday, May 8, 2012


JOHNNY CHAZZ: Looking back thirty-five (35) years ago some may still complain that their favorite film of 1977 “Star Wars” did not win the Academy Award for Best Picture. I can empathize - whilst I might not agree, I can still empathize. Having received most of the technical awards that year, the very fact that such a film did not win speaks profoundly on the caliber of films that were released that year. This week, I would like to take a look back and open the time capsule from 1977 so that we can remember the outstanding films that were shown to audiences that year.

George Lucas released “Star Wars” in 1977 which not only grossed over $300 million, but completely re-defined special and visual effects. Sound had also been changed for future films to come with the use of Dolby and THX sound systems. The film is unlike many of the special-effect and sci-fi films we see today in that there was special attention paid to set and art design, sound, an original story, and characters that were well-defined. The film should be considered nothing short of a masterpiece and films will continue to attempt to re-create the effect that “Star Wars” has had on audiences through the past three decades.
The original STAR WARS 1977 trailer

An earlier blog on CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT took a close look at the film and the amazing soundtrack from “Saturday Night Fever”. Considered the top-selling soundtrack of all-time, yet later surpassed by “The Bodyguard” (a bit hard to understand why….) the music to the film was likely the strongest character in the film. "Saturday Night Fever'' not only spoke to audiences on an emotional level, but the two major themes of the film are what lend it such heart and soul. We have the desire of youth the break-out and escape into the Manhattan skyline. On the other hand, we have a film that takes a sincere look into the way that men and women connect without having to focus on sex factors. The big-city feel, the performances, the casting and the soundtrack will forever make “Saturday Night Fever” a staple in the DVD/ Blu-Ray collection of movie lovers.

“Annie Hall” probably shocked the world a bit in 1977 when it took home the top prize – the Academy Award for best film. I can recall the day when my counterpart “Jer” gave me a copy of the script to the film (a few years back) as a birthday present. The script (considered one of the best written of all-time) remains a conversation-piece on my coffee table at home to this day. With a headlining cast of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, the film houses more intellectual wit and dry humor than perhaps any romantic-comedy seen since the 1950’s & 1960’s. Each and every scene (even when re-visiting it today) poses instant familiarity and recognition. The characters are longing for love, respect and attention but are trapped in a world of distractive conversation and inner turmoil. The use of split-screens, subtitles, animation and weaving conversation are all the tactics employed by Allen making “Annie Hall” not only perhaps the best film of 1977, but one of the top-rated films of all-time.
A classic moment from ANNIE HALL! "If life could only be this way."

1977 also blessed us with the unveiling of Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounter of the Third Kind”. A UFO-focused and sci-fi genre starring Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr and Francois Truffaut, the film has stood the test of time and mind-stretching to say the least with the combination of images, the visual effects (ex: the high angle shot of the UFO passing over the truck on the open-road late at night), the lighting and the psychological factors of the film made it one of the most impacting films of 1977. Spielberg’s Special Edition, that was recently released, is also worth visiting as some of the lengthy scenes have been cut and some new scenes added with a modified ending are tossed in. “Close Encounters” will always remain close to my heart and mind – and somehow I get the feeling that I am not alone.

In the horror genre, two films would stand out in 1977. First, we examine the wonderful “Suspiria” - an Italian-based horror film that stars Jessica Harper (“Phantom of the Paradise”). Directed by Dario Argento, this movie starts out with Suzy’s (Harper) arrival at a top-notch ballet academy in Europe. “Suspiria” is extremely disturbing and quite frightening in many ways – yet it still has that bizarre, ridiculous and fantastic “cult” feel about it. The camera angles, the lenses, the sound and the chilling and tense score make this film work on a level that is simply “disturbing”. Something evil lurks at the Academy and we, as an audience, are taken through a violent and suspenseful trip through it all.

What is most rewarding about Suspiria is the fact that it is not only intense; it is terrifying in many parts. The simple “expectation” that something terrible is about to happen is what keeps us on our toes during this dark trip. You would probably agree that this is a skill used by Directors that really is lacking in horror films today as they feel the need to throw everything at you at all times.

