[Originally published in Movietone News 53, January 1977]
1976 is a year I’m very pleased to see the back of. Several especially nice things happened to me during the past twelvemonth, but an oversupply of cloaca also insisted on hitting the fan with dispiriting frequency, and a good deal of it was cinematic cloaca. Any year in which the man who just made Nashville turns around and makes Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bulls History Lesson, and people who really ought to know better hail Lina Wertmuller as a distaff version of the Second Coming and Network as a serious film of intellectual and aesthetic importance, and the public is asked to pay good money to watch Midway, Gable and Lombard, Won Ton Ton, The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox, Scorchy, The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday, Swashbuckler, Vigilante Force and A Star Is Born Barbra Streisand–style can’t be anything but the harbinger of a new Dark Age.
It didn’t help that some normally reliable film artists seemed ‘way off the beam. That The Magic Flute, Bergman’s not-very-adventurous filming of a Mozart performance, or Face to Face, a closet drama of a rather insipid creature who was welcome to stay in her closet (Liv Ullmann’s heroic performance notwithstanding), failed to move me much wasn’t particularly disheartening or even unexpected. (I wish he’d make a spy movie.) Neither, given the international coproduction problems and the preponderance of treacle in the basic makeup of The Blue Bird, was there great surprise in George Cukor’s inability (decision?) to just let the thing lie there and moult.
But Robert Altman seemed, in Buffalo Bill, to have read all the misconstrued negative appreciations of Nashville and set out to make a numbingly heavyhanded tract just as those commentators had accused him of having done already. Vincente Minnelli, cast in the role of paterfamilias and cineaste-sage, scuttled all the wondrous possibilities for resonance in A Matter of Time and came up with nothing more than a kindergarten exemplum, and in Pathecolor, yet. Peter Hunt demonstrated in Shout at the Devil that he can still find nifty camera angles from which to tell a story and can cut action footage like nobody’s business, but the story was silly beyond redemption and Hunt wasn’t quite prepared either to meet the anachronism and triviality head-on or to get some urbane distance on it. The Tenant was an honorable aesthetic and autobiographically allegorical failure on Roman Polanski’s part, but the closed narrative circle of the film ultimately suggested nothing so much as an act of auto-fellatio—formally challenging but not very productive.
Remakes and sequels ran amok. The unignorable $24 ($23? $25?) million remake of King Kong turned out to be not so much beneath contempt as beside the point. The Pink Panther Strikes Again included comic footage as hilarious, as graceful, and as eerily beautiful as we have come to expect from Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers (including the longest-playing Clouseau-vs.-Kato duel of them all, pushed to the nth degree with complete success); but as an entire film it felt like rather more than one Pink Panther entry too many—something like the superfluous final season of a once-indispensable television series. The Enforcer was such a poorly directed (by Jim Fargo), ill- (or un-) thought-out Dirty Harry picture that this time probably no one will even bother to comment on its politics. A Star Is Born was so clumsily put together, for all the dough available, that only a Streisand fan could love or excuse it; and I have never pretended to be a Streisand fan.
A couple of items generally excoriated by critics and film fans alike seemed to me a little better than their reputations, advertising, or makers’ interviews implied. That Penn, McGuane, Brando and Nicholson did The Missouri Breaks “for the money” seemed—and seems—to me no shameful thing, and the film, fitful as it may have been, served up a generous share of moments of beauty, terror, perplexity and complexity. And Lipstick was more intriguingly complicated and even gutsy in its intentions and impact than most of the reactionary commentators seemed aware; for this, it appears, the greatest share of credit belongs to Lamont Johnson. Auteur! auteur!
Thanking heaven for small favors that seemed less and less small in this barren film year, I’d like to record my particular and considerable pleasure in such programmers and cast-offs as Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, Ivan Passer’s Crime and Passion, James Frawley’s The Big Bus, Richard Lester’s The Ritz, and what I feel like calling Sam Elliott’s Lifeguard (directed by Daniel M. Petrie).
It’s almost showtime, but I feel obliged to mention that Taxi Driver isn’t going to appear on my Big Ten. I haven’t top-rated a Martin Scorsese movie yet (not that I expect him to pause and examine the error of his ways on that account), although a belated revisit to Mean Streets in 1975 made me wish I’d done better by it in 1974. Scorsese is without question one of the most exciting talents on the contemporary scene, and I never fail to take delight and encouragement from the way he keeps reinventing the soaring-crane variety of Old Hollywood exhilaration within the ferocious milieux he obsessively celebrates. But despite my admiration for all the performances and many of the directorial coups in Taxi Driver, I couldn’t help finding the film as a whole—and what I take to be Paul Schrader’s part of it—frustratingly reductive in the last analysis, and a little this side of the last analysis, too.
