Sunday, 2 October 2011

The New Hollywood

1975 was at the height of the New Hollywood era of American film. Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Milos Foreman, and Hal Ashby, inspired by the French New Wave and Cinema verite made films which emphasised raw realism. They went out of their way to make their films look ugly, using drab colors and grainy film stock.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Ralph Bakshi

In 1975 Ralph Bakshi released Coonskin, a satirical, urban retelling of the Uncle Remus folktales. It uses the characatures and stereotypes of old cartoons to comment on race and the urban experience. In his book "That's Blaxploitation: Roots of the Baadasssss 'Tude", Darius James wrote "Bakshi pukes the iconographic bile of a racist culture back in its stupid, bloated face, wipes his chin and smiles Dirty Harry style. [...] He subverts the context of Hollywood's entire catalogue of racist black iconography through a series of swift cross-edits of original and appropriated footage." The film was misinterpreted as racist by the Congress of Racial Equality, who protested the film's release, despite never actually watching it.

The film is kind-of an incoherent mess, but the animation is incredible. It's like a grotesque version of a Bob Clampett cartoon from the 1940s. It reminded me a lot of Clampett's "Tin Pan Alley Cats" (itself somewhat unfairly maligned as racist).

After watching "Coonskin", I tracked down Bakshi's first two films - 1972's Fritz the Cat and 1973's Heavy Traffic. Both are X-rated black comedies set in a hellish vision of New York. Neither are entirely successful but I love their style. They feature animation which is light years ahead of any other 70s animation, except maybe Disney's animated features. Bakshi's first three films are like a cross between the great Warner Brother's cartoons of the 1940s and the films of Martin Scorsese.

I particularly like the muddy ink and watercolour backgrounds.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Altair 8800

The Altair 8800 was the world's first "personal computer", which sparked the microcomputer revolution. Bill gates founded Microsoft in the same year. You could make the argument that this was the most important event of 1975.

I love the look of pre-1980s computers. This one looks more like a piece of stereo equipment than a PC.


1975 was at the height of second-wave feminism. The UN named 1975 "International Woman's Year". Time Magazine gave its "Person of the Year" award to the American Woman, declaring that "Feminism has transcended the feminist movement. In 1975 the women's drive penetrated every layer of society, matured beyond ideology to a new status of general — and sometimes unconscious — acceptance."

Some Graphics from 1975

I love the fist - like the black power salute. This reminds me of Saul Bass.

These are examples of the 1970s retro art deco thing, brought about by films like Chinatown, The Sting, and the Great Gatsby. At the time they probably seemed retro but today they look far more like products of the 70s than products of the 20s.

Some trashy B-movie posters. 1975 was the height of the grindhouse/blaxploitation era.

The 1970s were a really interesting time for movie posters - inspired by Saul Bass and Paul Rand. I love the simple pen drawing of Al Pacino - something like that would never appear on a modern poster.

This is a modern design for a film that came out in 1975. I love the graininess of the image - 70s films were always shot on super-grainy film stock.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Saturday Night Live

The live sketch/variety show Saturday Night Live started in October of 1975. The first few episodes featured stand-up from George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Andy Kaufman, music from Paul Simon, Randy Newman, ABBA, and Gil Scott Heron, short films by Albert Brooks, the (poorly received) first appearances of Jim Henson's Muppets, and sketch comedy from (among others) John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, and Chevy Chase.

Chase famously portrayed Gerald Ford as a clumsy, inept oaf - a reputation Ford never lived down. Chases impressions probably influenced the 76 elections (which Ford lost to Jimmy Carter).

Saturday Night Live - Kissinger visits Ford -... by ClassicPL

A.V. Club review
Confessions of an SNL Junkie.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


I watched the following films from 1975:

Robert Altman's Nashville is a panoramic black comedy which follows 24 characters for 5 days in the country music capital of America. It's the purest expression of Altman's signature style - multiple characters, overlapping dialogue, reflection of real life through comic exaggeration. There is no lead character or central narrative - each of the two dozen characters are equally important. It's like a collection of short stories which, taken together, form a remarkably cohesive whole. It
reflects the paranoid political and cultural climate of post-Watergate, post-Vietnam America.

It contains numerous references to political assassination and was released a few months before the two failed attempts to assassinate President Ford.

The A.V. Club called it the film that defined the 70s.

Robert Altman Primer
Roger Ebert's review
Josh Modell's review

New York in 1975

In 1975 New York was in the middle of a huge fiscal crises. Years of mismanagement had left the city close to bankruptcy. President Ford angered New Yorkers by refusing to grant the city a federal bailout, prompting the famous headline "Ford to City: Drop Dead".

NY was infamous for its high crime rates. Times Square was full of pimps and hookers, and Central Park was the site of rapes and muggings. It was the New York of Taxi Driver and Dog Day Afternoon.

At the same time the city was at its most creative. 1975 saw the birth of punk and new wave, with bands like Blondie, Talking Heads, Suicide, and the Ramones playing their earliest shows at the legendary CBGBs.

Disco, which had grown out of gay culture a few years earlier, was at it's most exciting, and graffiti covered subway trains started emerging from the South Bronx as DJ Cool Herc and Afrika Bambaata were inventing Hip Hop.