Whereas the 1960s saw a social and music revolution, it was in the 1970s when a revolution in film took place. Actually, it started in the late 60s, but a conservatism still lingered that the 70s finally put to rest. It was, no doubt, due in part to the loosening of censorship. What once had been forbidden became possible and cinema benefitted as a result.
A lot of the fledgling filmmakers in the 1960s became established forces in the 70s. It was a decade of truth, a decade of moral ambiguity and one of the most exciting times to be a filmmaker. Trailblazers scorched the screen with films that mattered, which are as important now as they were then, and as they will be a hundred years from now. They said something because they meant something. Thirty-four plus years since the end of the decade, and the films of the 70s are still leaving their mark, far longer than any other collection of years in cinematic history.
It was the decade of the directors, visionaries who stood on the outside in the 1960s because there was no getting in otherwise. Men like Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas. They made the 70s memorable. They made films that were at once works of art but also very personal to them. They opened a line of dialogue to their audience, told them to believe in the power of art, the power of film and thus, the power of themselves. Woody Allen’s films said that, even though society was stacked against you and you weren’t the slickest dude on the block, you could still get the girl, sometimes; Scorsese was gangster, tough as nails were his characters, and bleak was the world in a Scorsese film, but that was where Scorsese came from. It was the truth of Martin Scorsese. Coppola was the first. Brash and unkempt, Coppola roamed the decaying Warner Brothers back lot and met a complex man with a beard, George Lucas. Lucas didn’t say much but he had a lot of talent and both Coppola and Lucas would make films that would define the decade many times over. Though one would be about a crime family and the other would take place in a galaxy far, far away, it was the cinema of the personal, and the films meant more than just two hours of entertainment. Same with Spielberg. Jaws was a horror movie about a shark. Simple worked because they knew how to tell a story.
As the last vestiges of censorship were draining away, films like Midnight Cowboy, Carnal Knowledge, Dirty Harry, The Last Picture Show, Last Tango in Paris and A Clockwork Orange, presented a new philosophy to the public. It was no longer permissible to just sit there. The films were either going to engage you or you would be forced to leave the theater. There was no in-between. They didn’t want your money. They wanted you to be a part of their legion, a part of the revolution.
A lot has been written and said about cinema in the 1970s. Before you blow it off as hyperbole by film geeks with nothing better to do, have a glance at the directors from that era who still make movies.