1. THE MYSTERY OF KASPAR HAUSER (Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle / Every Man for Himself and God against All) (Werner Herzog; West Germany, 1974). This is the first year in my Movietone News history of doing this sort of thing that it’s taken so long (November) for a film to walk up and say, “I’m the one, of course. So what else is gonna make your Ten Best List?” Some people who have known me and my film tastes a good while were mystified that this one did it to me; and I must say that Herzog’s precision-and-nicety-of-expression-be-damned approach scarcely jibes with my usual taste in movies. But from the very first image of Kaspar Hauser there was never any doubt that I was into thrilling alien country, and no other new film of the year left me as shaken. (The Seattle Film Society in collaboration with the West German Consulate)
2. LA CHIENNE (Jean Renoir; France, 1931). The best film I saw for the first time in 1976 was The River—not, I suspect, a Seattle première, and so I here partly honor that one by indirection. Not that La Chienne alone wouldn’t have made it onto my List. What’s the bit about stout Cortez and Chapman’s Homer? You can’t encounter La Chienne without sensing that a window has just been opened onto the entire sound era. (Seattle Film Society)
3. BARRY LYNDON (Stanley Kubrick; Great Britain, 1975). I don’t blame anybody who hated it, but the immaculate integrity of Kubrick’s production and the vision it embodies is too awesome to be denied. I have no patience with those who criticized the film for being cold because it wasn’t warm. Admittedly, it had never occurred to me that Stanley Kubrick could be compassionate. He can, but only on his own terms. I like that. (SRO Cinerama)
4. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (Alan J. Pakula; U.S.A., 1976). It has been a reasonably well-kept secret that Alan Pakula is the most classical American filmmaker to emerge in the past couple of decades, mainly because few people worry much about that sort of thing. I still think The Parallax View is the most thrilling and most disturbing film Pakula has made; but All the President’s Men is a triumphant demonstration that one can film a pre-sold project with absolute integrity of purpose, and create a movie that is dazzlingly watchable for the full spectrum of audiences, and richly resonant as personal cinema. Cheers to Robert Redford for deciding to work with a good director for a change. (Various SRO houses)
5. JONAH, WHO WILL BE 25 IN THE YEAR 2000 (Alain Tanner; Switzerland, 1976). Making political movies without sacrificing the dimension of fallible individual humanity and gratifying entertainment value has been a reigning bugaboo of both contemporary filmmaking and contemporary film theory. Alain Tanner, co-writer John Berger, cameraman Renate Berta, and an unexceptionably intelligent and appealing cast have made the most honorable, most successful attempt since Godard declared FIN DU CINEMA. Boredom is not, after all, indispensable to edification. (Seven Gables)
6. ALI—ANGST ESSEN SEELE AUF (Fear Eat Soul/Fear Consumes the Soul/All Those Called Ali) (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1974) and FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (Faustrecht der Freiheit / Fist-Right of Freedom) (R.W. Fassbinder, West Germany, 1975). I considered letting Alistand for the several Fassbinders I encountered this year (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant was premièred locally by the SFS and the German Consulate, and I drove to Vancouver, B.C. to catch Beware of a Holy Whore), but finally both these remarkable love stories demanded to be recognized as distinct and distinctive achievements, each expressing Fassbinder’s despairing vision in tones and terms of its own. There are many more Fassbinder movies waiting to be shown in Seattle. My experience of his prodigious output remains limited, but so far he seems incapable of making a film that isn’t ravishing in formal precision, daring, and hard-edged beauty. (Ali—Seattle Film Society; Fox—MooreEgyptian)
8. ALICE IN THE CITIES (Alice in den Städten) (Wim Wenders, West Germany, 1974). Another very different kind of love story from the Federal Republic, Alice is as peculiar, as homey, as surprising, as perplexing, and as randomly fascinating as the kind of bathtub-stopper one encounters in a temporary room. Few odysseys have seemed so healthy, so necessary, or so casually ritualized. There may be no way back into “the lost world of John Ford,” but films like Wenders’ remind us there are other worlds worth exploring—by car, plane, monorail and train, through reportorial black-and-white and the luminous eye of imagination. (Seattle Film Society, in collaboration with the West German Consulate)
