Lumière Festival: Eight Things Quentin Tarantino Said About 1970 in the Movies

Nick Vivarelli

Quentin Tarantino for the past four years has been delving deep into the year 1970 in the movies, as he’s been telling audiences at the Lumière Festival in Lyon, run by Cannes general delegate Thierry Fremaux. At the fest Tarantino is presenting a 15-feature retrospective titled “1970,” that includes “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Love Story,” Russ Meyer’s “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” and “Zabriskie Point.”

Here are eight things Tarantino said about that year to Fremaux when they took the stage in front of some 2,000 cheering French fans.

– How his passion for 1970 started

It started because I read the book Mark Harris wrote “Pictures at a Revolution” that takes place in 1967. That’s the year that chronicles the real emergence of New Hollywood. The point that he makes in the book is that by the end of 1967 New Hollywood had won, only they didn’t know it yet. And Old Hollywood was over, even though they didn’t know it yet. By 1970 New Hollywood had won: New Hollywood was The Hollywood, and anything that even smacked of Old Hollywood was dead on arrival.

– Why New Hollywood Did Not Survive 

The more I started going to the library and looking up what was coming out that year, I realised that -yeah – the New Hollywood had won the revolution, but whether it would survive was not clear, because cinema had changed so drastically that it had alienated a lot of the audience that Hollywood had counted on for years, and years, and years. Particularly the family audience, the audience that made “My Fair Lady” or “The Sound of Music” play for five years in movie theatres. That was the audience that Hollywood had always been trying to get; well, they abolished that audience.

-Why 1970 was crucial to keep New Hollywood going for a few years

What we think of as New Hollywood cinema that existed until at least 1976 was more fragile that I thought it was. That experiment could have died in 1970. It could have not worked. But ultimately it did because enough New Hollywood influence did happen, in particular “M.A.S.H.” and “Five Easy Pieces,” to keep the experiment going. But if “M.A.S.H” and “Five Easy Pieces” hadn’t worked in 1970, it’s very doubtful that there would have been an “The Exorcist.” There never would have been a “The Godfather.”

-What is Tarantino going to do with this project

What am I going to do with this project? Am I going to write book about it? Maybe. Am I going to do it as a six-part podcast? Maybe. Will I do a documentary about it? Maybe. I don’t know, I’m figuring it out. But my first stop in dealing with it is coming to Lyon.

-On the freedom Hollywood directors had in 1970

In spending four years constantly looking at that year — and seeing what came before and what came afterwards — you start seeing patterns emerge. And one of the things that happened was there were a lot of promises made in cinema; of possibilities, of a new cinema. It was almost like an immigrant time, it was like Hollywood had never had this kind of freedom before. Could the public handle that kind of freedom that seemed almost limitless at that time? Directors could shoot any book they ever wanted. They could write any screenplay. They could deal with any subject matter. Nothing had to be diced, nothing had to be watered-down. That was a first for Hollywood.

-On new black cinema not emerging after 1970

But there were promises that were not fulfilled. There was a promise in 1970 that a new genuine black cinema would emerge. You had one of the best movies of that year “The Landlord,” Hal Ashby’s directorial debut. That was written by black playwright and screenwriter Bill Gunn. You had Ossie Davis making his directorial debut with “Cotton Comes to Harlem.” You had Melvin Van Peebles doing “Watermelon Man.”…So then there was a thought that a new black voice, that new black directors would emerge, that would be a part of cinema. That ended up not happening. Blaxploitation ended up taking its place. I’m known as a fan of blaxploitation, but now I’m seeing that blaxploitation did derail a true black voice [from] rising in cinema as much as I appreciate it.

-Erotic cinema also did not manage to free itself after that year

The same thing happened for a lot of cinema. There was the promise in 1970 that eroticism in cinema would be taken out of the raincoat crowd, out of the pornography circuit and would actually achieve mainstream success. They [the movies] would play in nice theatres and it would be a cinema for couples to and appreciate, and we had some wonderful artists dealing in eroticism at that time, one was Russ Meyers…That promise seemed to live for a little while. In 1971 you had “Last Tango in Paris,” you had carnal knowledge…However this promise was not fulfilled…Eroticism went back to porno and sexploitation again.

-How 1970 symbolises the end of the 60’s

Nobody in the ’60’s could see how the 60’s would end in the ’70’s. And considering that at least half of the movies that came out in 1970 were made in 1969 that generated a big dilemma. For example one of the big things that was in the news then was the campus radicalism that existed then. In 1970 five movies came out dealing with campus radicalism, including “Zabriskie Point,” “Getting Straight,” and “The Strawberry Statement.” Pretty much they all died when they came out because by the time they came out the audience, the consciousness, had moved on. Only six months later they actually seemed dated.

The one film that dealt one hundred percent with the sixites in a huge way that was a smash in 1970, was “Woodstock.” “Woodstock” proved to be the last word on the subject cinematically.

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