“Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American '70s”
By Charles Taylor
197 pages, $27
It’s never been easy to be a movie critic. In the current digital era, though, where the internet has ignited an occupational holocaust in every direction of the information business, everyone seems to want to save money by eliminating every real movie critic except for those at New York Times and a few other stragglers who got lost on the way to the sports department. When everybody and his doofus in-laws can publish opinions, what possible virtues can supersede ubiquity?
Well, there is knowledge, for one, and wit and style for a couple more – not to mention total independence of thought and integrity for yet another (the list could go on.) So let’s offer Charles Taylor as a platinum-plated model of how it ought to be done. And let’s noise it about that this book is a hugely entertaining and wise way to do all of that.
In an era when a younger generation is actually proud of their ignorance of the past and their contempt for it, Taylor is having a fine old time by going outside of the prevailing orthodox opinion of the '70s as a Second Golden Age of Truly Great American movies – both parts of “The Godfather,” “Chinatown,” “The Wild Bunch,” “Taxi Driver,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” etc. True enough, but Taylor’s projector is happily running some films of lesser repute that made American movies marvelous before 1977's “Star Wars” began the infantilization Taylor deplores; something we’re still deeply immersed in today. He’s talking about Michael Ritchie’s outrageous “Prime Cut” starring Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman and “Hickey and Boggs” starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby of “I Spy.” And the unforgettable Pam Grier in “Coffy” and “Foxy Brown.” And Floyd Mutrux’ “American Hot Wax,” which starred Tim McIntyre as Alan Freed and which some of us would opt for seeing again long before seeing “American Graffiti.”
“There’s a certain pleasure to be taken in the hard honesty of these pictures,” writes Taylor.
It’s the same pleasure to be taken in this honest and brilliant critic rearranging what people ought to know about movies in an era when machines do most of the knowing.