A Decade Under the Influence-2003
Director-Ted Demme, Richard LaGravenese
Starring-Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin
Reviewed April 5, 2016
Produced by the cable network Independent Film Channel (IFC), A Decade Under The Influence explores the decade of 1970’s film, a decade that was arguably the most creative and liberating to filmmakers and audiences alike. A period in film defined by the directors securing creative freedom instead of the studios, where artists instead of corporations finally ruled the roost. A Decade Under The Influence gives us an overview of the era. Despite some conspicuous omissions, I enjoyed this informative piece a great deal.
The documentary is divided into numerous segments including sections on women in film, the transition into a different period in Hollywood, and the subsequent close of the decade. The interviews are plentiful including a who’s who of stars: Martin Scorsese, Ellen Burstyn, Clint Eastwood, Robert Altman, Julie Christie, Francis Ford Coppola, and numerous other influential directors, actors, and filmmakers. Each individual describes his or her perspective on 1970’s cinema, and personal anecdotes of experiences or challenges are shared.
Ellen Burstyn, for example, describes how the success of The Exorcist afforded her a plethora of other film offers, but all of the roles were of prostitutes, dutiful wives, or women in peril. She needed roles more stimulating than those so she chose to star in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which was a much better written role. What I found a bit sad is how there are still limited, layered roles for women in Hollywood to this day unless one goes the independent film route, which this documentary touts as a savior.
Francis Ford Coppola relays how The Godfather was never expected to be a success, but rather, how he was chosen to direct the film merely because he worked for cheap and was Italian-American. How ironic that the film became such a monumental success and influential to film making as a whole for generations to come.
The documentary, at times, seems like an overview of the decade, with many clips of classic 1970’s cinema interspersed with the talking points. Despite being three hours in length, I still felt that there was so much more that the documentary could have explored. Not surprisingly, the stars granting interviews were granted heavy screen time for their films. The documentary was fine, but could have delved much deeper- I could see a multiple disc set totally ten or more hours dedicated to the decade.
One conspicuous omission was of Robert Altman’s Nashville, arguably, the best film of the decade. While it was ever briefly mentioned, and a still frame of a scene from it did appear, I personally felt that it warranted more dissection and discussion. This was more surprising given that Altman was interviewed for the documentary.
Another miss was Halloween, or any mention of John Carpenter films. Halloween clearly influenced many horror films to come and while The Exorcist received heaps of coverage, undoubtedly because star Burstyn and director William Friedkin appear at length throughout the production,. Additionally, in the horror genre, Black Christmas (a highly influential horror film) was not mentioned at all.
A celebration in my favorite decade of cinema, A Decade Under the Influence is a documentary that is a basic must see for fans of 1970’s cinema, or a film student perhaps immersing themselves into the world of great film for the first time.