[Originally published in Movietone News 57, February 1978]
I felt a little off-balance throughout film year 1977, and it took me most of that time to figure out why. Even eccentric filmwatchers fall into patterns of expectation, and my Platonic Ideal of eccentricity was taking a beating. Too many of the big, heavily financed productions the freewheeling freelance looks forward to trashing turned out to be not bad films at all. By reverse token, the year was virtually devoid of sleepers—the unexpected, born-to-be-lost-in-the-shuffle beauties like Gumshoe, Bad Company, Charley Varrick and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia the enterprising commentator looks forward to saving for posterity and, in the meantime, directing a few adventurous viewers toward. Just why there were no sleepers is hard to say. Maybe there is so much written on film nowadays that every film’s fair chance at the limelight is conceded in advance. Add to this that the Jet City has acquired an industry rep for scaring up an audience for movies that die on the vine elsewhere. Then too, in recent years we have been dubiously blessed with at least one exhibitor willing to cry sleeper every other week, so that the term has tended to be devalued hereabouts—especially when many of the so-called sleepers have proved resolutely undistinguished.
It just may be that the biggest and, in its rather trivial way, happiest surprise of the year was a George Roy Hill movie that most reviewers suddenly felt compelled to attack for having the flaws all the director’s more popular works have manifested in abundance; I went into that in my quickie of Slap Shot in MTN 54, and I continue to recall this rowdy, raunchy, sharply acted sports comedy with pleasure. And while I was liking a movie by a director I normally find exasperating in the extreme, I was let down—anywhere from mildly to precipitously—by such customarily reliable types as Sam Peckinpah (Cross of Iron), Don Siegel (Telefon), Michael Ritchie (Semi-Tough), Dick Richard (March or Die), and Robert Aldrich (The Choirboys—though not so much Twilight’s Last Gleaming). Fred Zinnemann compelled respect and gratitude for his impeccable craftsmanship, if not necessarily artistry, in Julia. Herbert Ross astonished by coming on like, of all things, a personal director in The Turning Point and, to a lesser extent, The Goodbye Girl. Robert Benton fell a little short of the promise of Bad Company with The Late Show, but that film was one of the early pleasures of the year all the same.
I invested a larger-than-expected portion of my critic’s and viewer’s passion defending two impressive failures, Richard Brooks’ Looking for Mr. Goodbar and William Friedkin’s Sorcerer. Both films seemed programmatically bent on coming at Resonance from precisely the wrong direction—appliqué-ing rather than letting it develop from within. Still, I went back to see both again, and admired the in-depth, Lean-like production values Friedkin placed his faith in in Sorcerer, and was intrigued by the schizoid passion Brooks invested in his exploration/denunciation of the singles-bar scene. I wish I could persuade myself to follow Andrew Sarris’ lead and polemically boost Goodbar onto my Ten Best list, because this in many ways admirable film seems to have been the movie to dump on this year—especially by people who had no idea who Brooks was and what else he’d done. It was perversely amusing, if dispiriting, to hear various commentators trying to explain how an experienced filmmaker with a 30some-year career behind him and complete artistic control over his projects managed not to notice that Diane Keaton was turning his doomed heroine into a supremely assertive and admirable character.
I was on the side of a number of major endeavors that fared indifferently or downright poorly at the box office, and with many critics, early in the year (or, elsewhere, late the previous year). Elia Kazan and Harold Pinter’s adaptation of The Last Tycoon finally went aground on Kazan’s almost congenital inability to feel in his bones the sort of complex stylistic shift he tried to employ to make Monroe Stahr’s passion for movie magic underwrite the poetically despairing atmosphere he sought to substitute for Fitzgerald’s absence of a resolution. Franklin Schaffner’s Islands in the Stream was a deeply felt testimony to—and at times seems almost a cinematic testament of—a glibly devalued artist and his vision. Roger Ebert was probably right on the money when he suggested that audiences stayed away from Black Sunday because they heard that, finally, nothing—i.e., no cataclysm—happened; John Frankenheimer’s manipulation of both the machineries of destruction and the machineries of screen suspense was nevertheless intensely committed. As for the year’s official bad joke, John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, I admired its ambitious stylistic abstraction even as I deplored its many miscalculated narrative twists and line readings; it deserved better than the audiences it got—but then “interesting failures” have always been pet items with me, whereas the very concept of “interesting failure” doesn’t begin to make sense to a lot of people. I continue to prefer being wrong with the likes of Boorman to being right with the booboisie.
