MIDNIGHT COWBOY (John Schlesinger)
When MIDNIGHT COWBOY was released it was given the relatively new “X” rating (usually signaling some excessive naughtiness. The rating was also supposed to restrict anyone under 16, even with a parent, a ridiculously unenforceable mandate. (I strolled into the theater at 15 and alone). It was certainly the most prestigious film to get the rating, and it was thought that the rating would hurt its chances of being widely seen. The film turned out to be ratings-proof, however, and even went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It’s that good. Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Ratso Rizzo has become an essential chapter in Acting 101. The “X” factor has long since faded, but the film remains a classic.
THE SORROW AND THE PITY (Marcel Ophuls)
Divided into two parts, with a running time of nearly 4 and 1/2 hours, this could be the greatest documentary ever made. Exploring collaboration between the French and the Vichy government during the Nazi occupation of France during WWII, it is also an explosive piece of reportage by Marcel Ophuls (son of the great director, Max Ophuls). The film poked some serious holes in the stoic self-image that the French had come to create for themselves. As a result, the film had a hard time getting released at all. A stunning piece of film-making on a riveting subject.
THE WILD BUNCH (Sam Peckinpah)
The controversy over violence on American screens reached a fever-pitch with all the slo-mo blood-spurting in this Western opus. But then as now, that issue obscures the fact that it is Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece. Another example of a great director weaving all of his favorite themes (obsesssions) into a work of art.
WOMEN IN LOVE (Ken Russell)
By 1969, Ken Russell had made a name for himself with a series of TV dramas for the BBC. Most of them were bio-pics, many of famous composers. He transitioned to the big screen effortlessly, helping to revitalize the British Cinema in the process. Often guilty of indulging in excesses in his later films (LISZTOMANIA, anyone?), this adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel is his most controlled work, full of subtle nuances and superb performances. The period is beautifully re-created in one of the most intelligent movies of the decade.
And now a word about…..
EASY RIDER (Dennis Hopper)
There is no questioning the cultural impact that the release of EASY RIDER had back in the day. Nor is it in doubt that its success helped break the back of the Old Hollywood more than any other film. It has a story all its own, and a fascinating one. But maybe it’s time to ask…..is it really any good? Was it ever? I’ve been asking that question ever since I first saw it soon after its release. It’s a good question, and a reviewing of the film is something I would recommend to anyone. Personally, I feel the same way now that I did then….the best scenes belong to Jack Nicholson, who was being introduced to most of us for the first time.