How can I write a movie blog on the year 1977 and not cover a certain film that changed the world and lives for generations to come?
Well I’m gonna do just that. Because if I was to write about what that particular trilogy means to me it would take an entire book to do it justice.
Therefore I’m going to talk about three other movies you could have gone to see in 1977 that I absolutely love and one WTF moment of cinema karma, that shows that not everything movie related is made with me in mind.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
In the 70’s and early 80’s I devoured anything to do with Science Fiction. Any television show set in space I watched, ignoring the really cheap special effects available to the makers of Dr Who and Blake’s Seven at the time. I went through the entire collections offered by my local video rental stores, though was rather bemused by my parents insistence that just because they were science fiction I was not old enough for Alien and Flesh Gordon. I lost countless school hours thanks to my mum writing sick notes so we could go watch the latest Star Wars, Star Trek and the many ripoffs and cash ins. I even sat through the rather baffling to a young child 2001.
I was too young for Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, but I got a second chance when the movie came around again in 1980 when Stephen Spielberg’s special edition. While nowadays it’s expected that money hungry studios will milk fans with extended editions which often add little to the original except running time, there were valid artistic reasons for Spielberg to bring out a fresh cut. Spielberg was unhappy with the original and was rushed by the studio to make a 1977 release. In 1980 he cut some scenes to make way for brand new footage (the Special edition was actually shorter by a few minutes than the original) without which I would have missed out on one of the most dazzling experiences at the cinema I can remember having.
When I went with my Mum and Dad to see the Special Edition I don’t think I knew what to expect. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” had that iconic name I recognised , but I knew next to nothing about it, except that it was about UFOs. The eerie poster of a light on the horizon of a road at night hinted at something of a horror movie. And for the first half of the film, Close Encounters does have a horror vibe to it.
The actions of the mainly unseen Aliens come across as menacing. They have a history of kidnapping inhabitants of Earth from all walks of life. Airlines are harassed by near misses, vehicles that have gone missing 30 years ago turn up mysteriously (the reveal of a cargo ship in the middle of the Gobi desert is stunningly unexpected). Everyman engineer Richard Dreyfus is tormented with an assault of bright lights that burn half his face and rocking his truck to his foundations. People who are witnesses to the rapid phenomenon of UFO encounters come across seemingly mentally scarred, showing scenes of obsessive behaviour. Frankly it feels like these visitors are fucking with us.
Most sinister of all the is these Aliens obsession with luring away a young boy from his mother and their isolated farmhouse home. The stalking of this family is quite spooky and develops into the downright terrifying. It starts with the little lad been awoken with all his electrical toys taking a life of their own as we get hints that something has invaded the home. There is great sequence where we see the boy investigating and he sees something (we presume the aliens) off camera that confuses and unsettles him at first but with a big smile on his face something that clearly delights and excites him, enough in fact for him to go chasing after it in the middle of the night. In order to get this shot as authentic as possible, Spielberg had the boy enter the room to see the director sat on a sofa next to a guy in a gorilla suit (thus getting the confused look). Spielberg than brought out a giant toy from behind the sofa to give to the boy and hence get the delighted look. Talk about messing with the kids mind.
The mother manages to catch up with the child but the aliens later come back for the child. It’s a frightening scene as the house becomes under siege from unseen attackers, the only glimpse we get is the bright orange glow from outside when the boys opens the front door. Frantically the mother attempts to block off every entrance to deny the tormentors entry, not helped by the innocent boy trying to get outside as he wants to join the aliens. When the kid finally escapes through the catflap and the distraught mother attempts to drag him back in by his legs it’s an incredibly intense and disturbing moment.
Amazingly Close Encounters turns completely around in expectations, when we find that this is not the precursor to an alien invasion but is actually a series of attempts to make contact and communicate with us. The abductions are an attempt to exchange knowledge, the psychosis left on the UFO witnesses is actually an invitation, imprinting the image of the Devil’s Tower landmark in Wyoming in their minds as a calling to where the aliens intend to meet with humanity. It’s another creatively wonderful scene, where Dreyfus is in his ruined living room where he has been driven to build a giant replica is on the phone oblivious to a news report of a crashed train on television showing the mountain that’s he been searching for the meaning of.