Another curious phenomenon of film year 1977 was that the movies that most irritatingly interrupted the flow of films through town weren’t the wretched pop flicks like The Deep, Orca and Valentino, or even arthouse atrocities like Casanova and La Grande Bourgeoise, but rather a numbingly unremarkable collection of pictures that were neither good nor bad, but simply … extraneous to anything like the art of the cinema. A Bridge Too Far arrived, gave no offense, and faded with the morning dew. If there has ever been a less vital “Best Foreign-Language Film” than Black and White in Color, I don’t remember what it was. And while Jan de Bont’s correctly exposed, richly saturated colors and some energetic performances by the likes of Monique van der Ven and Peter Faber made Keetje Tippel and Max Havelaar a couple of more-than-usually-agreeable period pictures, the space-y rumors of a “Dutch New Wave” seemed pretty silly. Such intrinsically harmless diversions look more sinister when we consider that their tying-up of local arthouse screens helped deprive Seattle of the chance to see Herzog’s Stroszek, Wenders’ The American Friend, Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, Fassbinder’s Effi Briest (and Jail Bait, Chinese Roulette, Katzelmacher et al.) the same year they were topping Ten Best lists and winning critics’ awards in other cities.
From what we did get to see, I pick these:
1. KINGS OF THE ROAD [Im Lauf der Zeit / In the Course of Time] (Wim Wenders: West Germany, 1976). When we consider how oppressively omnipresent cars have been in the cinema of the Seventies, it’s amazing that so few filmmakers have captured any sense of what it feels like—which has a lot to do with what it means—to be motivating one’s way on wheels through an indifferent landscape. Wim Wenders and the quietly magical camerawork of Robbie Müller put the car—or, here, van—and the movie machine together more dynamically and suggestively than anybody else currently at work, and Wenders does it without recourse to races, chases, and caravans of Texas loonies. At once easeful and deeply stirring, Kings of the Roadis instinct at every level with the knowledge that the cinema is a quest. It was also a pleasure to see a film about a curiously intense male relationship devoid of both homosexual overtones and facile buddy-movie hijinks. If Kings of the Road hadn’t already been my Number One film since its single showing last spring to about a hundred souls, it would probably lay claim to this space as a means of acknowledging Wenders’ The American Friend, which I saw in ’77 but which didn’t reach a public screen in Seattle that year. (Seattle Film Society, in cooperation with the German Consulate)
2. AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (Werner Herzog: West Germany, 1972). With my 1976 topper Kaspar Hauser making a strong comeback in Movie House revivals and four other Herzogs getting public screenings this past calendar year, this most mysterious of modern masters became the first of the New German Directors to achieve a major breakthrough in relation to the local film consciousness. (I’m disqualifying, of course, the Schlondorff–von Trotta Katharina Blum, extravagantly overrated in 1976.) I continue to rate Kaspar Hauser highest among the Herzogs I’ve seen, but I can understand how Aguirre‘s more splendiferous complement of oddball period adventure, spectacular scenery, freakish political allegory, and baroque acting (especially Klaus Kinski in the title role) make it the more widely accessible film. Once again, history and geography seem to have conspired to supply both events and environs only Herzog could have adequately realized on film. (Moore Egyptian Theatre)
3. F FOR FAKE (Orson Welles: France, 1973). Although it is distributed by Specialty Films, a Seattle-based company, and has been since 1976, F for Fake has had but a single showing in this city. The first two times 1saw it, in more or less private circumstances, I felt sure the film’s abundant playfulness would communicate itself to any imaginable audience; yet Specialty’s do-less-ness about the movie may be understandable, since the Second Seattle International Film Festival audience I saw it with seemed largely bewildered by the whole thing. Still, to anyone who loves film as a medium and as an art, Welles’ most up-front elaboration of his most obsessive theme—his art and persona—is joyous and thrilling. (Moore Egyptian)
