Impact of 1970s cinema still being felt, filmmakers say |

Impact of 1970s cinema still being felt, filmmakers say

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

In a salute to American filmmaking in the 1970s, some of Hollywood’s most prominent directors and producers gathered at the Wheeler Opera House Saturday afternoon for a discussion on the past, present and future of the industry.

The event was part of a tribute to the 25th anniversary of Filmfest.

The panel comprised director and producer Sydney Pollack, production and costume designer Polly Platt, cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs and director William Friedkin. Actor Richard Dreyfuss was slated to join the panel, but severe back spasms left him bed ridden in a Denver hotel.

Following a series of clips from noteworthy movies in the 1970s, including “The Last Picture Show,” “The French Connection,” “American Graffiti,” “3 Days of the Condor,” and “Jaws,” Friedkin, acting as moderator, introduced the panel.

Friedkin’s career began in the early 1950s, when he worked his way up from the mailroom of a local television station to floor manager in live television. Among other achievements, he directed “The French Connection,” and “The Exorcist.”

“We were influenced by radical movements and European films of the time,” Friedkin said.

Pollack, like many filmmakers at the time, had a television background, including “The Fugitive.” His experience in television, he said, gave him a unique point of view.

“There weren’t any film schools at that time,” he said. “[Television] was great training, because you didn’t get any chance to rehearse.”

When Pollack made the switch to film, where both the story and the production advance at a slower pace, it took him awhile to adjust.

“It took me at least one film to calm down,” he said. “You didn’t have to hit a climax every eight minutes.

“It was a learning experience – you could take a little time to tell the story.”

Pollack’s films from the 1970s include “Jeremiah Johnson,” “The Way We Were,” “3 Days of the Condor,” “Bobby Deerfield” and “The Electric Horseman.”

Kovacs immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1957, following the uprising against the Soviets, which he filmed. His first job in the States was taking Polaroid photos for identification cards. A little over 10 years later, he would film “Easy Rider.”

When the film was presented to Kovacs, he said he “almost screamed.” He had already shot several biker films in the mid-1960s, including “Hell’s Angels on Wheels” and “A Man Called Dagger,” and wanted to disconnect himself from the genre.

A meeting with actor Dennis Hopper, however, changed his mind.

“It was a very dramatic presentation from Dennis,” Kovacs said. “Suddenly it wasn’t a bike movie anymore.”

Polly Platt was the first woman to become a production designer in the Art Director’s Guild. Her two greatest films in the 1970s were “The Last Picture Show” and “Paper Moon,” both collaborations with Peter Bogdonovich.

Platt said she misses those times, when screenplays were more creative and the production simpler.

“It’s so awful the way we have to shoot now,” Platt said. “The biggest difference is we could still make films [in the 1970s] without name actors. We didn’t need to have stars.”

The panel agreed that, generally speaking, the quality of films has deteriorated significantly in the past 20 years. The economic structure has changed, Platt observed, as studios are now more focused on the marketing of the movie, rather than the movie itself.

“It was a different time [in the 1970s],” Pollack said. “[Movies] didn’t have to make as much money.”

In the studios’ efforts to reach mass audiences and make big bucks, Platt feels they are producing bland, typical, overhyped pictures.

“I can’t watch the major studio films,” Platt said. “They’re depressing. I can’t think of anything that has made me walk out feeling better about my life, better about the world.”

Pollack also cited the American public’s short attention span.

“If you don’t get the clothes off fast or the gun out quick, you’re in trouble,” he said. “[Audiences] want to feel something intense, quickly, without wasting a lot of time.”

Friedkin, however, feels that with the advent of digital film, there may be a renaissance on the horizon.

“I believe in digital,” he said. “We’re on the cusp of the digital revolution.”

Friedkin said digital opens up a whole new world of inexpensive filmmaking, because the format doesn’t require as much attention to light or production.

“Anyone can go make a film,” he said.

Kovacs and Platt both agreed that digital could be the key to the next generation of filmmaking, but both have their reservations.

“We still have to make films,” Kovacs said.

Said Platt: “We still need scripts.”

[Steve Benson’s e-mail address is]

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