best film:  A Clockwork Orange from Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick’s masterpiece starts with a bang- an opening reverse tracking shot of the milk bar. Cinematography and set design/mise-en-scene perfection

The wideangle lens in the tunnel with the singing lush and silhouette work is a highlight—Kubrick goes wide all over the place actually- Kubrick wants you to see every detail

  • Wendy/Walter Carlos’ genius synthesizer work (would collaborate again with Kubrick in The Shining)
  • Kubrick really isn’t overly influenced by anyone here—it’s a rarity in cinema history- especially as far along as 1971
  • McDowell not nominated for an Oscar- ugh
  • Bizarrely beautiful post-modern murals and art is in the mise-en-scene at all turns– Kubrick’s dedication to background as well as foreground
  • It’s 2 hours and 16 minutes of visual panache– but certainly the slow motion shot of the four droogs walking along the water is amongst the best
  • The first surrealism sequence is Alex as a vampire with fangs, another is him as a roman whipping Christ (and fighting and lusting in biblical times) and the third is the brilliant finale “I was cured all right” which doesn’t have the cop-out ending/episode the book has. PT Anderson would echo this finale with his “I’m finished” and “Can you put me back in?” in There Will Be Blood and The Master respectively,
  • narrative form at its best with the symmetry before, during and after the treatment of how he handles violence, women (rape) and robbery–  he is met with people from his past : the droogs become cops, the drunks beat him up, and he stumbles into the same house he tortured prior to his treatment.

 

most underrated:  The Andromeda Strain from Robert Wise.

  • It doesn’t land on the TSPDT consensus top 1000 at all and it certainly should. I’m racking my brain to think of a more underrated film of the 1970’s. No Carnal Knowledge on the consensus list is wrong, too.
  • It is a buried treasure of a film- Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain is a not-so-distant cousin from Welles, Wyler and Kurosawa’s achievement in deep focus photography. Wise here uses the half convex glass attached to his lens—the split diopter—to an unprecedented artistic level
  • Wise is known for his genre work—this is not his first foray into sci-fi—he did The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951

one of the best shots in the film- so it is not just about the split diopter– Wise never settles for just showing two characters talking to progress the narrative– the entire use of the frame here– Wise constantly fills the background of the frame with complex character blocking (a la Visconti or Kurosawa).

  • Most of the work by De Palma, Tarantino, Jack Clayton or whomever in split diopter- has one, two, maybe four uses of split diopter (Blow Out may be the greatest exception outside of this film)- but I stopped counting here in The Andromeda Strain—I’ve seen articles mention as many as 140+ or 200+ examples of its use in the film listed if you count the double-splits. Wise basically made an entire film using the technique. It simulates the deep focus artistry of the great masters through the method. The results are astounding- a nearly endless supply of stand-alone stunning frames (showing off the different aspects of the frame in the foreground and background)—but also adds up nicely to match the unnatural, sterile, paranoid content. A perfect marriage of visual style and content.

Opens with the exploration of a seemingly deserted town by two scientists and right from the outset Wise shows the soldiers at the Air Force base in the split diopters—the solider front left on the phone and the speaker on the right.

  • At 11 minutes the double split diopter—I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one before—the two military police flanking the frame with the third in the deep background middle
  • It is just an absolutely dogmatic commitment to an aesthetic—there’s very little shot, reverse-shot— or cinematically or stylistically quiet sequences for the entire running time. Wise even uses the splits when characters are doing something as basic as reading a letter. Unnerving — heightened – because of the visual approach and choice

At 22 minutes there is the ghost town barbershop stunner

  • The performances are adequate at best. As impressed as I am by Wise and his visual accomplishment—the film would be better with better actors in the four leads

Based on the 1969 Michael Crichton novel— with a special effects assist from Douglas Trumbull (2001, Blade Runner)- Wise is 10 years removed from West Side Story and clearly inspired by Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece

 

most overrated:    Visconti’s Death in Venice sits at #189 on the TSPDT consensus top 1000. That far too high. According to the consensus this is the #2 ranked 1971 film behind Kubrick’s masterpiece. It is a very fine film— there is much to admire from Dirk Bogarde’s performance to the use of Visconti’s zooms—but its artistic achievements are much more modest than more than a half dozen films from 1971.

the ending of Visconti’s Death in Venice – one of the best shots in the film

gems I want to spotlight:  I have a couple here. Klute from Alan Pakula, Jane Fonda and DP Gordon Willis will blow your hair back. This is the first leg of Pakula’s (and Willis’) paranoia trilogy (The Parallax View,  All the President’s Men). Willis is embarking on one of the great runs for cinematographer working with Coppola, Woody Allen, and Pakula of course. He and Vilmos Zsigmond working with Altman on McCabe really help to give the 1970’s an entirely different look. It is also a big year for Eastwood and Don Siegel. Eastwood directed a rock solid thriller (Play Misty For Me), and the two of them work together on both The Beguiled and Dirty Harry.

