1973 marked one of the best moments in film history. In the United States, it was the peak of New Hollywood. The best minds from the first film schools joined veterans discovering new freedoms and TV directors who brought their experience, narrative solidity and liberal social vision to the big screen. Outside the U.S., Italy and France produced great sociopolitical films and works that echoed of French New Wave, while the rest of the world enjoyed rarities like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain.
We offer a primer of several 1973 films currently available for streaming, a criteria that leaves out titles including Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Badlands and the prophetic Soylent Green. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary things about this review is that, 50 years later, three of these filmmakers are still making movies: Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Victor Erice.
A Long Goodbye, by Robert Altman
Along with Chinatown, produced the following year, the film is one of the keystones of the neo-noir genre. This gritty story prefigured a new kind of private detective. Despite adapting Raymond Chandler’s famous novel, the sly Philippe Marlowe, played by Elliot Gould, lacks glamour. Even the smoke from his perpetual cigarettes, which make him mumble his lines rather than declaim them, have ceased to be elegant. Altman begins his story with Marlowe trying to trick his cat and the animal refusing the disgusting food. He sets the story in the seventies, and Vilmos Zsigmond, his famous director of photography, composes a cold, near-colorless image. Available on Filmin.
The Exorcist, by William Friedkin
Few films in the history of cinema are more influential, more copied and more parodied than the myth of Father Karras. The terror appears well into the story, after a woman’s pain due to her daughter’s physical deterioration and a priest’s remorse about abandoning his elderly mother. In 2000, Friedkin presented a director’s cut that made the original worse in some aspects: devil holograms; Regan’s narratively clumsy descent down the stairs; and music in moments in which cold silence originally dominated. Available on Amazon Prime Video.
The Sting, by George Roy Hill
This is a rare film that appeals to everyone, generation after generation: the movie buff, the good-time viewer and the intellectual. It’s brilliant but light, artistic but not pretentious, beautiful and charismatic. Robert Redford and Paul Newman had made Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, also directed by Roy Hill, four years earlier. Few can pass by this ode to the intelligence of scams and the nobility of well-crafted racketeering. A jewel from the seventies that recalled cinematographic techniques from the thirties, the movie won seven Oscars, including Best Film. And, incredible as it may seem, it brought Robert Redford his only Best Actor nomination in his entire career. Available on Filmin.
Day for Night, by François Truffaut
Truffaut has an art for creating intellectual films with the flavor of popular cinema. In this work, the French director does not use his alter ego Jean-Pierre Léaud, instead putting himself in the director’s role, and the always formidable Georges Delerue wrote a few musical compositions for the story. A love letter to the cinema, this could well be a film by Lubitsch shot after the appearance of the French New Wave. Godard, perched on his vantage point, was annoyed by how Truffaut described the artistic process and accused him of selling himself out to the general public. The controversy ended their friendship. Available on Amazon and Filmin.
Don’t Look Now, by Nicolas Roeg
The British director drew from literature to create his memorable montage technique, fragmenting sequences, and even entire films, into tiny pieces to give them new meaning. This masterpiece of terror, mystery and doom, based on a story by Daphne du Marier, features a historic sequence of love and sex between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. A married couple sees their young daughter die and wakes up from a shock in a ghostly Venice, among bad omens and a master lesson in how to use the color red. Available on Filmin.
American Graffiti, by George Lucas
Youth culture was born at the crossroads between the 1950s and 1960s, and Lucas returns to that point to recall his adolescent doubts, create the best high school prom movie ever, and transcend the United States’ idealism and its suburban culture. The movie speaks to any town in any Western country whose residents dream of leaving everything to pursue a better, or at least more fun, future. The nostalgia turns bitter and gloomy despite the colorful packaging, the effervescence and an extraordinary, hit-packed soundtrack. Lucas, who had already shown in THX 1138 that he could make superb adult sci-fi, is now forever lost to anything non-Star Wars. We gained a myth, but we may have lost a director with eclectic possibilities. Available on Filmin.
Serpico, by Sidney Lumet
Lumet, the great filmmaker of corruption — political, business, judicial, religious and mafioso — deals here with the corruption in the New York police department and the integrity of the “weirdest guy to ever pass through a police station,” a bearded Italian-American hippy played by Al Pacino. In the words of Lumet himself, it is the story of a “true rebel with a cause.” The director, methodical and organized to perfection during filming, only allowed himself one freedom: allowing his actors to improvise some dialogues. The film is based on real events and characters. The real Frank Serpico asked Lumet if he could visit the set and see how Pacino acted him, but the producers forbade it because it could destabilize the actor’s concentration. Compared to the policemen of Dirty Harry, released two years earlier, Lumet’s film was a specimen of the counterculture. Available on Filmin.
Amarcord, by Federico Fellini
Dedicated to the Rimini of Fellini’s adolescence, Amarcord is symbolic right from its title: a reinvention of the phrase “a m’arcord,” which in the Romagnol dialect means “I remember.” The director, and his co-writer Tonino Guerra, wrote a memoir in the form of vignettes of emotional and, above all, sexual growth. In Rimini today, a whole school of fans, commentators and actors attempt to identify the film’s characters and sets and to locate the historical basis for the various sequences. Fellini abhorred such attempts, as Tullio Kezich recounts in his biography about the filmmaker: he saw it as undermining his ability to create universes and dreams. Many have speculated on the real existence of a robust tobacconist who invited young boys to suck on her nipples. Available on HBO Max.
Mean Streets, by Martin Scorsese
Now it’s so common as to be dull, but at the time, the fact that Scorsese illustrated his mafia adventures with American pop songs was a fantastic novelty. Set in the New York neighborhood of Little Italy, where the director grew up, the mean streets of the title are also the shadows of the soul, especially those of Harvey Keitel’s guilty Catholic. The fight in the billiards, with “Please, Mr. Postman” thundering in the background, has gone down in history due to the energy of the camera, which moves between the corridors and punches like one more character. Did any of those who saw it premiere in Cannes think that 50 years later the director would be considered a living myth? Available on Amazon Prime Video.
The Spirit of the Beehive, by Víctor Erice
The work is the only Spanish film included among Sight & Sound’s 100 Greatest Films of All Time. Erice’s symbology joins Ángel Fernández-Santos’s visuals, Luis Cuadrado’s honey-colored photography with Rembrandt tones, Ana Torrent’s huge eyes, Isabel Tellería’s whispers and, of course, Frankenstein, the marginalized monster of the Spanish postwar period. Produced by Elías Querejeta, Erice left a handful of imperishable images. His lyrical sensibility crosses the screen to become an experience close to the mystical. Unexpectedly, in just a few months we will have a new film by Erice. Available on HBO.
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