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COLUMN: Three essential films to take you back to the '70s



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Summer’s here and, if you’re living on IU’s campus, chances are you are looking for ways to amuse yourself.  

So why not chug your way over to Wells Library and check out its Moving Image Collection. It’s heaven for any movie buff.

While you're there, why not keep your eyes peeled for some essential films of the 1970s.

The embattled '70s was an odd, but relevant, era. Marked in part by disillusionment over an economy in shambles, a controversial war in Vietnam and an ongoing Cold War, the world seemed on flames. With all the nuttiness, most people thought America was toast – sound familiar?

Movies from the '70s are a window into American history. 

One film you may want to check out is "The In-Laws," a 1979 comedy spy film pairing Peter Falk and Alan Arkin.

Arkin plays a respectable dentist whose daughter is about to marry a Harvard Law School student; Falk, the father of the groom, is a globetrotting CIA agent. 

Arkin’s heavenly Manhattan bubble is burst when Falk steals US Mint engravings to smoke out a worldwide inflation conspiracy in South America. When Falk unwittingly involves Arkin in his scheme, the two go on a trip to South America to sort the whole mess out. 

Falk and Arkin’s chemistry drives the film. The one-eyed Falk was known for Columbo on the '70s detective series of the same name. Arkin, on the other hand, plays a typical milquetoast Dad. As a spy spoof typical of the era, the cast, shots of New York's streets and overly long car-chases make this a great start to exploring films of the '70s. 

But if you’re hungry for real nostalgia and disillusioned teenagers, check out George Lucas’ "American Graffiti." 

There’s much to say about this one. 

It’s based on George Lucas’ teenage years in Modesto, California, and the four main characters represent various periods of his adolescence. 

The film stars Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss and others in breakout roles, and is set against a '60s backdrop of hot rods, sock hops and drag racing. If none of that rings a bell, then that's all the more reason to see this film and brush up on your history!

"American Graffiti" follows four teenagers on their last summer night before college as they try to pick up girls, decide whether to leave home and more. 

This film was one of the most important of the decade. It documents the cultural fads – car culture, Wolfman Jack and more – and the hopes and small fears of the post-war baby boomer generation before America became stirred by John F. Kennedy’s assassination, counter culture and the divisions of the Vietnam War. 

The soundtrack itself is a collection of the great rock-and-roll tunes of the era, such as Bill Halley and the Comets, The Beach Boys, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. Even if you don’t know those names, you’ll surely recognize the tunes.

Shot on a low budget with relatively unknown actors, "American Graffiti" became one of the highest grossing films of all time and paved the way for George Lucas to produce "Star Wars" later that decade, and for the creation of Happy Days, a sitcom about the 1950s.

Lastly, "Being There" is a poetic little film starring funnyman Peter Sellers, known for "Dr. Strangelove" and "The Pink Panther," in his final notable role. 

In "Being There" Sellers depicts "Chance the gardener" an illiterate middle-aged man who has lived in the townhouse of wealthy old man in Washington, D.C., for as long as he can remember. His only knowledge of the outside world is what he’s seen on television. 

When the old man dies, Chance must go out into the world with nothing but the old man’s clothes on his back and a TV remote. 

By freak accident, he befriends a mortally ill billionaire businessman Ben Rand, played by Melvyn Douglas, and his wife, Eve, played by Shirley MacLaine. 

Except they mistake him for Chauncey Gardiner, a mysterious, but well-dressed businessman.

Given his laconic but erudite demeanor, his vague musings about gardening – “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden," as Chance would say in the film – are taken as optimistic profundity about the state of the stagnant economy. 

Chance is Jesus of the '70s – the film’s famous final scene literally shows him walking on water – or perhaps a neo-Nietzschean ubermensch. 

Like any religious cult leader, his jargon means both everything and nothing and assuages people’s fears and anxieties of the day. 

He is the ultimate anti-hero, unwittingly attaining power just by knowing the right people.

Hence the film shows America run by power-grubbers and mass media consumption. 

It may sound like harshly cynical satire, but Seller’s Oscar-nominated performance is charming and sympathetic. He is helpless as a lamb, but he lives in peace with the world, 

"Being There" leaves us with a bit of perspective to take with us: “Life is a state of mind.”

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