The Pacific Film Archive surveys the melancholy masterpieces of '70s American cinema
Most of these movies are indeed populated by outsiders, though the meaning of the word shifts from film to film. There are plenty of figures of hedonism (memorably, Rip Torn's hard-driving country western singer in 1972's Payday), but so too are there close portraits of the lived differences of gender, race, class and age — Wanda, but also Killer of Sheep (1977), Bush Mama (1975), and Over the Edge (1979). Unlike Easy Rider (1969), the film typically cited as launching a hundred New Hollywood productions, these movies don't valorize the outsider towards an obvious political morality. A film like Killer of Sheep is delicate because it recognizes the social constraints of the central character's life while at the same time respecting the fullness of his winnowed existence. The same long-take camera style which expresses pessimism is also left open to moments of ragged beauty that escape political allegory.
The exciting vision of radical heroism offered by Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) is the exception that makes it easier to imagine how Wanda's brittle poetry of despair might have disappointed feminists at the time. Wanda is left alone again at the end of the film, seemingly unable to live with or without a man. There's a glimmer of hope when another woman invites her inside a raucous roadhouse where mixed company drink and smoke and laugh as a string duo stomp out a joyful sound. But through it all Wanda remains withdrawn, eating and drinking as if someone might at any moment snatch the food out of her hands. The film ends with a freeze frame of her blank face as the music slowly drains away on the soundtrack. The shot holds a mirror up to our desire for her story to mean something, our wish for the succor of tragedy or redemption. Loden's film instead narrows in on the insoluble nature of the character's existence, holding the wreckage of her life in view with both pitiless reserve and tender regard.
THE OUTSIDERS: NEW HOLLYWOOD CINEMA IN THE SEVENTIES
Sept. 2-Oct.27, $5.50–<\d>$9.50
Pacific Film Archive
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