Mel Brooks' filmmaking career has been a continual source of amazement and amusement for me. Highlighted in The Producers, the unique combination of sophisticated wit and Yiddish vaudeville that inhabit his brilliant comic mind materialized in Brooks’ brilliant yet often erratic films. The manic hilarity of the 2,000 year old man and the distinctly crazy sense of humor that established Brooks as a legendary comedy writer and presence transferred often in a visually shocking way. Mel Brooks' distinct method of transferring his madness into movies became his signature calling card.
The first five minutes of Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider is so perfect that at the end of it you feel like you had watched a whole movie. By the time the music kicks in, "The Pusher" from Steppenwolf, you feel like you are watching a sequel to those first five minutes.
What made the movie special was the way it approached the topic of first contact. It was not through the typical science fiction fare and space battles we have come to expect from 21st century Hollywood. Much like 2016's, Arrival, nearly 30 years earlier, 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind took a very original and very cerebral approach to sci-fi storytelling. Rather than the challenges of interspecies linguistics, the film used music as the unifying language between man and extraterrestrials. This theory was later explored by then OMNI editor Claire Evans. Perhaps the success of Arrival is why Close Encounters of the Third Kind holds up for me. Sci-fi films that, at their core, are not relying on special effects but rather challenge the intellect in a more organic fashion often best stand the test of time.
Warren Beatty's Heaven Can Wait begins in the same California hills where his Shampoo ended. But where George in Shampoo reached a dead end, Joe Pendleton embarked on a fanciful journey that he hoped would transcend death. The uality of Heaven Can Wait springs from the ease with which Beatty, who co-authored with Elaine May, co-directed with Buck Henry, and produced, transforms his sophisticated stud image into the awkward innocent who sets the film's screwball plot into action. However, while Shampoo's comedy seems to have stood the test of time, Heaven Can Wait's somewhat convoluted plot line of who-died-and-came-back-to-life-as-who? and focus on the 70s with its satire left it less well remembered than its counterpart.
As long as Norman Wexler (who also wrote Serpico)'s screenplay stays on or near the dance floor, Saturday Night Fever can do no wrong. The rituals, atmosphere and unapologetic promiscuity that define the disco culture of the 70s are captured with the same authenticity and immediacy common to all movies that stand the test of time. John Travolta– having already reached teenage heartthrob status playing Vinnie Barbarino in “Welcome Back Kotter”– was the right pick for Tony Manero. The actor has the smile and presence of a natural movie star and Travolta fuses the audience's attention long before his dazzling dance sequences, which he handles supremely.
Michael Ritchie's film adaptation of Dan Jenkins' raucous, ribald and satiric look at football fanaticism in Dallas was a heavy favorite going into production. The novel’s savvy view of pro football in the 1970s, at the dawn of pop culture, acknowledged with a sly wink the absurdity of approaching anything as superficial as pro football with a religious aura of seriousness. Aging running back Billy Clyde Puckett (Burt Reynolds), receiver Shake Tiller (Kris Kristofferson) and Barbara Jane Bookman (Jill Clayburgh), who've grown up together in Big D football, are wild and edgy characters. Dan Jenkins' Super Bowl scenario, featuring a stoned-out bash with members of each team the night before the game, made Semi-Tough look unstoppable, looking to visualize the life behind the closed doors of the football elite.