Master of Arts (MA)
Three popular and critically acclaimed films of the post-Watergate era illustrated and criticized the period’s disillusionment. Likewise, a series of political and economic crises spawned a shift in American culture. The Sixties’ mass social movements dissolved into the Seventies and launched a trend in which Americans became preoccupied with themselves more than the state of the nation. Controlling one’s own destiny became a collective obsession when confronted with the period’s various political and economic ailments. The “Me” decade turned inward rather than concern itself with public issues. Therefore, American culture earned dubious labels such as narcissistic and decadent from critics and scholars. The Culture of Narcissism (1979), written by Christopher Lasch, became one famous cultural attack of the 1970s. Lasch’s commentary serves as an instrumental source to place the era’s films in their historical context. Several other notable sources described ways that searching for self-fulfillment saturated American society. Popular culture’s contributions in the cinema mirrored the period’s social trends. Taxi Driver (1976) and Annie Hall (1977) represented the peak to one of two major waves of a Seventies’ film Renaissance, in which personal narratives appealed to a maturing audience of baby boomers. Films with anti-establishment themes, more intellectual in nature, and cost-effective budgets helped to revive the financial burden of major studios. Ironically, the success of such films spawned the second wave of cinema, in which “blockbusters” ultimately proved a more attractive formula for producers by the end of the decade. Saturday Night Fever (1977), a hybrid of both waves of cinema, presents an interesting case study. The film’s commercial impact influenced the future direction of the industry. Although produced on a restrictive budget and containing cultural criticisms similar to the other two films, its emphasis on commercial considerations to the youth market paved the way for other blockbusters similar to it and a resurgence of optimistic narratives by the beginning of the 1980s. Nevertheless, each analysis describes the period’s disillusionment and search for self-fulfillment projected to audiences in the 1970s.
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Lubin, Joshua Elliot, "American disillusionment and the search for self-fulfillment in the 1970's: a cultural history of Taxi Driver, Annie Hall, and Saturday Night Fever" (2005). LSU Master's Theses. 45.
Charles J. Shindo