9. WELCOME TO L.A. (Alan Rudolph; U.S.A., 1976). On the basis of his screenplay for Buffalo Bill, I shouldn’t have thought Alan Rudolph would be the person to get away with making a virtue of pretentiousness, but directing is doing and seeing is believing. Welcome to L.A. can be faulted, or at least delimited, for its unavoidable borrowings from Nashville, California Split and The Long Goodbye, but then those films partly belonged to Rudolph anyway (as very involved assistant director), and besides, Welcome ends up describing a form—and a formal destiny—all its own. A most auspicious directorial debut, featuring—like most of the other films on this list—a gallery of richly achieved performances. No other American film this year took so many daring chances, most of them made good on. (Harvard Exit)
10. ROBIN AND MARIAN (Richard Lester; Great Britain, 1976). At first glance, Robin and Marian seemed a case of once-too-often-round-Robin-Hood’s-barn for fuddled-swashbuckler director Richard Lester (The Three Musketeers) and anachronism-chasing, angst-made-cute writer James Goldman (A Lion in Winter, not to mention brother William’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). The script still rankles, by and large, but Lester’s magical mood-making and myth-remaking just wouldn’t get out of my head. In a time when so many movies, even moderately pleasurable ones, are out of mind almost as soon as out of sight, that counts for a good deal. (Various General Cinema houses)
I’m naggingly all but certain that Satyajit Ray’s Distant Thunder and François Truffaut’s The Story of Adèle H. belong on my List, but there was no opportunity to resee the first and I always found reason to defer reseeing the second; and in each case my viewing dates from almost a year ago. If a film’s personal significance to me plus an epochal performance were sufficient warrant to include a picture in the Ten Best, then Don Siegel’s The Shootist, starring John Wayne, would be there. Other films that came a lot closer than numerical spread might indicate include: Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï, Joseph Losey’s The Romantic Englishwoman, Claude Chabrol’s Juste avant la nuit, Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (which was shorn of 20 minutes for Stateside audiences), Brian De Palma’s Carrie, François Truffaut’s Small Change, Abel Gance’s Bonaparte and the Revolution, Claude Goretta’s L’Invitation, and Luis Buñuel’s Le Fantôme de la Liberté. Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot was droll, adroit but, for all its felicities, disconcertingly minor. And Brian De Palma’s Obsession, for all its agreeably voluptuous, Herrmann-scored emulation of Hitchcock at his most delirious-making, struck me as tainted and trivializing. Jean-Charles Tacchella’s Cousin, Cousine had a good deal more going for it as cinema than “just” warm and likable characterizations, but as it developed a case of A Man and a Woman overkill (at least locally), it was harder and harder to regard with favor.
If I were in a position to give awards I’d send a gold-plated replica of Jake Gittes’ nose bandage to each of the following:
Best Director: Since it’s all but unthinkable that the best film of the year wouldn’t be the “best directed” film of the year, I generally reserve this category for the director whose movie most consistently and distinctively excited me, from one moment to the next, as end-product of the thousands of large and small decisions that only one man can make, finally, and make right. In this case, Alan Pakula for All the President’s Men.
Best Actor: Sean Connery, Robin and Marian. This one got settled early on, partly because Connery had come so close in ’75 with The Man Who Would Be King and The Wind and the Lion, but mainly because his Robin Hood possessed greater breadth and strength and ever-evolving beauty than any other characterization I seemed likely to encounter, or did encounter. Most serious challenge: John Wayne’s J.B. Books in The Shootist—compromisedmainly by its feeling like such an officially larger-than-life role, for which pretension Wayne himself didn’t seem to be responsible. I shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of choosing Michael Caine, The Romantic Englishwoman; Robert DeNiro, Taxi Driver; Sam Elliott, Lifeguard; Dustin Hoffman or Robert Redford, All the President’s Men; Yves Montand, Vincent, François, Paul et les autres, or Bruno S., The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser.
