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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"A Decade Under the Influence", filming the 70's

A Decade Under the Influence

"A Decade Under the Influence" has many points of attraction and interest. A serious documentary trying to examine the decade of the 1970s in what regards to cinema, giving the voice to some of the most relevant filmmakers (plus some actors, producers and industry heavyweights) from that period (many of them still among the best directors nowadays) to talk about their movies, their meaning and the changes that American society went through on that period of time. It has all the elements to be a memorable work on the so-called New Hollywood era, but it has two serious issues that undermine the film as a whole.

The first one is quite simple: this is not a dynamic film. Don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for special effects or these sort of documentaries where the visual tricks are the recurrent solution to fill the narrative gaps or just extend the length of the work to the usual standards. But Ted Demme (who sadly passed away) takes the most straightforward option. Mixing the opinions of the directors with little additional footage, some historical and some directly from the films. The result is a slow-paced documentary, that can be boring for audiences without a particular interest on it. That's sad because the opinions of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, William Friedkin, Dennis Hopper... and a extraordinary long etc is what makes this movie a must-see. Julie Christie, along with Altman and the great and also forever missed "Sidneys" (Lumet and Pollack) are the ones with the smartest and clearest minds.

And the second one is another proof that some topics are, almost, 90% infallible. How many times have you heard or said that the book is better than the film? "A Decade.." has a much more complete, challenging and interesting competitor in the form of a book. Of course, I'm referring to Peter Biskind's monumental "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls". Everything on the 70s, and much more (dark, poignant and scary), is there. After reading that book watching this documentary seems like a Disney's version of the New Hollywood's decade. Sure, this film is not cheating: wants to grasp the opinion of the filmmakers and artists who were there and with that choice compound a collective tale of the decade. But are the starring characters telling all they know? I'm afraid not. Believe me, please read the book and you'll figure it out.

If you are interested in the 1970s, on its turbulent, contradictory and exciting times (rebellion, activism, hedonism, sexual revolution, civil and counterculture movements, drugs...), and how there was an art, cinema, that tried to reflect that social turmoil for a new generation of moviegoers, but finally gave up, you MUST watch this movie. If you want to discover a time when we weren't forced to watch another crap film after another crap film after another crap film, and directors wanted to show and talk about stories and not the next visual effect, this documentary should be a turning point to make you watch dozens of unforgettable movies. But  if you really want to know about the 70s American cinema,.then remember that there is a book waiting for you. "A Decade" should be just a noteworthy starting point.

SCORE: 6,75/10

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