Dreyfus’s quest to find out what is going on, the boy’s mother Jillian’s search for her son and the Government’s conspiracy to cover up their first contact with the aliens all leads to one of the most stunning final acts I have ever witnessed on the big screen. The arrival of the fleet of alien ships is wondrous, bombarding the senses with a variety of weird shaped craft, all flying in different bizarre manners and radiating with vibrant lush colours. But it’s just the entree, paving the way for the entrance of the gigantic mothership that appears over Devil’s Mountain, an awe inspiring, majestic sight and with one of the most underrated ship designs in Sci Fi history.
Leaving the theatre as a child I was so energised for being blessed at seeing Close Encounters on the big screen. Not just for the visual spectacle, but it’s also a profoundly positive movie. In a decade where the trend was for the edgy and downbeat, and a genre that warns of the dangers of the future, Close Encounters is curiously hopeful. The primary motivation of the movie is understanding and communication (even the Government’s concern is to open a dialogue albeit in secret), as evident by the iconic Close Encounters five beat tune that acts as the first interchange between humanity and the aliens.
It’s a film that leaves many threads hanging. The fate of Dreyfus, chosen by the aliens in favour of the skilled astronauts and scientists to be the emissary between the two cultures is uncertain as he leaves aboard the mothership as it ascends into the heavens. The intentions of the aliens remains vague. In the interchange of music between the scientists and the craft, one of the humans admits they have no idea what they are saying to each other and many years of interpretation lay ahead. But the final farewell of the main alien (which bears such a resemblance to ET that some have tried to tie the two movies together in a shared universe) with an enchanting smile and the repeat of the five move hand gesture signifies that we have witnessed the first step to an understanding.
It’s an optimistic movie, that tells us we are not alone…and it’s going to be ok.
I realise this may be a little bit of a cheat including this as a 1977 movie when I’ve talked primarily about the 1980 special edition. Close encounters is one the earliest films I know of that had a re-edited edition and for many people the 1980 version is the one they are most familiar with with the most prominent difference being the glimpse of Dreyfus being inside the mothership. While this was the version I saw in the cinema I became more familiar with a televised broadcast that was the 1980 cut but missing a few scenes such as the meeting of the UFO witnesses at a government hearing and the long and comfortable scene of Dreyfus wrecking his neighbours gardens and his own living room in building the Devil’s mountain replica.
Just to make things more complicated Spielberg revisited the film in 1998 with the collector’s Cut and went and cut out the scenes of the interior of the mothership (which he regretted adding feeling it ruined the sense of mystery) and brought it back more in line with the 77 cut that he initially wasn’t happy with. Spielberg considers this the definitive version of the film and at least it isn’t a balls up like his awful ET cut.
The Spy Who Loved Me
Roger Moore ranks very low on my personal list of favourite James Bonds. For me he rarely displayed got to the darkness and brutality of Bond’s psyche. There was also a severely forced delivery of Bond quips and his films were very hit and miss. However during Moore’s tenure we got the Spy Who Loved Me, one of my favourites of the Bond movies and without a doubt the largest and most epic adventures of 007. A film that in many ways is a massive departure from the traditional Bond movies and the vision of Ian Flemmings original novels, yet it’s from here that we see most of the elements that are associated with the franchise particular when it comes to parody. In no other Bond film do we get this array of exotic locatons, elaborate action sequences and a Villainous scheme so massive it would cause an alliance of Britain, Russia and the US to come together to bring it down.
The change of direction of The Spy Who Loved me was almost an all or nothing punt for the future of James Bond. The franchise had seen better days. Moore wasn’t quite clicking as Bond, his first two films had not been received well by fans with Man With the Golden Gun being a disappointment at the Box Office, The spy/secret agent genre was floundering with the Cold War theme giving way to a trend for internal government corruption films in the wake of Watergate. Legal issues were also plaguing the films, with the threat of a rival Bond movie following the legal issues over the rights to the Thunderball story. Meanwhile Harry Saltzman who had been co-producer since the begining left after financial woes, leaving Cubby Broccoli to steer the new direction.