Best Actress: Sissy Spacek, Carrie.The runners-up are much better than also-rans, but Spacek’s performance seemed especially compelling to me, in its range and power, because I’d stupidly shrugged off her previous work as a sort of funky counterculture byproduct. Also very worthy of consideration were: Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adèle H.; Geraldine Chaplin, Welcome to L.A.; Candy Clark, The Man Who Fell to Earth; Barbara Harris, Family Plot; Audrey Hepburn, Robin and Marian; Sally Kellerman, Welcome to L.A.; Liv Ullmann, Face to Face.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Harvey Keitel, Welcome to L.A. Indispensable to their various movies were: Helmut Berger, The Romantic Englishwoman; Karl-Heinz Böhm, Fox and His Friends; Robert Duvall, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution; Richard Harris, Robin and Marian; John Lithgow, Obsession; Jason Robards, All the President’s Men; Leonard Rossiter, Barry Lyndon; Robert Shaw, Robin and Marian; Leon Vitale, Barry Lyndon; Nicol Williamson, Robin and Marian.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Jane Alexander—if any one character expressed what All the President’s Men was about, it was her character the way she played it. Other especially memorable female performances included those of Betty Buckley, Carrie; Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver; Piper Laurie, Carrie; Viveca Lindfors, Welcome to L.A.; Kathleen Loyd, The Missouri Breaks.
Best Screenplays: William Goldman, All the President’s Men (adaptation); Alan Rudolph, Welcome to L.A. (original—with a healthy nod to Richard Baskin’s suite “City of the One Night Stands”).
Best Cinematography: John Alcott, Barry Lyndon. Very honorable mentions: Nestor Almendros, The Story of Adèle H.; Renato Berta, Jonah, Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000; Michael Chapman, Taxi Driver; Tonino Delli Colli, Seven Beauties; Gerry Fisher, The Romantic Englishwoman; Dave Myers, Welcome to L.A.; Anthony Richmond, The Man Who Fell to Earth; Bruce Surtees, The Outlaw Josey Wales; David Watkin, Robin and Marian; Gordon Willis, All the President’s Men.
In anyone’s experience, a year’s new movies are not limited to those technically new to the area. Without question the film event of my year was seeing a near-perfect 35mm Technicolor print of Jean Renoir’s The River (1951)—for which deepest thanks to the producer, Kenneth McEldowney. Other first-timers I’d like to acknowledge, in order of their original release: Hearts of the World (D.W. Griffith, 1917), Foolish Wives (Erich von Stroheim, 1920), A Farewell to Arms (Frank Borzage, 1933), Swing High, Swing Low (Mitchell Leisen, 1937), Dance, Girl, Dance (Dorothy Arzner, 1940), Le Corbeau (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1943), Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1946), D.O.A. (Rudolph Maté, 1949), Caged (John Cromwell, 1950), Le Plaisir (Max Ophuls , 1951), 99 River Street (Phil Karlson, 1953), Decision at Sundown (Budd Boetticher, 1958), Room at the Top (Jack Clayton, 1959), The Crimson Kimono (Sam Fuller, 1959).
I also took particular pleasure in getting straight on, getting to like more than ever, or just reencountering after much too long: Avanti!, The Beguiled, Breaking the Sound Barrier, The Killer Elite, Man without a Star, Midnight, Ruby Gentry, Three Comrades and Wild River. I’d also like to cast a vote for King Vidor’s The Fountainhead, more vaulting than ever in 35mm, and ill-received by a Moore Egyptian audience that behaved just the way Howard Roark would have expected them to.
Other MOVIETONErs have some lists and remarks of their own:
ROBERT C. CUMBOW
First off, two films that should have made my Best of 1975 list, had I not seen them too late for last year’s roundup: John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (easily the second-best film of ’75), and François Truffaut’s L’Histoire d’Adèle H. [Ed. note: Adèle H. did not open in Seattle until 1976.)
Seattle premieres, 1976 (order of preference): Obsession(Brian De Palma); Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick); The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg); Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese), All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula); Family Plot (Alfred Hitchcock); and, to round out the ten, four less-polished films that nevertheless flashed brilliant often enough to earn a place in my memory of “the best”: Carrie(Brian De Palma); Robin and Marian (Richard Lester); The Missouri Breaks (Arthur Penn); The Shootist (Donald Siegel).
Personal premieres, 1976 (order of preference): Sunrise (F.W. Murnau, 1927); Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1951); Seven Chances (Buster Keaton, 1925); Doktor Mabuse der Spieler (Fritz Lang, 1922); Sisters (Brian De Palma, 1973); The 3 Godfathers (John Ford, 1948); Spione (Lang, 1928); Charley Varrick (Donald Siegel, 1973); Rancho Notorious (Lang, 1951); I Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943).
