best film: A Clockwork Orange from Stanley Kubrick
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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.
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.
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)
- 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.
- Blaxploitation becomes a sub-genre under crime or gangster movies – aided by the new rating system- Shaft makes its mark on 1971
- 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.
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.
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.
- A Clockwork Orange
- The French Connection
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller
- The Andromeda Strain
- Harold and Maude
- Carnal Knowledge
- The Last Picture Show
- Two English Girls
- Dirty Harry
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|
|Get Carter- Hodges||R|
|Harold and Maude- Ashby||MP|
|Just Before Nightfall- Chabrol|
|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|
|Twins of Evil- Hough||R|
|Two English Girls- Truffaut||MS|
|Wake in Fright- Kotcheff||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