4. ANNIE HALL (Woody Allen: U.S.A., 1977) and NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Martin Scorsese: U.S.A., 1977). Two of the most dynamic and involving love stories in the past decade or so. Allen got ahold of himself as a movie director for the first time, and Scorsese finally came out of the social-relevance closet and acknowledged himself a passionate Hollywood mythmaker. It would be grievously wrong to cite these films without also paying tribute to the people onscreen, especially Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, and Robert DeNiro and Liza Minnelli. (Both SRO)
6. THE MARQUISE OF O… (Eric Rohmer: West Germany, 1976). Kathleen Murphy perceptively observed that in Marquise Rohmer in effect goes back in time to explain where the problematic world of the contes moraux came from. Whereas in his contemporary films Rohmer explores characters who erect passionate moral conviction in the face of an appealing permissiveness, here he demonstrates how one passionate impulse shivers the whole of a rigid societal structure. Exquisitely controlled, of course, and informed with a fine—and passionate—irony. (Seven Gables)
7. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (Steven Spielberg: U.S.A., 1977) and STAR WARS (George Lucas: U.S.A., 1977). Many commentators I greatly respect have plunked themselves firmly in the path of the year’s sci-fi juggernaut, seeking to file much-needed protests against the New Mindlessness. It would be sad indeed if nothing but Close Encounters and Star Wars could succeed at the box office, and certainly much of the enthusiasm for the films is mindless even if the movies themselves aren’t. But joy is its own imperative and both these films are radiantly committed to it. Besides, Spielberg’s and Lucas’ marshalling of time and space crackles with assurance of a kind that has all but seeped out of our movies, and they give me hope for the commercial cinema’s future. (CE3K, King Cinema; Star Wars, UA150)
9. CRIA! [Cria cuervos / Raise Ravens] (Carlos Saura: Spain, 1975). One of the heirs of Buñuel weaves an evocative tale of love, death, identity, and terribly serene obsession. Saura has Ana Torrent look directly into the camera again and again, not only because he knows no audience can resist her, but because his films approach the solipsistic nature of experience so uniquely and powerfully that we never know when we as viewers are being implicated in the proceedings. (Moore Egyptian)
No more boldface. After a protracted sequence of considerations and reconsiderations, I’ve decided to leave the tenth slot open. Bertolucci’s four-hours-and-five-minutes English-language cut of 1900 came close to claiming it, yet for its myriad splendors the film has something insubstantial about it; I’ve seen it twice but it keeps slipping away from me. Robert Benton’s The Late Show charmed me a lot, and I find Benton’s sense of the filmic past not at all parasitic, but finally the movie was just too threadbare in supplying generic requirement like, for instance, enough suspects to make the token mystification worthwhile. I owe second visits to Victor Erice’s Spirit of the Beehive, Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala, Alain Resnais’ Providence, and Robert Altman’s 3 Women, any of which might have made a respectable choice. In view of the fact that Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Images, California Split and Nashville all placed on previous lists of mine, it may seem odd to demur at the film some commentators have hailed as the director’s best and most personal yet. It may be, too, that 3 Women is destined to take its place within hailing range of the ghostly legacy of Murnau and Mizoguchi. But I can’t shake the feeling, at this point, that Altman’s dream-strategies are finally too literal to qualify for sublimity—though I hope the film manages to change my mind about that at a later date.
