movie attendance reaches an all-time low -- 7/18/17

Today's selection -- from Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth. In 1971, cinema attendance reached an all-time low, some TV movies were outdrawing movies in theaters, and movie studios were "hemorrhaging cash." The breakout hit Jaws, a movie that led the way back into the consumer's wallet and signaled Hollywood's resurgence, was still four years away:

"Looking back on the movies of the year in the New York Times, critic Vincent Canby reflected on what he called their 'blank gaze.' In A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection, and Carnal Knowledge, he remarked, the audience is not invited to root for or against the main characters. Around the time he was writing this, Eddie Egan, the New York cop on whom Gene Hackman's character, Popeye Doyle, had been based in The French Connection, was dismissed from the police department without benefits just before his retirement for acting in real life the way Hackman's char­acter behaved on the screen, and movie audiences had applauded the character.

"Clockwork Orange" lets out at the World Theater on Seventh Street, March 1972.

"There was even less ambivalence in Dirty Harry, the Don Siegel thriller, which was released just before Christmas. Clint Eastwood played corner-cutting enforcer Harry Callahan. 'He doesn't play any favorites,' says a colleague. 'Harry hates everybody.' When Harry strolled through the mayhem in midtown San Francisco, dog­gedly chewing the last of his breakfast as he pointed his Magnum at a wounded bank robber and asked him to guess whether he had a bullet left in the chamber, the audience was clearly being asked to identify with Eastwood as the put-upon defender of law and order. While he enjoyed the film, critic Roger Ebert said that its 'moral posi­tion is fascist.' That didn't prevent it being such a success that it spawned four sequels, each containing a twist on the same scene.

Theatrical release poster Dirty Harry

"In his roundup, Canby remarked that it seemed possible for a film to perform well on America's coasts and yet die in its heartland, pointing out that most of the stylish alternative pictures made in the wake of Easy Rider, such as the James Taylor film Two-Lane Blacktop and Drive, He Said, had actually flopped. The movie industry had looked at the grosses, written off its flirtation with the hippies, and gone back to making movies that reflected the concerns of middle-aged Americans. It would be the Christmas of Fiddler on the Roof, Diamonds Are Forever, and Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

"In 1971 cinema attendance was at an all-time low. From $78 mil­lion a week in 1946, admissions had slumped to less than $16 mil­lion in 1971. The studios were hemorrhaging cash. A movie like Dirty Harry wasn't as big a story as Music, the second new album by Car­ole King released in 1971. The movies seemed to be over. Pictures weren't events. More people saw a TV movie that was broadcast in late November than saw Clint Eastwood's tale of fear and loathing. This TV film, Duel, was about a man who, while driving through the desert, found himself pursued by a malevolent truck with an invisible driver. Duel struck the same chord as Dirty Harry. The out­side world, whether that meant the potholed streets of Brooklyn or the desert roads of California, was full of monsters and was best kept at bay with a gun. The director making his debut was a young man named Steven Spielberg."



David Hepworth


Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year That Rock Exploded


Henry Holt and Co.


Copyright 2016 by David Hepworth


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