Klute is the first leg of Pakula’s paranoia trilogy

impressive visuals from Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis

Willis’s friend, cinematographer Conrad Hall, named him “The Prince of Darkness”

Dirty Harry has many visual highlights- I’ve always remarked about how much this cinematic painting resembles perhaps the greatest single shot in Michael Mann’s career- a similar shot with De Niro in Heat (1995)

after Eastwood’s confrontation with the Andrew Robinson character in Dirty Harry, Siegel dramatically elevates the camera via helicopter crane shot

trends and notables:

  • American cinema is back with eight of the top ten films in 1971 coming from American auteurs (nine out of ten if you count Mike Nichols who was born in Berlin)

I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of Harold and Maude mentioned in the same breathe as Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia

…but Ashby’s film certainly makes magnificent use of the long shot

  • Kubrick, with his third masterpiece in a row is in rarified air—event cinema – a mode that would dominate for auteurs even today 50+ years later. It is years of preparation and perfectionism—though very few, if any, could pull it off like Kubrick creating such unique and supremely masterful results with each effort
  • Ashby is back after his first archiveable film in 1970, Mike Nichols is here again of course in the top 10 for the third time in six years, and Altman proves 1970 was no fluke. To add to that both Alan Pakula (Klute) and William Friedkin (The French Connection) have their first archiveable films here. Not to bury the lede, but 1971 brings us the first archiveable film for 25-year old Steven Spielberg with the promising Duel. George Lucas releases his first archiveable film with THX 1138. Spielberg and Lucas would change cinema forever later in the decade.

the end of one of cinema’s great chase sequences in Friedkin’s The French Connection

just one of the dazzlers from George Lucas’ THX 1138-– his debut film

Back to back years for Truffaut with a top 10 of the year film in 1970 and 1971 here – this from Two English Girls

  • Blaxploitation becomes a sub-genre under crime or gangster movies – aided by the new rating system- Shaft makes its mark on 1971

Klute here- It is mentioned above in the “gems” section but there is a naturalism in the photography and lighting (some would consider it totally skewed towards darkness)

….McCabe & Mrs. Miller here

…another here– Altman’s most picturesque film

  • To that end- with those two films it is time to talk about the zoom camera movement. Altman makes it an artform, it is all over the place during this era in the spaghetti westerns and films in the 1960’s before. But here in 1971 you have Visconti also using it as his weapon of choice. It is prevalent- and a great artistic touch when well used just like anything else. It would go out of vogue later in the decade with the invention of the the Steadicam
  • It is also mentioned above but the split diopter is front and center in the The Andromeda Strain –really a deep focus tool- synthesized. It has been around for some time- but never used like this.
  • 1971 is the first archiveable film/year for a young Al Pacino who is mesmerizing in The Panic in Needle Park. He’s electric and you can tell immediately this is going to be a great actor.
  • Jeff Bridges, in an even more prominent debut to the archives (with an Oscar nom!), arrives with his performance in Bogdanvich’s The Last Picture Show. Bogdanovich had an eye for talent—that film also have the first archiveable performance for Ellen Burstyn. I can’t really call it an entry into the archives, but if you don’t blink you’ll catch a very young Daniel Day Lewis in Sunday Bloody Sunday– more from him in the 1980’s.

incredible photography here in Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show

 

best performance male   Malcom McDowell is a supernova in A Clockwork Orange so as good as Gene Hackman is in his Oscar winning performance in The French Connection as Popeye Doyle, I have to give the edge to McDowell. Behind those two great performances in 1971 I have to acknowledge Warren Beatty in McCabe & Mrs. Miller. He grunts and snorts through much of the performance (and Altman’s use of audio makes it especially tough without subtitles) but it’s easily one of Beatty’s and the year’s best. Jack Nicholson continues his streak (three years now) of great work in Carnal Knowledge and old John Ford veteran (fitting for a film that is an homage to Ford) Ben Johnson has a  poetic monologue that gets him the best supporting Oscar in The Last Picture Show. Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry deserves a slot here. Again, noted above in the gem section above- 1971 is a big year for Eastwood – busting loose of the western genre, too. Roy Scheider is superb in two top 10 films- both The French Connection and Klute. There’s still another five to go in 1971 believe it or not- it is one of those years. Donald Sutherland is the stoic titular character in Klute– Sutherland’s accomplishment isn’t the size of Fonda’s in the film- but still. Bud Cort’s comic performance in Harold and Maude lands him here. Jean-Pierre Léaud is all grown up now, still working with Truffaut, and makes his mark on 1971 in Two English Girls. One of the last two spots is for Art Garfunkel (yep- that Art Garfunkel) for his work in the four-hander chamber drama Carnal Knowledge opposite Nicholson. Lastly, though the film is in the overrated section above- there’s still enough here to merit the achievement for Bogarde in Death in Venice. He plays such a complex character—lust, pain, ego.