Broccoli’s plan was to go bigger, doubling the budget from Man with the Golden Gun to fourteen Million to do justice to the scale of the plot (bearing no resemblance to the novel of the same name) which involved an environmentalist Karl Stromberg stealing nuclear submarines from the UK, Russia and USA in order to trigger a nuclear holocaust that will wipe out the surface world and allow him to start a new utopia under the sea.
All the money is on the screen. There’s the sets aboard the giant tanker which houses the command centre and captured submarines, and hosts the massive machine gun battle between the captured submarine crews and Stromberg’s army and the Underwater citadel. The numerous action and fight scenes, featuring car chases with a rocket firing motorcycle sidecar, a machine gunning helicopter (piloted glamorously by Caroline Munro of Star Crash fame and who delivers the sexiest wink you’ll ever see in a film), underwater battles and a White Lotus Espree that transforms into a sub to travel underwater.
Of course one of the film’s highlights happens before we even get to the opening credits (accompanied by the sublime “Nobody does it Better” by Carly Simon), in the Ski Chase down an Austrian mountain. Bond escapes from a team of KGB agents by skiing off the edge of the mountain and falls for what seems an eternity until too the triumphant cry of the 007 theme music a parachute opens, proudly emblazoned with the Union Jack flag. The stunt that has been voted the favourite James Bond moment in numerous polls is 100% real and had a certain amount of risk, just look at how close one of the falling skis comes to colliding with the parachute.
The Spy Who Loved Me is amazing fun and one of the most endearing of the movies. It’s helped by a good supporting cast, featuring the imposing figure of the silent, steel jawed henchmen “Jaws” the only Bond baddie to survive to the end of a film and to make a reappearance in the proceeding movie Moonraker (which story wise is a practical carbon copy of The Spy Who Loved Me except set in Space, exchanging stolen submarines for Space Shuttles to cash in on the Star Wars craze).
We also get possibly the most interesting and well motivated Bond girl in Barbara Bach as Soviet agent Triple X. Bach is the Russian counterpart to 007 (it transpires that one of her missons was stealing the plans for the Q’s Lotus supercar), just as capable, clever and knowledgeable as Bond, able to outwit the British agent several times before they have to form an uneasy alliance to track down the missing submarines. There is a real chemistry between the two that makes it believable when romance occurs during the mission. However the relationship develops a real edge when it’s revealed that one of the KGB agents Bond kills at the start of the movie was her lover, leading her to vow to kill Bond once the mission is over. (Spoiler: then end up shagging instead).
Spy Who Loved Me is amazing fun, a favourite of the traditional Bank Holiday British television schedule. It’s one that can appeal to die hard Bond fans, casuals and even those who have never seen a Bond film before. For entertaining it’s audience no other 007 outing does is better……I should really be slapped for that.
How I got into my late 20’s having never even heard of Slap Shot is incredible considering A, it’s one of the best sport movies ever made and B, stars one of my favourite actors in his prime, that being Paul Newman. In fairness as far as 70’s Newman films goes it was a box office disappointment, dwarfed by such films as Towering Inferno and Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid. However despite the mediocre reviews at the time Slap Shot has become a genuine cult classic and has aged probably better than his more successful movies, and was voted the number one “Guy film of all time,”by Maxim magazine.
In Slap Shot, Newman is the captain of a struggling Ice Hockey team The Charlestown Chiefs. Things are bad on both the rink and off it with the dire fortunes of the town meaning the team is unbeknown to the rest of the players about to be folded at the end of the season. Newman is also lumbered with three new players, the weird, nerdy and seemingly unhinged Hanson brothers. Reluctant at first to play them, Newman with nothing to lose finally lets them on the rink and resulting carnage is spectacular as the three proceed to beat the living shit out of the opposition.
The three goons become notorious for their violence, with several games descending into riots as the Hanson’s battle fans and players alike. Newman realising the crowds and fans are responding to the fights, senses that this is a way to save the team and encourages the rest of the team to follow suit. He even goes on radio to call out the goons on rival teams to further the tension and likelihood of trouble on the rink. His new direction though causes problems between him and his star player who insists on playing Hockey the right way.