Seen again for the first time: The Searchers (John Ford, 1956); She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (Ford, 1949); Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948—and thanks to CBC-TV, Vancouver, for a gorgeous print of the “book version,” almost completely uninterrupted).
Other Bests of the Year: Actor—Cliff Robertson, Obsession. Actress—Candy Clark, The Man Who Fell to·Earth (a close second: Sissy Spacek, Carrie). Supporting Actor—Nicol Williamson, Robin and Marian. Supporting Actress—Geraldine Chaplin, Welcome to L.A. Most Electrifying Cameo—Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver. Sleazy Weasel of the Year—Bill McKinney, The Shootist and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Best Score—Bernard Herrmann, Taxi Driver. Screenplay—Paul Schrader, Obsession. Cinematography—Vilmos Zsigmond, Obsession, with Bruce Surtees distinctly worthy of mention for The Outlaw Josey Wales.
Disappointment of the Year: Buffalo Bill and the Indians (Robert Altman).
Worst Film of the Year: Murder by Death (Robert Moore).
New or comparatively new in 1976, in order of preference: Welcome to L.A. (Alan Rudolph), Jonah, Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (Alain Tanner), Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick), All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula), Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975), The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (R.W. Fassbinder), One Thousand and One Nights (Pier Paolo Pasolini), Jean’s Wife (Yannick Bellon), Fox and His Friends (Fassbinder), The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache), Carrie (Brian De Palma), Between Friends (Don Shebib).
Oldies seen for the first time in 1976 (another baker’s dozen): Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks), Rio Bravo (Hawks—well, not literally for the first time, but … well, for the first time; previous viewing was twelve years ago, on black-and-white TV), 7 Women (John Ford), Wild River (Elia Kazan), The Scarlet Empress (Josef von Sternberg), Sunrise (F.W. Murnau), Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor), His Girl Friday (Hawks), La Chienne (Jean Renoir), The Big Heat (Fritz Lang), My Darling Clementine (Ford), Stella Dallas (King Vidor).
Among new releases and premieres, the strangest impressions I recall from 1976 stem from encounters with the mystical, elegiac, and even obsessed cinemas of a wide-ranging field of directors that accommodates the likes of Werner Herzog (Kaspar Hauser), Brian De Palma (Obsession), Don Siegel (The Shootist), Arthur Penn (The Missouri Breaks), Richard Lester (Robin and Marian), and Wim Wenders (Alice in the Cities). Two other accomplished American masterpieces of 1976, Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese) and All the President’s Men (Alan Pakula) are certainly right at the core of what was great about movies this year, and a film seen in Seattle for the first time earlier in 1976—Jean Renoir’s The River—has to be similarly positioned at the center of any year’s cinematic revelations. Finally, Ali stands out as the finest of the three or so Fassbinders to come this way recently, and that, almost without saying, earns it a niche in my list.
The line of films I’m grateful to have seen in 1976 goes clear around the block, especially in the category of non-’76 reruns which I have just managed to catch up with. I was particularly impressed, though, with Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Robert Aldrich’s The Longest Yard, Claude Chabrol’s Juste avant la nuit, Jean Renoir’s La Chienne, Orson Welles’ unretouched Touch of Evil, Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James, Billy Wilder’s The Major and the Minor, and Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men.
Alain Tanner’s Jonah, Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, Alan Rudolph’s Welcome to L.A., Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive, Claude Chabrol’s Une Partie de plaisir, R.W. Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Claudine Guilemain’s Véronique, José Luis Borau’s The Poachers, Alexander Kluge’s Strongman Ferdinand, Chabrol’s La Rupture, Marco Bellocchio’s Victory March
Oldies (in order seen):
Jean-Pierre Melville’s Les Enfants terribles, Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour, Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute, Nicholas Ray’s The Savage Innocents, Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop around the Corner, Luis Buñuel’s Death in the Garden, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, Jean Renoir’s La Chienne , Vincente Minnelli’s The Clock, King Vidor’s Ruby Gentry
In order of preference:
The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser (Werner Herzog), Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick), The Story of Adèle H. (François Truffaut), Ali—Angst essen Seele auf (R.W. Fassbinder), The Bitter Tears of Petra van Kant (Fassbinder), All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula), Robin and Marian (Richard Lester), The Shootist (Donald Siegel), Alice in the Cities (Wim Wenders), Welcome to L.A. (Alan Rudolph).
Copyright © 1977 Richard T. Jameson