Other notable films … In addition to Kings of the Road, the SFS can be proud of having provided premiere showcases for Claude Chabrol’s Une Partie de plaisir, Robert Bresson’s Au hasard, Balthazar, Karoly Makk’s Love, André Téchiné’s French Provincial, Carlos Saura’s The Garden of Delights, Hans W. Geissendorffer’s Jonathan, and Nelson Pereira Dos Santos’ How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman, not to mention the Nick Ray biofilm I’m a Stranger Here Myself. R C Dale’s UW Lectures & Concerts series on Chabrol gave us our first look at Ophélia, Greg Olson’s Seattle Art Museum program on “French Dreamers” included the local premiere of the Cocteau-Franju Thomas l’Imposteur, and the ASUW Major Films Series brought in Herzog’s The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner, Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore, and Bertolucci’s Partner. Besides Aguirre and Fassbinder’s Mother Kusters’ Trip to Heaven during their Second Seattle International Film Festival, the Moore Egyptian aided the New German cause by laying on midnight screenings of Herzog’s Fata Morgana and Even Dwarfs Started Small; they also brought us three splendid Philippe Noiret performances via The Clockmaker, Let Joy Reign Supreme (Que la fête commence…) and The Old Gun. The Seven Gables theatres showed Yves Robert’s best film to date, Pardon Mon Affaire—for abstract hilarity, perhaps the funniest film of the year—and Ettore Scola’s likable We All Loved Each Other So Much, plus the first film of Truffaut protégé Claude Miller, The Best Way (before its New York opening) and Claude Goretta’s The Wonderful Crook (Pas si méchant que ça… ).
And now to the winners of this year’s coveted Richies, who will have their names personally seeded in watercress on the ground of their choice by Bruno S.:
Director: Herzog made Aguirre five years ago; Welles made F for Fake only a year after that, and he can’t strictly be said to have directed all of it; Woody Allen may have shown himself an accomplished conceiver of entire film properties for the first time, but Annie Hall still isn’t what springs to mind as I try to think of directed movies. The cinema may be getting bigger, looser, more expansive and encompassing, with the comparatively finite function of director becoming an anachronism. But I’ll violate my customary procedure in this category and give the nod to the director of my Best Film, because Wim Wenders managed to go with the flow of the New Cinema and still thrill and delight me with the myriad moment-to-moment decisions and selections I associate with making a film a watchable onscreen reality.
Screenplay: By the same token, so many of the year’s liveliest films seem to have been realized, given their essential form long after the scripting process was declared complete. The movies that seemed the most written without getting cute about it: Annie Hall, by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, and The Late Show by Robert Benton.
Cinematography: For sheer overwhelming size, energy, variety and splendor of accomplishment, Vittorio Storaro on 1900. Supplementary citations: Douglas Slocombe for the exquisite control of Julia; that rack-focus favorite of the Cinemobile era, Laszlo Kovacs, for showing how ravishingly well he can cut the mustard in the all-soundstage world of New York, New York; Charles Rosher Jr. for the airy, casual-seeming textures of 3 Women and The Late Show; and of course Haskell Wexler’s evocative, Oscar-winning job on Bound for Glory.
Actor: Robert DeNiro looked like the one when I first saw New York, New York in the summer, and I want all the more to stress his Jimmy Doyle after his wildly inappropriate work for Bertolucci in 1900. Other splendid turns: Art Carney in The Late Show, David Carradine in Bound for Glory, James Coburn in Cross of Iron, Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl and Close Encounters, Charles Durning in Twilight’s Last Gleaming, John Gielgud and Dirk Bogarde in Providence, Paul Newman in Slap Shot, George C. Scott in Islands in the Stream, Sylvester Stallone (hohum) in Rocky.
