1979: A Snapshot of Hell

You lie in bed staring at the ceiling fan creaking round and round. You get up, go to the window.

1979, you think. Shit. I’m still only in 1979.

Wait, you’re not there. You’re here in 2013, reading my blog and wondering why I began with a cheesy reference to a classic film.

“Jason,” you say, “what is your beef with the 1970s?”

Well, my friend, let’s look at the aforementioned 1979 a bit, shall we? Through the magic of cinema.

Great, you say? 1979 gave us so many world classics, you say? Like the already-referenced Apocalypse Now, as well as Alien, Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and several more to boot?

Yeah, sure. There were several classics that year. But the classics are not the temperature of the culture at any given time. Sometimes, they are. Other times, it’s far more helpful to look at the non-classics. The mid-range movies that were just trying to make a buck by fitting into the culture, to serve some profitable segment of it.

So, to begin your descent into the hell of the end of the ’70s, I give you C.H.O.M.P.S..

I mean, Hanna-Barbera — 1970s Hanna-Barbera! — in partnership with American International Pictures? Right at the tail end of AIP’s death rattle? Even if you knew nothing else about it, there is just no formula by which a good movie results from that partnership, right? Then you watch the trailer, and it’s even more joyless and inane than you imagined.

Next up, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh:

Dr. J, Meadowlark Lemon (you’re old if that name has any meaning for you, I’m afraid), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jonathan Winters, and Stockard Channing all in the same film? About a disco-dancing basketball team saved by … astrology!?

Yes. Yes, indeed. Welcome to Hell, ladies and gentleman. The Hell named 1979. If you didn’t believe me with C.H.O.M.P.S., you now begin to understand true horror.

Oh, but there’s more!

How about Patrick Swayze and Marcia Brady and Scott Baio and Horschack in a disco rollerskating movie? I’ve got just the flick for you — Skatetown U.S.A.:

In an early sign of hope for the world at large, that one died at the box office, coming out two months after Disco Demolition Night. Even so, gaze into that abyss and try not to be unsettled.

What about a serious science fictionish film about genetic engineering with an all-star cast? Those never turn out badly! Then try out Goldengirl, featuring enough people you know to make you wonder why in hell you never heard of it:

Yeah, watching the trailer, you now know why you never heard of it. Seriously, what dark secrets did the producers have on Robert Culp and James Coburn?

Satire, you say? A fun, wacky, goofy comedy? They can’t possibly mess that up, right? I mean, this is right in that sweet spot between Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane!, so it was almost a golden age! Mel Brooks was still funny in 1979, at least intermittently. So, the trailer for Americathon should be fun and amusing, and not soul-sucking at all, yes?

Sucker.

The French! you think. The French are always to be relied on for wacky hijinks! And babes! Sure, their comedies may be juvenile, but still funny, like the Three Stooges… and… Jerry Lewis… maybe?

Well, at least the French babes were all babe-ish. Le gendarme et les extra-terrestres does appear to have a few things going for it — babes, scenery — but man, did you laugh even once? (You have some consolation, however, if you’re a real francophile: right around ’79, nearly everybody in the French film industry was making at least some hard core porn. I’ll wait while you go searching for your favorites, to make a list of their dirty films.)

Still, there must be something redeeming about non-classic 1979 cinema…

Kung-fu! There were still chopsocky flicks in ’79 (outside of Hong Kong, you mean), and it’s very, very hard to mess up a kung-fu actioner, right? Especially with an all-star cast including Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasance, John Huston(!!!), and Barbara Bach!

OK, I admit, that one makes me actually want to see Jaguar Lives!, but I’m not fooled into thinking that it’s “good”, even by Kung Fu Theater standards.

And so, we turn, at last, to Nocturna:

John Carradine as a bedentured Dracula. Megahot Eurasian actress as his granddaughter. (No, seriously, she’s mega-hot — does she look almost 40 to you in the trailer? Because she was.) Lots and lots and lots of disco.

But I admit it: this one looks like fun. Bad, with awful music, but fun.

Oh, 1979, we hardly knew ye.

And for that, we are eternally thankful.

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