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A Decade Under The Influence


A Decade Under The Influence


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Peter Biskind's trashy, riveting book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls offers a compulsively readable portrait of the 1970s' top filmmakers as mostly drug-addled hedonists who somehow crafted a remarkable body of work when not self-destructing on a Shakespearean scale. A Decade Under The Influence, a documentary on Hollywood's 1970s golden age directed by screenwriter and script doctor Richard LaGravenese and the late Ted Demme, seems designed as an antidote to Biskind's book (and, presumably, to the forthcoming TV documentary that adapts it). Where Biskind overdoses on sleaze and gossip, Influence errs in the opposite direction, shamelessly mythologizing its subjects as artistic saints. Title aside, Influence dishes surprisingly little dirt. Though it shares much of the same cast and covers much of the same ground as Easy Riders, the drugs, womanizing, madness, and rampant egotism that defined Biskind's book are glossed over or ignored. That may make the iconic filmmakers more likable, but it also renders them less human. A conventional look at an unconventional era, Demme and LaGravenese's film employs the standard litany of talking heads, film clips, and montage sequences in articulating how an ambitious generation of young directors shook up American filmmaking and created an atmosphere where risk-taking and experimentation thrived. Grizzled veterans Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Towne, Martin Scorsese, and William Friedkin make up part of Influence's massive mutual-admiration society, praising each other's work while studiously avoiding criticism. The rare discordant note is struck by Julie Christie, who points out that the abundance of juicy roles in groundbreaking films were disproportionately doled out to men. Pam Grier's presence aside, Influence also gives short shrift to the black film and filmmakers of the era, skipping over milestones like Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and paying only the faintest of lip service to the blaxploitation movement it helped spawn. For neophyte cinephiles, A Decade Under The Influence should serve as a lively primer on a seminal film era, but its reverent tone is antithetical to the rule-breaking spirit it celebrates.