Actress: Diane Keaton, Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Annie Hall. If that one was never in doubt, there was still mighty impressive competition: Shelly Duvall and Sissy Spacek, 3 Women; Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, The Turning Point; Jane Fonda, Julia; Danièle Gégauff, Une Partie de plaisir; Liza Minnelli, New York, New York; Kathleen Quinlan, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden; Lily Tomlin, The Late Show; Ana Torrent, Cria!.
Actor in a Supporting Role: No clear front-runner, and so a collective nod to the three male role-models of 1900: Werner Bruhns, Sterling Hayden, and Burt Lancaster, all much more interesting than the official protagonists. Tom Skerritt, an actor I have always found irritatingly manneristic heretofore, was marvelous in The Turning Point, and Jason Robards managed to make Dashiell Hammett more than a token male cameo in Julia (though he is in danger of overdoing the crusty-integrity bit, after this and All the President’s Men). Also special: Georgie Auld in New York, New York, Richard Gere in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Jeff Goldblum in Between the Lines, Edward Fox in A Bridge Too Far, and Robert Duvall in The Eagle Has Landed.
Actress ina Supporting Role: A casting and directorial coup: Susan Jones and Lisa Pelikan, two girls who might very credibly have grown up to be Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave in Julia. Also: Redgrave herself, Julia; Leslie Browne, a very cannily exploited amateur in The Turning Point; Geraldine Chaplin, Cria!; Stefania Sandrelli, 1900; Tuesday Weld, Looking for Mr. Goodbar; Gwen Welles, Between the Lines.
Music Score of a Non-musical: Miklos Rozsa’s witty, rapturous, self-parodying work on Providence—an indispensable level of Alain Resnais’s beguiling formal gamesplaying in an unexpectedly entertaining movie.
Besides brand-new and delayed first-runs, anyone’s film year notably includes close encounters of the cinematic kind that warrant mentioning whether they be regional premieres or not. My own archival Ten Best List—stretched to eleven in compensation for my previous self-denial-reads, in chronological order of release: Charles Chaplin’s A Woman of Paris (for which much thanks to the Moore Egyptian), D.W. Griffith’s Isn’t Life Wonderful?, Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother (directed by Ted Wilde), King Vidor’s Hallelujah!, Carol Reed’s Night Train, Vidor’s H.M. Pulham, Esq., Clive Brook’s On Approval, Budd Boetticher’s Ride Lonesome (but only in small-screen black-and-white, so far), Luis Buñuel’s The Young One, Joseph Losey’s The Criminal (actually the abbreviated American version, The Concrete Jungle), and Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000. I should also reserve a special mention for John Ford’s wartime documentary The Battle of Midway. It was a thrill to see Sirk’s The Tarnished Angels in the essential CinemaScope format, and Nicholas Ray’s Rebel without a Cause in 35mm CinemaScope thanks to Dana Benelli’s ASUW Major Films Series. Reseen in the context of a Winter ’77 course at the UW, Billy Wilder’s much-maligned Kiss Me, Stupid looked suspiciously like a masterpiece; it was also good to visit The Apartment again, which has now progressed from spiffy (1960) to dated (1969) to timeless, from my vantage.