A lot of people who have ever been to a game of Ice Hockey will tell you that the fights are one of the best things about the game. I went to a Ice Hockey match in Kansas and being used to the pathetic handbags scuffles of English Football was amazed by the fights between players, marvelling how two players would beat the living shit out of each other (while standing up right on skates which must be a skill in itself) while referees simply stand back and let them get it out of their system and merely keep the other players from getting involved. I was even more perplexed that expecting they’d get banned for a few games the player’s punishment seemed to be simply 10 minutes in the sin bin. I came away thinking “This sport Rocks!”
As such I loved Slap Shot as it focused on the violent aspects of the game that I enjoyed. The film is hilarious, especially the riot scenes with the Hansons. In one memorable scene the Hansons invade the crowd in search of a fan who has thrown a set of keys and hit one of them. As a mass brawl breaks out in the stands the opposition stands watching bemused. One player halfheartedly asks if they should get involved which draws simply incredulously looks from his team mates, drawing the response “Just a thought!”
This scene is actually based on a real incident with three brothers named the Carlson’s attacking the crowd after one of them had been struck by an object thrown by a fan. Likewise the scene where the Hansons attack the opposition before the opening whistle is based on a game between the Johnstown Jets and the Buffalo Norsemen, where offensive, racial signs by the Norseman fans drove the Jets to attack the other side during the warm up.
The Hanson brothers themselves developed a cult following and after the film enjoyed a cult resurgence they had two direct to dvd sequels based around them in 2002 and 2007. I’ve not seen them but reactions have been pretty horrible. More successful was wrestling promoter Paul Heyman who used the Hansons and their iconic nerdy thick glasses as the basis for his ECW tag team the Dudley Boys.
There is a lot to enjoy in Slap Shot. As well as the bloody brawls and antics of the players, there is a fair amount of social commentary. The team’s troubles run in line with those of the town, with the impending unemployment looming for the many due to closure of the local mill. This mirrors the closing of industries in America in the 70’s and the uncaring attitude of profit over people is highlighted by the owner of the Chiefs who insists on winding up the team despite their new found success to benefit from a tax rightoff. The 70’s obsession with violence also shows itself in how the team only gain big crowds and popularity when they become a goon team.
Slap Shot is a great movie that deserves a wider audience. It’s a distinctly 70’s feel and features a grizzled performance by Newman that fans really need to check out.
Saturday Night Fever
If ever there was a film that I’d totally misjudged what it was about it’s Saturday Night Fever.
It was one of the films that I kinda assumed I’d seen, being so familiar with the music and the scenes of Travolta strutting down the street while carrying a can of paint and dancing under the disco lights while in his subtle as a kick in the balls white suit. I even had a copy of the gloriously kitschy soundtrack on vinyl at one point in my life, a record I absolutely adored even in my glam rock only days.
Then several years ago I realised I’d never seen the entire film. So arranging for a movie night with a friend who had a copy (I believe this was the same night as the infamous WTF viewing of the Stockholm sydrome musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) I sat down to enjoy what I expected to be a lively musical, albeit with a gritty urban tone and full of the indulgence and decadence of disco.
What I was shocked by was how dark this movie actually gets, disturbingly so. I knew that Travolta’s Tony Manaro was going to be a cocky, in love with himself arsehole, that I get. But when he steps over the line and knocks around his dance partner and object of his affection Stephanie in a car park and tries to rape her, is this really the guy we’re meant to be rooting for.
Then on a drive out with his crew of arsehole buddies, he does nothing while a young fan of his Annette is effectively gang raped while drunk in the back of the car. But at least he kinda shows some consciousness and remorse after, right up to the moment he calls her a C**T for little it happen. Lovely eh? I almost cheered when one of the nasty chums falls off the Brooklyn Bridge minutes later.
Oh and as for the friend he tried to rape earlier? Oh that is all fine because he goes round to her place and talks it out with her, she’s fine with the apology and the film ends abruptly with a freeze frame and the Bee Gees sing “How deep is your love?” as the credits role. I was left thinking what the hell was that all about.
I’m with Twisted Sister, “Disco Fucking Sucks”
Well that’s 1977 done, only another 40 instalments to go.
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