Welcome to the Weekly Movie Thread! This is your place on the Avocado to talk film with your fellow movie lovers. Have you seen something new? Something old? Want to give recommendations or are you looking for them?
1971 seems to have been quite a pivotal year of Hollywood. I mentioned earlier this year that this was basically the beginning of blaxploitation (with Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Shaft). That wasn’t the only thing. It was basically the end of old Hollywood and the beginning of the New Hollywood that we associate with the 70’s.
That old stalwart, the musical, was still going strong as Fiddler on the Roof was the highest grossing film of the year. Bedknobs and Broomsticks would come out this holiday season. And while it underperformed, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory remains a beloved musical of the era. It harkens back to those all-ages musicals from yore like Mary Poppins.
This felt like the end of an era, though. Audiences wanted things grittier and more realistic. Musicals would eventually seem more underground and counter-culture.
Meanwhile, the original Bond was on the way out with Diamonds Are Forever being Sean Connery’s final in-canon appearance. (Sorry, all you Never Say Never Again stans.) Connery would also star this year in Sidney Lumet’s The Anderson Tapes, a drama about electronic surveillance.
The second highest grossing film of 1971? Freaking Billy Jack. A film I have never seen, because… dang, it just feels so 1970’s. Up to and including Tom Laughlin as a Native American pacifist who solves his problems through violence.
So farewell, original flavor James Bond. Hello, renegades who play by their own rules. 1971, after all, was the year of both The French Connection, which also won best film at the Academy Awards. It’s also the year where everyone was feeling lucky, punk, when Dirty Harry took his cowboy swagger to the streets of San Francisco in Dirty Harry.
It makes sense. The Western was out of fashion now. The ones we saw in 1971 were the “anti-Western” McCabe & Mrs. Miller (directed by Robert Altman and starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie) and Sergio Leone’s morally ambiguous Duck, You Sucker! John Wayne, Gregory Peck, and Lee Van Cleef were still making films. However, the new cowboys were taking to the streets and trading in their horses for fast cars.
You know what’s kind of surprising? Six of the top ten films of 1971 were rated “R”. Billy Jack was rated PG. Also on the Top Ten highest grossing list is, surprisingly, A Clockwork Orange coming in at #7 overall. It is impossible to imagine this film being a box office Top Ten in this day and age.
Also on the sci-fi front, a promising young director named George Lucas would make his debut with THX-1138. Watching it, it’s kinda surprising Lucas released something that’s closer in tone to A Clockwork Orange. Another young filmmaker by the name of Steven Spielberg would send chills up our spines with his own film directorial debut: a TV film called Duel, where a hapless driver is chased down by a truck-driver who is never seen. These can be seen as dry runs for Star Wars and Jaws, respectively.
1971 is also the debut year of Elaine May, who released the dark comedy A New Leaf. Former film critic Peter Bogdanovich would score a huge hit with his black-and-white coming of age drama, The Last Picture Show. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Shaft both made their debut this year. Variety attributed these two films as the first in the blaxploitation genre.
This week’s prompt: what is your favorite film of 1971?
Next week: movies discovered through references in other media