Other MTN contributors would like to say a few words:
ROBERT C. CUMBOW
Nice Things about 1977
New Films (Seattle Premieres ’77): 3 Women (Robert Altman), Close Encounters of the
Third Kind (Steven Spielberg), Cross of Iron (Sam Peckinpah), Annie Hall (Woody Allen), Star Wars (George Lucas), The Late Show (Robert Benton), New York, New York (Martin Scorsese), One on One (Lamont Johnson)
Personal Premieres: Alexander Nevsky (Sergei Eisenstein), Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg), Triumph des Willens (Leni Riefenstahl), The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman), Lumière (Jeanne Moreau), Die Nibelungen (Fritz Lang), Scarface (Howard Hawks), Kanal (Andrzej Wajda), Earth (Alexander Dovzhenko), Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Paul Leni)
Seen again for the first time: Fort Apache (John Ford), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman), The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah—European version shown by SFS), Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa)
Big Disappointments: Sorcerer (William Friedkin), Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Richard Brooks), Islands in the Stream (Franklin Schaffner)
Most underrated: Exorcist II: The Heretic (John Boorman)
Best job of making a mediocre film look promising in the trailer: Rollercoaster (Universal), Sorcerer (Paramount-Universal)
Actors: Robert DeNiro, New York, New York; George Burns, Oh, God
Actresses: Diane Keaton, Annie Hall and Looking for Mr. Goodbar; Lily Tomlin, The Late Show
Supporting actors: G.D. Spradlin, One on One; Richard Kiley, Looking for Mr. Goodbar
Supporting actresses: Melinda Dillon, Bound for Glory, Slap Shot and Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Tuesday Weld, Looking for Mr. Goodbar
Cinematography: Haskell Wexler, Bound for Glory; Vilmos Zsigmond and prodigious brethren, Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Charles Rosher Jr., 3 Women; Laszlo Kovacs, New York, New York
Musical scores: Gerald Busby, 3 Women; John Williams, Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Screenplays: Robert Altman, 3 Women; Steven Spielberg, Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Robert Benton, The Late Show; Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, Annie Hall
And for best director … Mr. Altman, meet Mr. Spielberg.
Eleven Best, 1977
1. Kings of the Road (Wenders)
2. Annie Hall (Woody Allen)
3. The Marquise of O… (Rohmer)
4. Cria! (Saura)
5. Providence (Resnais)
6. Meat (Fred Wiseman)
7. Islands in the Stream (Schaffner)
Out of the Past
8. Isn’t Life Wonderful? (Griffith)
9. A Woman of Paris (Chaplin)
10. Gun Crazy (Joseph Lewis)
11. Belated Flowers (Abram Room)
These are the films—new to Seattle or to the world in general during 1977—which have meant the most to me over the past twelve months:
1. Dersu Uzala
2. Kings of the Road
3. The Wild Bunch—the European version (Sam Peckinpah)
4. Aguirre, Wrath of God
5. Annie Hall
6. Signs of Life (Herzog)—had not hard a public showing in Seattle by the end of 1977
7. New York, New York
8. Bound for Glory (Hal Ashby)
10. 3 Women
Top Films for 1977
1. Wenders’ Kings of the Road and The American Friend
2. Fassbinder’s Ali—Fear Eats the Soul
3. BuñueI’s That Obscure Object of Desire
4. Saura’s Cria!
5. Woody Allen’s Annie Hall
6. Welles’ F for Fake
7. Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women
8. Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala
9. Herzog’s Stroszek and Aguirre—The Wrath of God
10. Scorsese’s New York, New York
11. Fassbinder’s Jail Bait; Fox and His Friends; Chinese Roulette
12. Richard Benner’s Outrageous
Best “Oldies” for 1977 (in order seen): Lang’s Ministry of Fear, Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore, Wenders’ Alice in the Cities, Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small, Lubitsch’s The Merry Widow, Minnelli’s The Pirate, Nicholas Ray’s Bitter Victory, Rossellini’s Blaise Pascal, Téchiné’s French Provincial, Penn’s Night Moves (edited for TV), Delannoy’s Symphonie Pastorale, Fassbinder’s An American Soldier.
Best Short Films: Silver’s Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Kadar’s The Blue Hotel, Herzog’s Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner, Nancy Roper’s Doodling, Fred Burns’ Roll ‘Em Lola, Milos Macourek’s A Bird’s Life
1. Aguirre, the Wrath of God
2. Kings of the Road
3. The Marquise of O…
4. Au hasard, Balthasar (Robert Bresson)
5. F for Fake
6. New York, New York
7. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
8. 3 Women
9. Looking for Mr. Goodbar
10. Star Wars
Copyright © 1978 Richard T. Jameson
A pdf of the original issue can be found here