Malcolm McDowell leads a great year for acting performances in 1971

this is Nicholson here in silhouette from Mike Nichols’ Carnal Knowledge – Nicholson has landed in this category in 1969, 1970, and 1971

 

best performance female: Jane Fonda gives the best female performance of the year in Klute. She’s commanding her work is deserving of the Oscar she won here in 1971. Julie Christie is here yet again for her work in McCabe & Mrs. Miller–  I’m not sure there has been a better female actor on the planet since 1965. Ann-Margret may actually be the best of the four performances in Carnal Knowledge taking honors over Nicholson, Garfunkel, Candice Bergen (a mention here in this category). I think Ruth Gordon is maybe a smidge better in Rosemary’s Baby but she still earns a slot here for Harold and Maude. The Last Picture Show is really an ensemble film and so many actors have their moments to shine. I’m going to omit Cybill Shepherd (just like I did Jeff Bridges) but make room for the work of Cloris Leachman and Ellen Burstyn. Kika Markham and Stacey Tendeter are the two English girls in The Two English Girls and my last mention goes to Geraldine Page for The Beguiled. 1971 is loaded with strong acting.

Jane Fonda’s peak here in 1971 with Klute

McCabe & Mrs. Miller makes you wish Julie Christie had worked with Robert Altman more often

Ann-Margret here — lit to perfection in the stark black backdrop

… and the same for Candice Bergen here – Giuseppe Rotunno is the cinematographer of Nichols’ film. Rotunno’s resume is impressive, Rocco and His Brothers and The Leopard with Visconti– Satyricon the year before in 1969

top 10

  1. A Clockwork Orange
  2. The French Connection
  3. McCabe & Mrs. Miller
  4. The Andromeda Strain
  5. Harold and Maude
  6. Carnal Knowledge
  7. Klute
  8. The Last Picture Show
  9. Two English Girls
  10. Dirty Harry

 

Roeg followed up 1970’s Performance, with Walkabout in 1971- a breathtaking shot here

some of the greatest images of 1971 do come from Ken Russell’s The Devils.

…absolutely gorgeous from this very controversial (and difficult to find) film

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

10 Rillington Place – Fleischer R
A Clockwork Orange – Kubrick MP
A New Leaf- May R
A Touch of Zen – King Hu R
Bananas – Allen R
Bay of Blood- Bava R
Carnal Knowledge- M. Nichols MS/MP
Death in Venice – Visconti HR/MS
Dirty Harry – Siegel HR/MS
Duck You Sucker- Leone R
Duel- Spielberg R
Get Carter- Hodges R
Harold and Maude- Ashby MP
Just Before Nightfall- Chabrol
Klute- Pakula MS
Macbeth- Polanski
Man in the Wilderness- Sarafian R
McCabe and Mrs. Miller- Altman MP
Minnie and Moskowitz- Cassavetes
Murmur of the Heart- Malle HR
Nicholas and Alexandra-Schaffner
The Panic in Needle Park- Schatzberg R
Play Misty For Me – Eastwood R
Red Sun – Young R
Shaft – Parks R
Straw Dogs- Peckinpah R
Summer of ’42 – Mulligan R
Sunday, Bloody, Sunday- Schlesinger R
Taking Off- Forman
The Andromeda Strain – Wise MP
The Beguiled – Siegel HR
The Devils- K. Russell HR
The Emigrants- Troell R
The French Connection – Friedkin MP
The Go-Between – Losey R
The Hospital- Hiller R
The Last Picture Show- Bogdanovich MS
The Omega Man- Sagal R
THX 1138- Lucas R
Trafic- Tati
Twins of Evil- Hough R
Two English Girls- Truffaut MS
Wake in Fright- Kotcheff HR
Walkabout- Roeg HR
Willard – Daniel Mann R
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory- Stuart R

 

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives