The ten year period that was the 1970s remains the most astonishing in film history for the sheer quality of the work coming out of America. It would come to be known as the “director’s era”, a point in history when directors became all powerful, making the films they wanted to make, often with subjects that had been previously taboo, eventually with outlandish budgets that would be part of what would bring this era crashing down.
New directors emerged out of film schools, bursting with knowledge of films history, enthralled by watching movies, and now they were to make them. Many emerged from television having learned their craft in the fast paced world of making a new show every couple of days. They would take Hollywood by storm, dominate the decade, but become obscenely wealthy and spoiled, the budgets on their films would skyrocket out of control, until one of them was responsible for bankrupting one of the oldest studios in the business.
Freed from the constraints of what was acceptable fare on movie screens, with language now an “anything goes” sort of thing, nudity and sexuality very frank, directors could explore what for years had been taboo. Holding their cameras up to society, capturing life, they created art. And what art! Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, William Friedkin, Peter Bogdonavich, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen, Brian De Palma, Sydney Pollack, Bob Fosse, Hal Ashby, Robert Benton, Alan J. Pakula, and Michael Cimino led the charge among American directors while foreign born Miloš Forman and Roman Polanski enjoyed great success in America cinema.
No director in the history of film would dominate a decade as Coppola did the 1970s. He directed four films, three of them top this list, the fourth just missed; he produced ‘American Grafitti’ (1973), which not only launched the career of George Lucas, but created a renaissance in 1970s music, clothing and spawned two hugely successful TV sitcoms. He created his own studio, wanting to help young directors make their films free of the tyranny of the studios, and was the first director to announce he was tackling Vietnam as a subject for his next film. Coppola was awarded two Best Director Awards from the DGA, along with two other nominations, and he personally won five Academy Awards for his work, Best Director for ‘The Godfather Part II’ (1974), along with two other nominations. Each film he directed was a Best Picture nominee, and he seemed to have an innate understanding of the coming video and digital media age.
He was in the 1970s, a God. And he helped others on the way up, bringing attention to their work. Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and George Lucas would have staggering impacts on the 70s, Spielberg most of all, as he and Lucas more or less created the blockbuster. They loved movies, old movies, each other’s movies, they just lived for cinema. They were the movie brats, a generation of gifted artists the likes we had seen before nor likely will again. What is astonishing is that so many of them are still active, still vital, making movies that impact the world. They are now the old guard, but looking at them together, presenting Scorsese finally with his Oscar, we could almost see the ghosts of their younger selves behind them, full of hope and promise.
They were once a group of up-and-coming artists who spent Sundays on the beach in a cottage rented by Margot Kidder who fed them while they talked film. Coppola would hold court, listening to the ideas and enthusiasm of the younger men, George Lucas close by. Across the room, dressed in a white three piece suit, full of old world charm would be tiny Martin Scorsese, animated and talking with a machine gun delivery. Brian De Palma would be off seducing the newest girl to the group, or watching John Milius surf. Sitting in the corner, quietly taking it all in was Steven Spielberg, the least sophisticated but the most gifted of the group.