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A Decade Under the Influence (2002) – DVD Review

A Decade Under the Influence DVD


Directed by Richard LaGravenese and Ted Demme


  • Filmmaker Biographies
  • Extended interviews with Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Monte Hellman, Sidney Lumet, Jerry Schatzberg, Roy Scheider, and Haskell Wexler

Released by: New World Video.
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: No.

My Advice: Rent It.

In the early 70s, the movie industry was in trouble. Studios were forced by the government to sell their theaters and they lost that lucrative revenue stream. And the counter-culture and various social revolutions of the 60s had left Hollywood in the dust. The powers that be were so desperate they decided on drastic action. They saw young directors and actors, influenced by the European filmmakers, producing movies that were personal, shocking, and real. And cheap, mustn’t forget cheap. And these movies were making money.

[ad#longpost]So the studios let these new auteurs loose to make films that brought a new sensibility to the cinema. Films like The Exorcist, Network, Bonnie and Clyde, Dog Day Afternoon, and many, many others were filled with violence, drugs, and sex. They also showed real relationships, social problems, and raw emotion. While the wave of creativity crashed due to changing times and tastes, the auteurs’ own success and excess, and the studios moving to new trends and bigger profits…we have from it an impressive amount of classic films made in A Decade Under the Influence.

When you watch this documentary, you have to remember a couple of things. First off, there are a lot of great movies not covered. This isn’t an in-depth analysis of the cinema of the period. That simply can’t be accomplished in three hours; you’d need a semester film course for that. And don’t expect the analysis that you do have to be objective. This is essentially a love letter to the auteurs of this period. A very well done love letter, but still done with a definite agenda.

Pic from A Decade Under the Influence

There are no film historians or critics featured and the flops are noticeably glossed over. Even without the honest evaluation, you are getting the story from the people who were there making these movies. They talk about how they wanted to break the rules and experiment with the medium. They don’t discuss how they indulged in the drugs, sex, and egotism that also categorized the era. Few people like to discuss the sins they’ve committed.

When they talk about what stopped this creative time, they blame the greed of the studios and the box office of Star Wars. They forget to place part of the blame on their own excesses and mistakes. Demme and LaGravenese wanted to focus on the cinema, not the scandal. The irony is for a documentary looking at a rule-breaking time in Hollywood, the documentary itself is very conventional with the usual suspects: movie clips, talking heads, and news clips of the time. The subjects are interesting and the clips they use aren’t just from the obvious classics, but they could have thought outside the box for this work and tried to be a little bit more like their subject matter.

For features we have bios of the two docu’s directors that are the usual brief and boring précis you expect from DVD bios. Also are deleted portions of interviews from some of the participants telling some very interesting stories. You find out how Friedkin found the now famous “Tubular Bells” theme for The Exorcist and how Roy Scheider convicted Fosse to let him be the lead in All That Jazz. I can see why they wouldn’t fit in the documentary, but they are interesting in their own right.

A Decade Under the Influence is a good introduction to the cinema of the 1970s, but it’s only an introduction. I would find other sources to cut the treacle and get a more balanced view of the time.

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