The terrifying trailer for Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA

David Lynch would present his first feature film “Eraserhead”, which was never really approved by AFI (American Film Institute). On a limited budget and shot mainly inside a horse stable, Lynch used found props from old movie sets, and a staff that worked around the clock to finish his amazing, yet disturbing film. The images are warped throughout the film and the characters are defined only on the surface (Who exactly was the lady in the radiator?). Dream sequences are abound and we would see this theme in later Lynch films (Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire). Although the film never was shown at Cannes (what a shame), it would still become a cult classic at midnight showings in Hollywood at the Waverly Theater. The films can be taken seriously, or perhaps – not seriously at all. The meanings are unclear, but what is clear is that something is terribly, terribly wrong with the world that Henry lives in. Lynch even stated that nobody who has ever tried to analyze the true meaning of “Eraserhead” has even come close to his original intention and meaning for the film… it is a classic from the era and a true gem from 1977.
Bizzare yet captivating: the trailer created for ERASERHEAD

We can go on and on with the films from 1977, but I will conclude with a final list before turning the conversation over to Jer. Here is a basic run-down of other fantastic films from this very special year in film:

* "JULIA" (Directed by Fred Zimmerman)
* "THE GOODBYE GIRL” (Directed by Herbert Ross)
* “THE AMERICAN FRIEND” (Directed by Wim Wenders)
* “THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE” (Directed by Luis Bunuel)
* “PROVIDENCE” (Directed by Alain Resnais)
* “THE DUELLISTS” (Directed by Ridley Scott)
* “THE HILLS HAVE EYES” (Directed by Wes Craven)
* “NEW YORK NEW YORK” (Directed by Martin Scorsese)
* “HIGH ANXIETY” (Directed by Mel Brooks)
* “DAWN OF THE DEAD” (Directed by George Romero)
* “DAYS OF HEAVEN” (Directed by Terrence Malick)

* “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” (Directed by Lewis Gilbert)
* “STROSZEK” (Directed by Werner Herzog)
* “MARTIN” (Directed by George Romero)
* “THE LAST WAVE” (Directed by Peter Weir)

Ok, your thoughts, Jer, on 1977. Was 1977, in your mind, one of the best years in film over the past 50 years in Hollywood? What films do you look back on as being truly impacting in your life?

JER: A fantastic and original topic choice, JC. One I can definitely get into from my end. An interesting observation assesses that in one solitary year, that being the topic of 1977, had more recognizable and respected films come out than a decade can churn out in its ten… namely anything between the more recent 2000- 2010! But, I would much rather get into reminiscing about some of my favorite films of the year that JC has not focused on quite as deeply as he did others.

Approximately 3,000 films were released just in the year 1977, so you can only imagine how extremely difficult it is to highlight a very distinct few. Nonetheless, the ones that come to mind were films that impacted me at a very young age… nine years old to be exact! Please look at both JC’s and my list as films we would also definitely recommend!

SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT was such a great redneck, honkey- tonk comedic thrill ride directed by one-time stuntman Hal Needham (HOOPER, THE CANNONBALL RUN) and starred one of his favorite regulars: Burt Reynolds. The film had a simple plot: transport a truckload of beer across Texas State line within a time frame. The catch? That’s called boot-leggin’ in dem der parts and you do not want to pull those kinda stunts when you have Sherriff Buford T. Justice, played by the incomparable Jackie Gleason, tailing you in a high-speed pursuit. Rounding off the cast were Sally Field, Mike Henry (as the unforgettable ‘Junior’) and the late, great Jerry Reed as Cledus ‘Snowman’ Snow. The film’s humor and stunt-filled car chases work just as well today as it did back in its original release date of May 27, 1977 grossing an estimated $127 million!
Original trailer for SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT

LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR was a film that dared to speak- out about highly tabooed subjects and levels of sexual conducts unheard of when it was released on October 23, 1977. A very innocent looking Diane Keaton portrayed Theresa, a successful teacher of deaf children by day and seeker of persuasion by night as she cruised bars and soaked in the nightlife of the late 70’s. An absolute contradiction of characters for Keaton, who was better known for her portrayal of female lead roles in most Woody Allen films including JC’s pre-mentioned ANNIE HALL. The film wrapped itself in further controversy because it illustrated a slow decline of Theresa’s use of drugs mixed with recreational sex, building into more aggressive and demeaning sexual acts, all the while competing with her double-life as a teacher and the impact of both worlds. Graphic. Dramatic. Exploitive. The following clip is the first 3:26 minutes of the film that highlights actual photographs of people who filled nightclubs and bars depicting the single scene.
The opening sequence of LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR

SORCERER marked the follow-up film from THE EXORCIST director, William Friedkin. The film is a nail-biting adventure that takes place in the humid and sweltering jungles of South America as a group of outcasts from various backgrounds are pulled together to complete a dangerous assignment. Their individual skills must be put to use and petty squabbles laid to rest in order to transport six crates of unstable dynamite through miles of unsettled terrain. The cast is headed by Roy Scheider (JAWS) and is a remake of the 1953 French film LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR (WAGES OF FEAR). The film is not only highlighted by its wonderful Cinematography but by a driving musical score by Tangerine Dream (RISKY BUSINESS).
The explosive trailer for William Friedkin's SORCERER

OH, GOD! was an original concept that came long before the idea of BRUCE ALMIGHTY. Directed by veteran comic writer Carl Reiner (THE JERK, SUMMER SCHOOL), the offbeat and bittersweet comedy starred George Burns as God who makes an appearance to an average grocery store assistant manager played by John Denver. Like the ALMIGHTY films (BRUCE and EVAN), the film spends the first half trying to convince the main character that he is God! The second half touches on a hot topic of the times, this one being the reputation of a television evangelist (pre- Falwell/ Baker, of course).
The hilarious trailer for 1977's OH, GOD!

Aside from the films JOHNNY CHAZZ listed as honorable mentions, I would like to add a few more. This, hopefully, gives you a brief glimpse of the fabulous year that was 1977:

SLAP SHOT: Paul Newman in a wacky comedy about hockey
THE DEEP: From novelist Peter Benchley (JAWS) comes another underwater thriller starring Nick Nolte, Robert Shaw and Louis Gossett Jr
CAPRICORN ONE: Controversial lunar mission film starring James Brolin and OJ Simpson
EXORCIST II-THE HERETIC: Sequel with returning actress Linda Blair
ORCA: A “JAWS” with a vengeful killer whale…starring Richard Harris
AIRPORT ’77: the second in a line of disaster airplane films. The inspiration for the comedy-spoof AIRPLANE!
KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS: B-movie about mutant spiders attacking a small town with William (Capt. Kirk) Shatner
GRAND THEFT AUTO: No, not the game…but a high-speed car chase film directed and starring Ron Howard
THE GAUNTLET: Directed and starring Clint Eastwood, is a non-affiliated ‘Dirty Harry’ film
THE TURNING POINT: Mother/ daughter ballet drama starring Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft with a special appearance of ballet great Mikhail Baryshnikov
THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU: The original island story of men turning into beasts
THE WHITE BUFFALO: Charles Bronson as Wild Bill Hikok hunting a massive buffalo
THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING: The comedic sequel to the original

The list can go on and on. In what my counterpart, JOHNNY CHAZZ is trying to bring to ones attention is the fact that so great films came out within one solitary year! These films are comprised by a well balanced combination of different elements: great actors, intelligent script writing, production value and memorable moments that will continue to live on way longer than a time- stamped year of 1977.

Now let’s turn the tables to your direction. Is there either a specific year that comes to mind with a cornucopia of films and treats that you cherish the most? What do you think of the films of 1977? We always look forward to your comments and ideas and we will always reply back…so visit us again for our comments in return. Join us again for a new posting on Wednesday May 22nd, 2012 when my (JER’s) topic will focus on THE SUMMER FILMS OF 2012! Thanks for checking us out and we hope you will return again very soon!
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  2. I feel that the 1970s decade began a total new trend in the making of films and their style. Star Wars, The Exorcist The Bond 007movies and so many more movies totall changed the way that blockbuster movies would be made in the future to come. Raymond - Bakersfield, Calif.

  3. Gentlemen: Thank you both for sharing your comments!

    Ryan, There was a very profound change in the world of music and film in the 70's and everyone had a very distinct vibe about them that gave them that "spirit" you mentioned!

    Raymond, The 70's broke the mold for how many films that were being made previously... the type of dialog, the pace and structure of how a film unraveled and the presentation and use of great actors all assisted in defining a great decade!