I love 1970s American cinema, and lately I’ve been filling in some of the gaps in my viewing. Some things I’ve enjoyed watching so far in August:
The first film I watched this month was the 1978 Paul Schrader-directed and co-written Blue Collar. This movie about three Detroit auto workers who decide to rob their union and get a lot less money and a lot more trouble than they bargained for stars Harvey Keitel, Richard Pryor, and Yaphet Kotto (you may be most familiar with him from Aliens) and is really terrific. I love Schrader’s work, and this one ranges in tone from comedic to nihilistic bleakness–although one of the bleakest things about it is how little things have fundamentally changed as far as the film’s central message goes (I think I would argue in fact that power structures have in the decades since even more effectively turned us against one another). Apparently the shoot was a really troubled one, but it doesn’t show in the final film at all. Recommended if you love gritty 70s cinema as much as I do.
My 1970s cinema kick continued with Charley Varrick, a Don Siegel film starring the ever-reliable Joe Don Baker as a stone-cold killer/assassin/private eye named Molly (do not make fun of his name) and Walter Mathau as a cropduster-turned-bank-robber in the type of role that you probably do not think of Walter Mathau as playing. Andrew Robinson of Hellraiser and Dirty Harry fame is here as well and it is absolutely full of twists and turns, plus the revelation that breaking into a woman’s house is absolutely the way into her bed shortly after (twice!) Guys, when we tell you the seventies were a different time, we’re not kidding. Anyway, this was really a lot of fun, much less realistic than Blue Collar (but still in the gritty 70s vein so if your idea of “fun” is, like, The Goonies, probably not for you).
Speaking of women inexplicably hopping into bed with men, I also watched the excellent Straight Time with Dustin Hoffman, based on the book by ex-con-turned-writer Edward Bunker, who also makes an appearance in the film. This time it’s the lovely Theresa Russell who is curiously drawn to Hoffman’s ex-con character (although thinly sketched as she is, I can at least make a stab at why in this case: she’s clearly a nice middle-class girl in a boring dead-end job who’s never brushed up against this kind of thing before and is intrigued by it). Hoffman is just terrific in this ostensible crime thriller that’s really a character piece, as his nature is slowly revealed over the course of the film. You also get to see a lot of a young Gary Busey and the wonderful, irreplaceable Harry Dean Stanton.
Back to Don Siegel: I also rewatched the weird, gothic The Beguiled–the 1973 Clint Eastwood one, not the Sofia Coppola remake, which I have yet to see. I say “rewatch” but I actually have not seen this film since I was a kid and it was shown on TV one night. It made such an impression on me–I was really surprised at how much of it I remembered when half the time I can barely remember the details of movies I saw a few years or even a few months ago. It’s still disturbing and overheated and terrific. One of these days I’ll get around to Coppola’s version.
Over on Shudder, filmmaker Rob Savage proves that it actually is possible to make a decent lockdown movie with Host, filmed entirely on Zoom from the actors’ homes. It’s not really doing anything especially new, deliberately hearkening to other films (both found-footage and not), but I enjoyed it a great deal. Well-acted and with much of its dialogue effectively improvised, it’s at its scariest, I think, when the horrors are more subtle, with some genuinely creepy moments there, but it doesn’t shy away when it goes full on with stunt work, special effects and the whole shebang if that’s your thing. I’m delighted that the lovely James Swanton gets a turn here doing what he does so well, being monster-y. James was in our horror play The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here from several years ago. Aside from all that, it’s a really wonderful little time capsule of these weird days we’re living in now, suffused with the sense of isolation and uncertainty that the pandemic has caused. After–not before–you watch it, you might want to read this really spoilery interview with Savage by Rosie Fletcher over at Den of Geek to see how they pulled it off if you’re as interested as I was to know the logistics. It was all quite ingenious. I actually really want to watch this one again because I’m pretty sure I missed stuff the first time around.